The Anxiety Plan, Part 1: The "What" & The "Why"

I consider myself to be a “planner.”

When I get an idea in my head about something I want to do, I tend to envision how I would want it to happen, and I hold onto that vision very closely. When I organize an event, whether it’s a social outing, BBQ, party, or road trip, I like to have as much planned out as I can.

When I coordinate get-togethers with friends, I like to know who is available when to figure out the optimal time to schedule plans that will include everybody.

As the host of a BBQ or party, I lay out what will be provided and who will be bringing what side dishes, snacks, or desserts, as well as what days I’ll need to clean, pick up food, drinks, tables, tents and coolers, and prepare anything in advance.

The itineraries for my past travels have included the usual things- hotel names and information, directions to and from the destination to and from home, attractions and things to do wherever I’m going to be, and how much things cost. 

Pretty standard, I guess.

But then there’s another level of thought and questioning that goes to the planning. For social events I tend to ask what everybody would like to do. For BBQs it’s, do we have too many macaroni-based dishes or desserts compared to veggies? On road trips it’s things like, what days does such-and-such a museum offer free or discounted admission? When do theme parks have extended hours? Are there any promo codes that apply to the purchase of tickets or admissions online? Where are each of the locations of these activities and attractions in relation to each other, and what’s the most efficient way to see and do EVERYTHING?

Maybe it’s “normal.” Maybe it’s OCD. Truthfully, it’s probably a little bit of both. But man, it sure does feel like a lot of OCD and very little “normal.”

The last several months for me have been riddled with all kinds of plans. Planning a wedding. Planning a honeymoon. Planning for a career transition. Planning to move. Planning to apply to PhD programs. Planning to start a family.

Each of these things inherently come with a great deal of details that surround them. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to be a perfectionist who pays way too much attention to these kinds of details. Although I’ve recognized that in many ways, it’s been a blessing in disguise, it still comes with an immense amount of anxiety.

Lately, I’ve begun to realize that my anxiety is about more than the planning itself. Yes, the planning does come with anxiety in its own right. Truthfully, though, the “planning anxiety” is more the aftereffect that stems from anxiety about everything turning out the way I envisioned it to be. Because here’s the thing- if it doesn’t turn out that way I had pictured it to be, then how will it actually turn out?

See, the thing is, you can only prepare for what you know. If I know what to expect from something I can prepare myself accordingly, and when I do that, I feel better. The flip side of that is that when I don’t know what to expect, I can’t prepare, and my anxiety skyrockets.

So, ultimately, one of the main sources of my anxiety is a fear of the unknown.

To put it that way actually makes it sound less strenuous than it actually feels, because I’m pretty sure “fear of the unknown” ranks right up there with death, flying, and public speaking, in terms of “things people are most afraid of." Still, for as many things in my life that happen with minimal preparation, the things that are most important to me tend to require a great deal of mental energy, and by default, anxiety.

As a result, this anxiety is paired with obsessive-compulsive thoughts. I obsess about what to plan, how to plan, when to plan it. Then I worry about whether any part of those plans are going to be OK.

I’ve given a lot of thought to this lately because with the stage I’m at in my life, there are a lot of things on the horizon that are largely unknown. Frankly, I’m not even talking about the outcomes. So many of these things are so completely new and different that I have no past experiences to even draw back on to even begin to know what to expect or how to prepare.

In thinking about these things, I've come to a few realizations about how to navigate through the sources of anxiety, an “Anxiety Plan” so to speak Before I share my "plan" with you, I want to pose a friendly challenge to you. I challenge you to think about what causes your anxiety. Identify these things, but don’t stop there. Instead, think about why these things cause this anxiety for you.

This may not work for all of you. After all, things don’t always go according to plan. In my experience, though, looking for the "why" beyond the "what" has been helpful in coming to these realizations. The "what" is a great place to start, but digging further and figuring out “why" is where the real answers lie.

I invite you to join me in my search to find comfort in approaching the unknown. In the second half of this two-part series, I’ll share my 3 realizations that I’ve come to, along with the "how" for putting it all together and making it meaningful to you.

What causes your anxiety, and why do you think that is?
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