According to Eric Maisel, PhD, author of The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path through Depression, a normal internal reaction to a perceived threat is anxiety. The purpose of anxiety is to keep us out of harm’s way. It triggers the impulse to flee, to retreat.
For years I’ve watched anxiety rise up and shut down clients in the process of facing their clutter challenges and the decision-making it involves. But, I wasn’t clear about the source of the anxiety. Sometimes it seemed to be a by-product of overwhelm. At other times it seemed like avoidance of doing a challenging task. And, for some it seemed like a fear of making a mistake. I had never considered that the source of their retreat was an instinctual response to a threat to their self-esteem.
With this new perspective I can see that a person facing a nightmare of their own making would certainly feel anxious and want to retreat. They might be thinking:
- I’m such a mess. How could I let it get this way? (I’m flawed)
- I don’t have a clue where to start. (I don’t know)
- I’m overwhelmed. (I’m weak)
- It’s too much to face. (I’m incapable)
- I caused this. What does that say about me? (I’m responsible and incompetent)
It’s much easier to flee from threats to your self-esteem than turn and face them. People are neurologically programmed to run from threats. If it’s natural to retreat in the face of anxiety-provoking clutter, then how can progress be made?
First, it’s important to be aware that anxiety is the culprit in your avoidance of clutter clearing. Naming the challenge is one way to reduce its power over you. That frees you to consider options for neutralizing the anxiety so progress can be made.
Over the years of learning to manage my own anxiety and working with clients for whom anxiety is an issue, I’ve learned that the best way to handle anxiety is to get support. Anxiety is much more likely to expand and run the show when you are alone in the ring with it. Add caring support and any threat can be addressed and eliminated. That’s why people who have been stuck in self-defeating behaviors and a state of inertia begin moving when they get help from professional organizers, coaches, therapists and supportive family and friends. Anxiety is debilitating. Support is empowering.
Could anxiety be at the heart of your stuckness? What support would make forward movement possible?