Mel Schwartz, LCSW

Transcending Anxiety

Your relationship with your own thoughts...

The most important relationship you’ll ever have is with your thoughts. Thoughts script your experience of life.

When thoughts attach to fear, the result is anxiety. Often, these are thoughts that are focused on the future, needing to know in advance what will happen. Our addiction to certainty lies at the source of most anxiety.

We want to know what the future will bring and what the consequences of our decisions will be. But that future is, of course, unknowable. That’s why we call it the future. We become anxious as we try to ward off the unknown. This results in our not being in the flow of life as we try to hold back the future. You can’t be in flow and in fear at the same time.

Thought addiction to certainty = anxiety.

Ask yourself, “What causes me distress and anxiety?” Does it have something to do with uncertainty about the future, fear around decision-making?

The need for predictability, also called determinism, is an outgrowth of 17th century insights of Sir Isaac Newton. Determinism has benefited us in many ways, but at the extreme it has caused much pathology.

Many of us live life as though we were playing a chess match. We sit back and calculate our next move. We might fret over whether our decision will be a “mistake.” We slice and dice and analyze the possible consequences of our decisions and we get frozen. Some refer to this as “analysis paralysis.” We don’t move forward, as the feat acts as a straitjacket blocking the flow of life. If you feel anxious around decision making, you’re likely over-attuned to seeking predictability.

A middle-aged woman came to see me due to her unhappiness in her marriage. She had been discontent for quite some time and shared that she and her husband had been unsuccessful in marital therapy. They had grown apart, were contentious, and had little in common. She felt that her marriage was a drag on her life. Given that she had no children and was financially independent, I inquired why she was opting to stay married. She said, “I don’t know who I’d be as a divorced woman.”

There it was. Her fear around the unknown—which offered her possible relief and new possibilities—kept her imprisoned with anxiety. She was choosing to stay miserably in the known rather than face the uncertainty of a different path—one that might have brought her joy. The question, “Who would I be?” froze her with fear.

Embracing uncertainty.

Here’s the good news! It turns out we’ve been living from the wrong game plan. Over the last hundred years, quantum physics has revealed an astonishingly different picture of reality. Unlike Newton’s determinism, reality appears to be thoroughly uncertain and that, paradoxically, is good news. It seems that nothing is fixed or inert. The universe appears to be perpetually flowing and bubbling with potentiality, a virtual sea of possibility.

We too can participate in this new worldview. When we learn to reframe our relationship with uncertainty, we invite in new possibilities. Remember that what you resist you make more formidable. If you choose to welcome uncertainty, it becomes your ally. When we welcome uncertainty and literally embrace it, we are in movement, joining in the flow of the universe. We are then able to navigate our life as it unfolds, in real time.

Think of it this way: Uncertainty = possibility.

If reality is uncertain and we continue to demand certainty, we will be in a state of dysfunction and anxiety will be the result. To embrace uncertainty, we must change our relationship with our thoughts.

Try to notice your thoughts. What are they telling you? If your thoughts are trying to predict the future, release the thought. It’s just a thought; you don’t need to become that thought.

In the nanosecond before you become your next thought, you exist in a state of pure potential.

When you free yourself from the torrent of addictive thoughts seeking certainty, you join in the flow of your life and anxiety retreats. It turns out that the today’s epidemic of anxiety is primarily due to living from an outmoded game plan for life. It’s time to embrace what we’ve been resisting and make uncertainty an ally. Uncertainty can become the wind in the sail of our change process.

This article was adapted from Mel’s book, The Possibility Principle.

Check out Mel’s live zoom course, Overcoming anxiety.

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