A theory on the feeling of anxiety

Anxiety is a real struggle. Eliminating it is like lifting a weight of your shoulders. It makes your life much easier. My recent thoughts on the Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy and how it applies to people also relates to anxiety and how you can ease your or others’ anxiety, which makes life easier for everyone. To execute on what I’m about to tell you only requires the ability to self-reflect, to take action, and recognize progress. Anyone can do those!

My theory is that anxiety at its core is the expenditure of energy while seeing no progress towards a goal. Think about the financially anxious, someone who is trying to pay off debt. They are working 40+ hours a week, but falling deeper behind on interest, or other emergencies arise that dig them deeper into debt. They are expending energy working, but their efforts aren’t moving towards the goal. Perhaps they’ve tried other ways of making money like selling things they own that have also failed. This is the mental equivalent in our society of hunting for days, chasing down animals, but not bagging any food. Your mind starts to throw out “Warning! Something is wrong, you better do something different! Get better, or if not you’ll perish!” That’s what anxiety is. It may not be those words in your mind, but it’s that feeling your mind is creating and we recognize it as anxiety.

If I was applying this theory to a physics or engineering problem in mathematical terms, this would be the point of divergence. Where the results can no longer be accurately predicted. That’s what your mind is occupied with. That based on it’s current trajectory, it can’t predict a positive outcome. The outcome it is predicting from the current conditions is the energy completely spent and exhausted before any amount of reasonable results comes in. It may not be true, but your mind is extrapolating based on circumstance.

Following that theory on anxiety, it seems to me that a solution for anxiety is three parts:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Execute some of the plan
  3. Get some results

Is it no wonder the world seems so anxious? Can anyone agree on a plan? We’re at an inflection point where long-standing institutions and cultures are changing due to the interconnectedness of the internet. Inflection points are scary where the old rules change, the new rules are yet to be established and no one knows what’s going on.

For a while, I had no idea what I wanted, how to get it, where to start looking. My wife had some dangling notions of what she wanted to do, but we were moving a lot and getting nowhere, and we felt a bit overwhelmed. As we’ve aged, we’ve become more clear about our goals and life intentions (we have a plan), we’ve been taking efforts at executing that plan, and we are starting to see modest results for both of us. Our anxiety has dropped tremendously.

The thing is, the results don’t have to be instantaneous to lower the anxiety, they can be slow. Someone who always wanted their own business selling pottery, can keep their day job, make pottery and sell it on weekends. Eventually, when they save those pottery earnings, and can project how much they will earn if they went full-time they can find the courage to make the leap to full-time. At every step of that, they are lowering the anxiety towards their dreams. Keep in mind that just getting enough results to be rid of the anxiety is a win itself. For that pottery example, just starting to practice pottery daily can feel like you are moving towards your goal. Selling your first piece can feel that movement towards the goal. Then all the sales after that too.

If you or someone you know is feeling anxious, describe it. What is the anxiety? What is the goal you aren’t moving towards? Just identifying it may lower it. After that, check with yourself, are you actually making progress and you are just ignoring it? That happens too. I never write on this blog enough to get rid of all anxiety, but then if I take time to look at all the work I’m doing, it definitely seems like progress is there and the feeling shrinks. Recognize your progress. If neither of those is there, then make a plan, do some work, get some results towards a goal. Each piece of that will help the anxiety.

Anxiety doesn’t have to rule our lives if we don’t want it to. In fact, it’s often just our own programming being hijacked by a world that no longer requires it as much. With some self-reflection it goes away, or reduces. Do what you can to minimize it for yourself and others and you’ll find yourself going where you want to be naturally, after all minimizing anxiety comes through seeing progress towards a goal.