Calm

What Should We Ask Ourselves When Feeling Anxious?

The Question We Should Ask Ourselves When Anxious

Anxiety tends to be all-consuming, squatting in our minds and refusing to let anything else in. Despite causing great pain, it denies any attempts to be questioned, analyzed, probed, or reconfigured. Our thoughts become low, relentless, repetitive, and stymied, returning again and again to the issue of whether the door is locked, the accounts were signed off, or the social media account is not under attack. Anxiety dominates over and excludes any other form of mental activity, impregnable and bullying, effectively shutting down our central faculties.

But there is one nimble way to try to outwit anxiety – and that is with a question that recognizes a fundamental feature of anxiety: that it is frequently a smokescreen for something else, something beyond what we consciously think is worrying us, that we’re in fact concerned with or sad about.

One of the peculiar facets of our minds is that we may choose to feel anxious rather than to confront things that may be yet more painful or emotionally awkward in our lives. It can be easier to fret than to know ourselves properly.

And yet, of course, we are always better off getting to the root cause of our troubles, rather than filling our minds with diversionary panic. In order to do so, we would be wise at points to ask ourselves a simple but possibly highly revealing question:

‘If your mind wasn’t currently filled with these particular anxious thoughts, what might you have to think about right now?’

The question, as simple in structure as it is acute in design, is liable to unlock a moment of original insight.

The answer might go like this:

– I might realize how sad and lonely I am…

– I might realize how angry I feel towards my partner…

– I might realize how abandoned I feel…

And that, of course, is precisely what we should be doing now. Filling our minds with, and processing, all the stuff that our anxiety was trying to keep at bay.

Certain anxieties can be taken at face value, for they do clearly relate to worrying things in the world. But there is another class of them, and a rather large one at that, that is there for no better purpose than to distract us from understanding important parts of ourselves. At points, we should trade our anxiety in for something far more important: a confrontation with the real ambivalence and complexity of our lives – and we should do so thanks to a naively simple question:

‘If your mind wasn’t currently filled with these particular anxious thoughts, what might you have to think about right now?’