Anxiety is an absence of trust
This is probably going to be one of the most personal articles I've written about for some time, but it's been bubbling up inside of me for months and I think I finally know how to articulate it in a way that others might understand and hopefully relate to. So here it goes.
I often think of life being like a river. Sometimes it is slow and steady, while other times it is unpredictable, fast and erratic. Sometimes the water gently laps against the shore. Sometimes it overwhelms and floods the surrounding area, disrupting the flow until the situation resolves itself.
A few months ago, I felt there was a waterfall ahead. Trouble was coming, something unavoidable and outside of my control. No matter how hard I tried to tell myself to concentrate on the here and now, my focus kept slipping to what lay ahead for me, and every time it did, it was as though the water in my river seemed to flow faster and narrower and became more erratic. There seemed to be more and more events that confirmed to me that there really is a potential major change in my life.
More than 10% of the UK is suffering with anxiety at any one time*, so the chances are that if you don't suffer from it yourself, you may know someone who is. Anxiety is a fear of the future. It's your brain doing what brains do best and predicting the future to help keep you safe. The downside is that it makes you miserable as hell, which can also lead to depression too. It becomes a vicious circle of fearing the future and feeling too overwhelmed to do anything about it until sometimes you can drop down to the most basic of all instincts and Freeze. You are effectively playing dead until the danger has past.
And if you've ever felt like that or do feel like that, then I hope what I say next goes some way to helping you.
I was desperate for a break; a real break, not just from work and my regular routine but a break from my constant worrying about stuff that was outside of my control anyway. My kids like to know exactly what they're doing at one time. They're very hard to surprise, and because we had a few things planned while we were travelling for 2 weeks, we put each day in a brown envelope. They would find out what we were doing on the day they were doing it. That way, they wouldn't be thinking about Day 5 while they were living Day 2, and so on. As they lived their life this way for the first week, so did we. We knew what was ahead, but we truly lived that day as best as we could before the next day came and we travelled to somewhere else new. The 2nd week; we had nothing planned until at the earliest, the night before, but often it was the same morning or as in the picture above; that afternoon. 1 week felt like 2 weeks. 2 weeks felt like a month. We went home grateful for the time away but glad to see our tiny house again.
And on the boat home, I realised that I wasn't afraid of the waterfall; I was afraid of not being able to cope when I got to the waterfall. I didn't trust the waterfall wouldn't wind me and leave me strewn across the rocks. I didn't trust myself that I would be able to avoid that happening. I wasn't scared of the future; I just didn't trust that the future would be alright.
Looking back in my life; I've made some terrible decisions. I couldn't go to university as I'd failed my A-levels; but because of that, I ended up meeting my wife at the shop where I ended up working. A combination of the financial crash of 2007 and the effects of PTSD destroyed my career in sales, but it triggered a new career in IT which I am a lot happier in. Even nearly dying as a teenager has made me a better person now; it's allowed me to help others and enabled me to become softer and more tolerant over time.
My future might not have worked out as I'd wanted at various points of my life, but it has always given me what I needed. As I thought about that, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The more times I thought of where my life had changed, the more times I realised something else had happened afterwards as a result of that which had enriched my life for the better. The more things I remembered that I was grateful for, the more trust I had in my future self that I would be ok.***
Everything I have is temporary. I do not fully 'own' anything. I don't even own my own identity, because it's always changing. In 5 years time, I could be a different person again. I could easily have been eroded by future worries which take me back to this same point now. At which point, I hope I read this post.
So now I was in a new dilemma- what if I become anxious about something else? What if I forget to be grateful and lose confidence and trust in myself?
This is where we remember the analogy of the river again. Sometimes, the water overwhelms our banks. I also said that certain events had made me feel like I was getting closer to the waterfall; like the water was speeding up. This I think is a lack of balance. Everyone, and I mean everyone, even the very best yoga teachers I've ever met, go out of balance. Because all of us are programmed to go out of balance and react to the world around us, the thoughts in our heads and the feelings in our heart. This is just being human. Everyone needs a point in their lives to reset.
Latest advice** from the institute of hypertension recommends to meditate for 45 minutes a day. I don't have 45 minutes in a day. I barely get 5 minutes a day! So then I commit to 5 minutes, for as long as I can until I feel I am able to commit to 10. I may never get to 45 minutes a day, but my promise to myself is to commit to 5 minutes a day meditation and notice the effect.
In addition to this, when I feel overwhelmed about what the future may bring, I like to recall how I felt on the boat remembering all the times that my future didn't work out the way I thought it would, but how that is also worked out the way that I needed.
Mental health is not just about talking. It's about listening, and the most important person we should listen to is ourselves. I don't have all the answers for myself let alone everyone else, but in the silence we can give ourselves, when we're able to listen to what our thoughts, feelings and bodies are trying to tell us without judgement; that's when the true wisdom inside all of us shines brightest when we need it.
*8 million people is over 10% of the UK population: https://championhealth.co.uk/insights/anxiety-statistics/#:~:text=In%20any%20given%20week%20in,access%20treatment%20(Mental%20Health%20Foundation)
***This might come across as never really enduring hardship. And there are obviously people in the world who have been and are going through much, much worse than I have. But at the same time, I can only write from my own experience in a way which I hope is relatable to others.