(part of a series of articles on relationship anxiety)
Sometimes it can seem like every decision we make has the power to make or break us. It can appear that if we make one wrong step, or one right step, it will set us on a course for horror or glory for the rest of our lives.
That narrative, the one that tells you it’s going to be all-or-nothing for the rest of eternity, is anxiety talking. In fact, it’s anxiety’s great paralyzer. It is what keeps you stuck and unmoving. And when you don’t make any choices because you are frozen in fear of making the wrong one, life ends up happening to you instead of with you.
So how do you know what the ‘right’ decision is if you can’t predict the future? You don’t. You can analyze and strategize all you want. You can try to determine the most likely outcome of any decision you make, but the truth is, we are really bad at predicting the future. Argue with me all you want, but there are several research studies that show when it comes to our individual lives, we’re really bad at predicting how we’re going to feel in the future.
But here’s the good news: there is a caveat to that last statement because there is one way we can get better at it- we just have to reorient our view. When we’re constantly focused on the external and trying to control what might or might not happen out there, we’re missing the one thing we actually do have a say in- our internal world.
The best way to know that everything is going to be ok is to stop needing our external world to look exactly like we want or think it should. The best way to ensure that everything is going to be ok is to build it within ourselves to take whatever comes at us, to know that we are internally going to be ok no matter what life has in store. When we shift our focus from out there to in here, then we can be much more astute at trusting ourselves because suddenly, it doesn’t matter so much what happens around us, we know that it’s what in us that counts. When we can do this, we start to understand that it’s not so much about each step we take, but about how we deal with each one.
Take this for example: Pete Best, the drummer before Ringo Starr, was fired from The Beatles in the 1960’s before they became The Beatles. A few years later, in understandable devastation, he tried to commit suicide. And you know what happened after that? He started to understand that he could get caught up in what happened forever and be miserable, or he could accept his external circumstances and not let them dictate his internal one. And so he worked toward accepting what was and now, is completely at peace with the way that his life worked out- happy even.
Mr. Best could’ve gotten caught up in his dismissal for the rest of his life, but how would that have served him? At some point, we have to recognize that our struggle against life isn’t hurting or changing anyone but ourselves.
I’m supposed to be writing about relationships and I haven’t even mentioned them yet, so if you’re wondering why, here it is. Your anxiety about what is or isn’t happening has likely grown into a monster and that monster is very convincing. It starts to micromanage, second guess, analyze, wonder, call your friends and loop through the same questions over and over again. But no one has the answers to those questions.
If you’re caught in a loop, you can bet that you’re on the wrong track. So shift your focus back to you. Build a yoga, meditation, or mindfulness practice. Go outside, exercise, do the things you enjoy. When your mind sprints back toward your anxiety, bring your focus back to what’s in front of you. Resist the urge to immediately soothe your anxiety with a desperate search for answers. That will just put you back on that same never ending loop. It’s not always simple and it’s definitely not easy, but I can promise, it is worth it.
And breathe, baby. You have to breathe.