Adjusting To Changed Circumstances

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When circumstances change we might not be able to put all our thoughts and feelings into words but they usually include anxiety, regardless of whether these circumstances appear to have changed for the better or for the worse. Hope might be front and center or regret might be front and center but anxiety will be the specter lurking in the background.

Those times of change where most of the variables are as yet unknown produce anxiety. A fully known situation, desirable or undesirable, has the distinct advantage of being anxiety-free as long as we feel that the situation is more or less under our control.

We see then that for many of us at the unconscious level it’s not actually a question of desirable circumstances versus undesirable circumstances but a question of permanence versus impermanence. Maintaining that sense of permanence takes precedence over changing a situation for the better because a change constitutes the unknown and the unknown produces existential anxiety.

When the situation was good and some stressor makes it worse none of us are surprised to feel distressed. But the discussion above explains the confusing phenomenon where when the situation was bad and some change makes it better we might feel happy and hopeful but anxiety and regret will be mixed in there too. How could we possibly feel regret over a situation that sucked? The regret is not due to the undesirable circumstances themselves but to the fact that they represented a state of permanence, a state that was more or less anxiety-free.

The new situation is a venture into the unknown and therefore constitutes risk, like Indiana Jones taking the leap of faith where falling into the chasm is a distinct possibility. The philosophical key to staying grounded in these times of flux, bravely moving forward whether circumstances seem to have improved or deteriorated, is paradoxically to realize that permanence is an illusion. Change is the only certainty. What now seems alien and uncertain will soon seem as familiar and permanent as that which we have left behind, only to be replaced again by changed circumstances, and so on until the day we die and beyond.