“If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation.
If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory.”
Eckhart Tolle – from his book The Power of Now.
What we anticipate and imagine can be so much worse than reality, and make our distress all the more intense. Being uncertain makes it worse.
It may be relatively minor, like a tooth I had to get repaired recently. It was something I have had to do a number of times over the years, but I still fretted (unnecessarily) over a number of imagined problems, rather than simply limiting my thinking to the actual situation.
But what about bigger stresses?
In a New York Times “Happy Days” blog post, Daniel Gilbert writes about what could be one of the main causes of our distress, especially in such financially difficult times.
He refers to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which shows “that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on the rise.”
“But light wallets are not the cause of our heavy hearts,” he adds. “After all, most of us still have more inflation-adjusted dollars than our grandparents had, and they didn’t live in an unremitting funk.”
The cause may be uncertainty
“Not knowing is making us sick,” he writes.
“Consider an experiment by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who gave subjects a series of 20 electric shocks. Some subjects knew they would receive an intense shock on every trial.
“Others knew they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense shocks, but they didn’t know on which of the 20 trials the intense shocks would come.
“The results showed that subjects who thought there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock were more afraid — they sweated more profusely, their hearts beat faster — than subjects who knew for sure that they’d receive an intense shock.”
Gilbert explains, “That’s because people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur.
“Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.”
Stories we tell ourselves can increase uncertainty and anxiety
In this video, Etienne Dube talks about his anxiety attacks and physical symptoms like sweating and nausea, and being afraid he might appear sick in front of a class.
He is expressing a common fear many of us have – that our emotional distress will get worse, and shame us. Another example of anticipation fueling anxiety.
Rather than living with an uncertain possible future, he imagines the worst.
He goes on to say The Linden Method “changed his life” by relieving his anxiety.
There are other natural, drug-free programs on my site Anxiety Relief Solutions.