Health Watch/Copper Country Mental Health/Brian Rendel — Counselor, Training and Prevention Specialist
Writer Jodi Picoult describes anxiety “like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you very far.” Ordinary anxiety surfaces when we feel vulnerable, like having butterflies in your belly when doing something important the first time, feeling jittery before speaking in public, or worrying while waiting for important test results. Anxiety prods us to think through decisions that matter. If we rock in that chair too long, we forget how to get up and move. If we get stuck on too many decisions, we might need professional help to move again. Information is widely available about anxiety disorders, but normal anxiety can be helpful.
As an example, Apple’s first mini tablet computer was the perfect size for my needs but I decided to wait until more features, which were put in the new model. Of course, now I want one. Or, do I? One minute I lean toward buying, and the next minute I think about saving the money for more important things. Anxiety is what rocks me back and forth until I consider the pros and cons and decide what to do. Of course, anxiety may be stronger about things that really matter but the process is the same.
Many decisions are not about being right or wrong as much as they are trails leading toward or away from our potential. Instead of waiting for a way to eat our cake and still save it for later, we need to choose and move on. When we try something new, act on love, or pursue a dream, anxiety can help us be better-informed decision-makers. Big decisions need us to let go of something we want to keep in order to get something else we want to have.
Deadlines make anxiety more intense. The anxiety we feel about ordinary deadlines may be connected to anxiety we have about reaching our potential before we die. Almost 400 years ago Robert Herrick brilliantly illustrated the dilemma with his poem, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Our chances to take freedom’s leap into uncertainty dwindle as we grow older and time compresses. Like putting our toe in the water before we dive in, anxiety wants us to test the water first, but choosing whether to jump is up to us.
Unresolved decisions we let build up stifle our ability to live well. Anxiety is like a fork in the road. One path leads to more security and the other to more freedom. We are made to make choices. We cannot have it all. We do not get anywhere by endlessly rocking back and forth about a decision, or by silencing anxiety with alcohol or other drugs. Instead, picture where ultimately you want to be in your life. Then, choose ways to get there while you still may.
Editor’s note:?Brian is a professional counselor and training and prevention specialist at the Copper Country Mental Health Institute in Houghton.