Reflections on a Vocational Happenstance
Stress is sometimes described as the gap between expectation and reality. To reduce stress, then, we must manage our expectations.
Stress over my knitting results from setting goals that are too ambitious in terms of output. Typically I am the only one who knows my plans and so I suffer the stress alone until I get a grip on my own expectations.
Of course knitting stress hardly moves the needle on the Richter Scale of Life, but practicing coping mechanisms in a private arena with little potential for negative impact on others is helpful. Hopefully I can apply what I've learned, amplified, to more meaningful situations.
Anxiety is something larger and darker than stress, and much more difficult to effectively manage. Stress arises from what's happening in the present: someone is sick right now, the car is broken down right now, the train is late right now, the rent is due right now, etc. But anxiety arises from something that lies ahead still pending: the results of medical tests, the threat of a hurricane, the response to a submitted job application, the realities of aging and mortality, etc. There may be little we can do in the immediate right now to impact the future situation, but we worry over it. We experience feelings of insecurity, dread, or fear.
Nothing about knitting causes me anxiety, but anxiety severely impacts my ability to knit productively, and that can lead to stress as I don't meet my expectations. When I am anxious, my brain is like a hamster on a wheel in a cage, running fast 'round and 'round while going nowhere. I can't focus, I can't establish any rhythm, and I make dumb mistakes.
Writing is also very difficult when I'm anxious. My thoughts swirl in a vortex and the only thing I seem capable of writing about is what's causing the anxiety. Hence no blog posts for two weeks.
It's a form of writer's block, I guess, but the problem isn't that I can't get any words to come out onto the page; it's more like I'm trying to keep a lid on a pot that's bubbling hard, threatening to boil over at any moment.
Many experts recommend writing about the blockage as a way of curing it. Just get the wheels turning, they say, just put some words down and you'll get going again, the content doesn't matter. Just write what you feel.
So here I am today, writing to say nothing more than that it's hard for me to write about knitting when I am feeling so anxious about current events.
Though I haven't yet found the exact passage to gather the context, Kahlil Gibran is said to have believed that "our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it." Wherever the words come from, I recognize their veracity.
Waiting for a loved one to arrive home again after a trip, I want somehow to control the journey, to guide the plane to safety. Waiting for the results of a medical test, I want to exert some influence -- to pray, perhaps, or positively visualize. I don't want to acknowledge my own powerlessness. I want to believe that my fervent hopes and wishes matter to the outcome.
It seems then that to eliminate anxiety, I must acknowledge that my sphere of influence is tiny and the only person I can control to any significant extent is myself. Most of what happens in the universe is beyond my ability to impact, and only when I surrender to this truth will I find some measure of peace in my daily existence.
The cold, hard fact is that I cannot keep the plane from crashing or change the medical diagnosis no matter how much energy I put into worrying or positive visualization, either one.
So it seems the advice about curing writer's block works, now that I have made myself follow it.
Because already, just from sharing my anxiety with you, I am starting to feel myself bat away the notion that my sphere of influence is inconsequential.
It may be tiny, but it's mine to use as I will.
And you have one, too.