By Kristina Schwalm-Bacquet, MSW, RSW
These last few months I have felt overwhelmed and just chaotic about my future and the choices I’ve made in my life. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have gone back to school instead of getting into my current career and also if I really want to be with my partner. (He is kind and good but not very motivated). I’m even questioning my apartment and whether I even want to be in the city. I have just been feeling so overwhelmed and scared that I’ve made all the wrong choices.
I feel for you. The unsteadiness and fear that comes from questioning integral pieces of our lives is debilitating and gets right to our very core. Humans by nature crave a sense of security – whatever form that sense of security might take for each person. So questioning whether you have made the right choices in your life can lead to fears that this very stability is in jeopardy.
When our sense of security is rocked, it is bound to create a general state of anxiety in our day-to-day, that leads us to question the stability and security of all things around us. In this case, you might be dissatisfied with various aspects of your life, and thus beginning to question your ability to make healthy choices. This can be doubly debilitating, and leave you feeling paralyzed to make changes, as you no longer believe you are capable of doing it in a healthy way.
In order to move forward, it is helpful to focus on two main areas:
- To determine whether it is the anxiety itself that is making you question your life choices.
- If you identify that it is not simply anxiety, and you are indeed dissatisfied with certain aspects of your life, your task is then to identify and distill fears about what this means, in order to feel confident to move forward.
Let’s start with task one. Making choices, or taking missteps that land us in inopportune circumstances are a fact of life that none of us can avoid. However, when questioning our life decisions comes on strong and shines doubt on several areas of our life at once, it is more likely a symptom of anxiety from an overall sense of uncertainty, than a problem with the individual issues themselves.
Try to consider if you’ve experienced something jarring of late, maybe a big life change, good or bad, that could have made you feel a bit more unsteady, and thus anxiously question your path forward. A missed promotion, a loved one’s death, financial issues, a friend’s big changes or successes, all of these are examples of events that can leave you fearing stagnation and helplessness. Whereas big change in our own lives, an engagement, a birth, a promotion, any of these can send us into anxiety about the unknown. Consider your own recent life circumstances or those of others by which you may have been affected.
If you can pinpoint an event or change, try to focus in on it as the anxiety source, and consider whether concerns about this source issue might have created some anxious thought patterns that have now run amuck to other areas of your life. Being as kind and gentle with yourself as possible, try and zoom in on the source event itself, and get to the heart of your worries. Write them down if you can, then take a step back and observe your thoughts as if they were coming from a friend or a loved one, not from yourself. Consider whether you might be over-estimating danger, or underestimating your ability to cope, two tell-tale signs of anxiety.
If you’ve considered this first task from all angles and still want to deeply examine and question your life choices, then it’s time to move on to task two: distilling fears about what it means that you are unhappy about your current life circumstances.
Again, realizing you are unhappy with your current situation is a part of life, it is human, and if we approach it openly, this type of realization can be helpful in our progression towards a better future. Ideally, we would meet this realization with hope for what’s to come, instead of with fear.
However, the problem comes when, instead of simply seeing a need for change in our current circumstances, we see it as meaning something about ourselves, and our ability to make good choices on the whole. That is the piece that makes our anxiety spin out of control. That’s when moving forward becomes too scary to consider.
As our faith in ourselves is shattered, we fall into helplessness and doom and gloom. At this point, the thoughts that flood in might look something like this:
- “I have screwed up my life”
- “I will not be able to fix it”
- “I will always make bad choices”
- “I am doomed”
These thoughts are likely very untrue, and moreover actually create unfavourable conditions for making further good choices.
First, try to infuse some doubt in them by acknowledging that they are likely not true reflections of reality, but your anxious mind at play. Then, try to remember all of the reasons that you made the choices you made when you did. Remember some of the benefits of these decisions, regardless of whether they’ve turned out to be a perfect fit overall. And finally, remember that you have been capable of change in the past, and thus, you will be capable of it again.
As always, all of these steps are easier said than done, and if you find you are struggling with them, you are definitely not alone. Do not hesitate to seek a CBT therapist to help you work through your questions and strive toward feeling hopeful and excited about your future, instead of fearful and overwhelmed.
I maintain a regular mental health blog on the darouwellness.com site, so check back in for more on coping with anxiety, depression, insomnia, emotional difficulties, trauma and general coping and mental wellness.
Kristina Schwalm-Bacquet is a Mental Health Therapist, Supervisor and Instructor.