Anxiety is simply a subdivision of fear; primarily of the future, or simply arising as a reaction to current events. However, would this fear be diminished if our freedom was somewhat removed? When I take a retrospective look at anxious moments in my life, most of these are intercalated with the freedom of choice. Going to University, studying abroad, travelling alone; all of these initially filled me with dread, despite the obvious fact that I didn’t have to go through with any of them. Conversely, in situations that I have absolutely no control over, anxiety tends to remain minimal. For example, the past. No matter how much an individual begins to dwell on past mistakes, they cannot be altered. Getting old is also a good example. Of course, the natural exception associated with age is our inevitable death. The anxiety that arises from this (for me, anyway) is associated with whether I manage to enjoy a happy, successful, and fulfilling life. The aging process itself though, and the experiences that are associated with it, fill me with interest. I am curious to see where the path leads.
Søren Kierkegaard, a 17th century philosopher from Copenhagen, suggested that freedom is directly associated with the feeling of anxiety. He asks us to consider a person standing at the edge of a cliff. If this person looks over the edge, they will experience two distinct types of fear. The first being the fear of falling; the second derives from the realisation that the person has total freedom to choose whether to jump or not. Thus, freedom has a clear causal link to anxiety.
The link is evident in every aspect of life. Although, it’s something I have only considered more recently. I do however, often consider why I get upset over (seemingly) nothing. So, this week I decided to sit down and decipher my thought process. Unsurprisingly, the matters on my mind which are direct causes of anxious behaviour are all directly associated with freedom. A primary one right now is a job location following my PhD; deciding whether to stay in London or go abroad for a year. Leaving friends and family, clearly a big sacrifice for a potential career opportunity.
However, overthinking something such as this will manifest its own problems. Clearly, reserving myself just on the slight chance that I may leave the capital in 2019 is a terrible idea. What does it accomplish, apart from stomping out any potential divergence? Meeting a single person can be enough to change your entire perspective. If we become so preoccupied and obsessed with a fractional possibility, we are inevitably going to miss out on some of the best things in life.
So, I am embracing what I have, right now. I have finally accepted that freedom is a primarily cause of my anxiety. Time changes thought, and my opinion surrounding career opportunities fluctuate at least once in the space of a calendar year. Initially, the knowledge that there are, in effect, an endless list of possibilities… it was daunting.
The freedom of a limitless selection of open road provides me with boundless possibilities. I now appreciate that if one of those roads leads to nowhere, I can turn around and start again. We all can. Some of those roads will lead to that proverbial cliff. However, if we begin to accept that some things are out of our control, then we can hopefully move forward, putting some of that anxiety to the wayside.
In all honesty, sometimes we just need to tell ourselves:
“Today I will not stress over things I can’t control.”
You’ll be astonished by the impact.