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why do we get anxious


Anxiety – that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach, making you uneasy and jittery.. what causes that? Why do we get anxious?

A good chunk of the answer to this lies in our thought processes. We often have recurrent patterns of thought that cause, contribute to or maintain anxiety. Some such thoughts are described below :

Wondering ‘what if ?’ 

You know this one, worrying what if I get late for office, what if I can’t find a rickshaw, what if I get stuck in traffic, what if I fumble in the interview, what if I forget my lines on stage, what if I forget some of what I have studied during the exam, what if I put extra salt in the dish, what if my child fails his exam, what if… the list is never ending.. take a few moments and jot down some of your most common “what ifs”.

Not following the line of thought to its end 

Most often we stop at the ‘what if’. Try continuing the line of thought. Yes, what if you get late for office? – Perhaps your boss will yell at you for being late. So, what if you get yelled at by your boss? – It is upsetting and maybe even embarrassing. So, what if you get upset? Things end there don’t they? So what your wounding yourself up for is the fear of being upset, but just check, aren’t you already worried and upset that you may get late for office? Herein you have actually befriended the enemy you feel you are avoiding.

Intrinsic demand that things should never go wrong 

The underlying fear causing anxiety is obviously that things may go wrong. Yes they may and many times they will. This constant apprehension is stemming somewhere from the belief, rather the demand that things should always go right, outcomes should always be positive and life should go our way. And if it doesn’t? – Here restarts the game of “what if” it doesn’t go as I want it to.. Accepting that there will be pain will go a long way in reducing the tension generated by this need.

Catastrophizing the severity of something that goes wrong 

As we understand and accept that things will at times go wrong, also consider, just how wrong can they possibly go? What is the guarantee or even the probability of your fears coming true? And even if they do, is it really all that bad?

Belief that you cannot bear it/deal with it effectively 

Underlying the need that things shouldn’t go wrong, is the belief that if at all they do, you won’t be able to bear it. Look back, take stock of the numerous challenges you have overcome and how far you have come in the process. I’m sure those challenges were daunting too, most probably much more than your present worries, but you managed didn’t you? Give your inner strength the credit it deserves. Don’t perceive yourself as weak based only on your current fears. Look back, your history will tell you a different story, full of courage and victory. Reminding yourself of the impermanence of things may help with this.

Escape mechanism from actually “doing” 

Instead of just thinking and consequently worrying about situations and outcomes, snap out and do what you can about it. Your thoughts alone will not help any cause. So if you’re worried about getting late, leave early, if you’re worried about forgetting on stage, rehearse thoroughly, if you’re worried about the extra salt in food, be more careful and aware while cooking and taste the food before serving! At times, the anxiety becomes an indulgence, and we get so preoccupied and overwhelmed with it that we fail to do the little things we can to avoid the dreaded mistakes. It also at times becomes reason for us to neglect or mess up other facets of our life, be it our health, relationships or work.

Perceived control

Most things in life are not solely under your control. In fact, apart from your thoughts, barely anything is. A thousand things need to work with you to make anything work. So while you do your part of the job, there is never a guarantee that the other parts will function smoothly and lead to the result you want. You wish for it and you hope for it, but you cannot demand it because it is not completely in your hands. So just how much of what you’re worried about can you actually control? Yes, you can probably affect it, but can you determine it? Understanding and accepting the limits of your control over situations, do what you can and then learn to surrender the rest and make peace with these limitations.

Post contributed by: Mahima Gupta (Psychologist, Inner Space, 2010-2012)

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