Anxiety Horizon

In the space of just a few days the old year will roll into the new one.  In many ways this newness is immaterial; simply the names and numbers on the calendar in your office. However the demarcation of the years also offers us the opportunity to leave the troubles of last year behind and hope for something better.
Of course how we approach the New Year will largely be determined by our temperament. The hopeful optimists amongst us will be rubbing their hands together and listing the challenges that they expect to fulfil. They will undoubtedly undertake some rigorous resolution to loose 100 pounds or learn Russian within 3 months. For them the year is an unfolding map to a playground of their design peppered only with a few solitary disappointments.
For the worried types the New Year offers an Anxiety Horizon. Having collapsed exhausted across the finish line of the last year, delighted to have made it vaguely intact, the worrier is almost offended by the prospect of having to do it all again from the beginning. Their anticipation is about what might go wrong and how they might survive it all. The horizon (if they dared look that far) appears strewn with possible disasters. Will my son make his grades or become a drop out? Will my husbands company fold in these tough times? Will I be able to cope with whatever does happen? Posting a large open canvass up in front of a worrier is terrifying and here is why…
Worriers primarily battle is with uncertainly. In fact you could go so far as to say that they are intolerant of uncertainty. Therefore the more unclear or undefined the opportunities in front of them, the more anxious and worried they are likely to become.  Worry can be defined as ‘problem solving applied to non-problems’. Worry feels like it removing uncertainty, but it is actually it increases the perception of what could go wrong.
If you are facing the New Year and are struggling with the a sense of dread at the uncertainty it presents here are a few do’s and don’ts:
  1. Do allow the feeling of uncertainty to be there: It is a reality. Nobody but God knows the future. This feeling is OK.
  2. Don’t try to eradicate uncertainty from your life by using reassurance. The more you ask for it, the more you’ll need it.
  3. Do break down to year into chunks and look ahead only to the next noticeable break. If it is January now, try to look only so far as Easter.
  4. Do mix your expectations. Sure, some things might go wrong but some things might go right too!
 The second real battle the worrier faces is something we call Presumed Validity. This is the infuriating principle that the human mind finds it easier to predict bad outcomes rather than good ones. Our brains have been designed to keep us safe. Enjoyment is secondary only to safety. This means is that you will believe that the New Year is likely to contain lots of nasty events not lots of nice ones.
Think about it this way: If you go to your doctor and he tells you, “A diagnosis is uncertain until further tests can be carried out.  It could be nothing or it could be a very serious disease”. How many of us believe it is going to be nothing?
Presumed Validity makes sure that we lean towards believing the worst. In certain circumstances this can save our lives; imagine presuming a shark were just a dolphin or a bear were just a moose! However, for worriers Presumed Validity can make the year unnecessarily miserable.
The temptation again is to collude with the sense that bad things are probably going to happen. Dressing up for a storm in the California sunshine doesn’t make the storm less or more likely, it simply makes the man hot and grumpy. He may be able to say, “At least I am prepared,” but that's a small joy compared to his self-inflicted suffering.
So how can a worrier overcome their leaning to predict that bad outcomes are like
  1. Reengage with uncertainty. Bad outcomes are as likely as good ones.
  2. Ask yourself what you believe. Luck will give you 50/50 on bad outcomes. God however, loves you like a father, bad things may still happen but he has your future in his hands.
  3. When you are worrying about the future, take an insightful stance. Say things like, “I am designed to believe bad things are likely to happen, so this is a product of my mind not my reality.”
  4. Live life today. Jesus said that ‘tomorrow has enough worries of its own’. (Mat 6:34). Try to focus your mind down on this moment and give thanks for the now.
Happy New Year
Will Van Der Hart, 18/12/2012
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