Should anxiety and fear make decisions for you?

Let’s say you want to let go of something, like leaving your job or leaving a relationship that’s not working, but you feel scared or sad about it – anything but happy.

Should you stay because you don’t want to experience anxious or sad feelings?

I talked about this in my last two posts on getting rid of stuff – asking, should you hang on to a certain item that’s clearly not serving you – but you feel too much sadness to let it go?

But what about those huge issues – jobs, relationships, places to live and so on?

Should your level of anxiety and sadness make your decisions for you?

What if you’ve put a lot of thought into leaving your job because the negatives are outweighing the positives in a big way, but you’re scared? You’re scared that you won’t find another job you like, or that you put so much money into educating yourself for this job/career and you don’t want to waste it, or that you’ll miss the people or parts of the job and so on.

What if you know in your heart that your relationship isn’t right, but you’re hanging on because you’re afraid?

Do you have to feel totally happy before making a change?

I got started on this topic because of my last two posts. People wrote in with such thoughtful responses, including this one:

“What a freeing article. Always wanting to be happy to do something is so exhausting because living is not just about being happy. but about having joy, and taking life-giving steps forward even when still afraid or uncomfortable…”

How are we stuck because of fear?

This subject is huge – how many decisions have we put off making because we’re afraid – afraid of our own feelings? We hang on to material objects that we know we don’t need, because we’re afraid of feeling sad, anxious, or unhappy if we let them go. We hang on to jobs or careers for years because we’re afraid of what might happen. We stay in relationships that aren’t the best because we’re afraid of our feelings if we let go.

I just met a woman who brought this all home to me. Several months ago, she retired from her job as a nurse and was still full of regret about letting go of her job. She’d been a nurse for a long time and loved it – but for various reasons – including that she and her husband wanted to travel and do stuff together – she decided to retire.

She told me she had thought carefully before making her decision to retire, and she assumed that she was ready. But now it’s been several months and she’s still sad and full of regret. She said she really loved her job, she looked forward to going to work every day, and it gave her meaning and purpose. She’s tried volunteering, but so far, for her, it’s not the same.

Yet she doesn’t really want to return to the job, either.

I realized that letting go is no small thing. No small thing at all.

Should this retired nurse return to her job because she doesn’t like her sad feelings – even though she carefully made the decision to leave and even though she has plans for post-retirement?

Here’s my response and it’s more or less the same one I gave in my two posts about getting rid of stuff. She has to get comfortable sitting with her uncomfortable feelings, and once she does that, the clean, clear answer will arise. The answer may not come immediately – but if she can get used to just “being” with her uncomfortable feelings, she’ll eventually find the answer. Maybe she should return to her job and maybe she shouldn’t.

But she won’t know that until she’s able to sit with her uncomfortable feelings and go all the way through them. She has to learn to sit with discomfort, just like I had to do in my last post.

But how?

First, think about this. If you wait until you feel happy about making all of your decisions, you’ll wind up making very few decisions, you’ll stay stuck in a place you really don’t want to be, you’ll miss out on the possibility of a much happier future, and you’ll be burying a lot of your true, uncomfortable feelings, which is not conducive to your ultimate happiness.

Calm brunette doing yoga on bed at home in bedroom
You can meditate anywhere

Go with your happy decisions – but what about the complicated ones?

Of course, many decisions DO make you happy and of course you should go with them! I’m talking about the decisions where you know your situation (or your clutter) is making you less than happy, but your fear of change is getting in your way.

As for trying to bury uncomfortable feelings, let me explain. The nurse had been trying to talk herself out of her sad feelings for months and now, several months later, she was getting downright depressed. You can’t bury your feelings and get away with it.

So let’s turn to a method you can use to get comfortable with your feelings, and to find your way through a transition.

It’s super important that you learn about this because you really don’t want to hang on to stuff or situations just because they’re temporarily making you unhappy. You need to learn to just “be” with your feelings, knowing they will pass.

Insight Meditation to the rescue

I highly recommend a very easy process to learn, called Insight Meditation, where you’re taught to simply sit with your eyes closed and notice your thoughts – all of them – without judging. Imagine you’re sitting at the edge of a gently flowing river. Pretend your thoughts are the river, or pretend your thoughts are the leaves and twigs and stuff that flows in the river. Just notice your thoughts flowing down the river – always moving, always changing. There are no good or bad thoughts – they’re just thoughts.

Just sit and notice them and watch them change, move, morph. That’s all. Do it for 10 minutes twice a day and move up to more time if you get into the swing. You can even label your thoughts as they flow through – anxious, sad, planning, anticipating, happy, angry, excited and so on. Over time, you’ll learn how to be comfortable with your feelings, whatever they are, because you’ll see that they change constantly. Just because you feel sad or even enormously sad right now, doesn’t mean you’ll always feel that way.

Try this for awhile – at first you’ll feel squirrelly sitting down for ten minutes – but you’ll get into it and the benefits are huge. Check out Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – it’s an 8 week program that teaches you about Insight Meditation and other information:

Also do a Google search for Insight Meditation and your town. There are 8- week courses going on everywhere. As an example, here’s one in Los Angeles:

Next time I’ll tell you about another method you can use to navigate transitions but try Insight Meditation first, and even better, sign up for an 8-week course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Let me know how it goes.


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