Let’s Stop Digging Anxiety-Holes with our Thought-Shovels

Let’s Stop Digging Anxiety-Holes with our Thought-Shovels

My dear Irish father, who lives in another hemisphere to me and who grew up without running water, sends me a lot of crappy memes via WhatsApp. 

Yes, we are starting with technophobe fathers and crappy memes

I suspect he takes secret joy in demonstrating his mastery of modern technology by ‘forwarding’ them on his ‘stupid fecking phone.’ The sending of the memes, I believe, carry an implicit message: “I love you, daughter, even though my upbringing, shaped by the gender norms of the time, inhibits me from expressing it explicitly to you, so here: have this meme as a sign of my love”

That’s my interpretation, and it suits us both.

Recently, my father sent me a meme featuring an anxious figure clutching a shovel, accompanied by the ugly, blocky text: “The First Law of Holes: If you are in one, stop digging!”

We are ignoring the First Law of Holes

It got me thinking (not for the first time) how we humans inexplicably tend to move faster and more frantically when we feel insecure or uncertain. 

We can see this playing out in current ‘affairs’ (an unsuitably benign word for the horrors we see in the world at the moment, perhaps?) as leaders, industry and influencers hurtle toward catastrophe (war and conflict, climate adaptation and displacement, food and energy security., artificial intelligence, environmental protection and so on) using the same tools – control, technology, force, sanctions, regulation – to try and dig themselves out of the problem those tools created. 

There’s no sign of the digging stopping. 

And we are doing the same thing as individuals dealing with anxiety, stress, panic and overwhelm. 

Our tool is our thoughts

One of the fundamental parts of my work is helping people see the relationship between speedy thinking and that anxious, panicky feeling.

Helping them see that our crappy feelings are caused by crappy thinking. 

Helping them see that our mind will settle on its own, if we let it. 

Helping them to see that we rarely let our mind settle because we’ve been innocently taught, implicitly or otherwise, that thinking our way to solutions – analysing, judging, innovating, is the modern way, the civilised way, the scientific way. 

Once people see that – see how we have innocently revered thinking as the tool to solve our problem – they may be more inclined to “let it go”, noticing the futility in it.

When our thinking settles, we see differently. We can all relate to this. The common example is of an idea coming to you in the shower (but this doesn’t apply to me – I am far too busy in the shower trying to keep track of my unwieldy hair and where I’m up to in the washing/conditioning/other stuff cycle).

You have probably noticed ideas, realisations and epiphanies blooming for you when driving, gardening, walking the dog, drifting off to sleep. A common one is having clarity on a personal issue while zoning out during a work meeting. Thanks, boring-stupid-pointless-work meetings: you are useful, after all.

In those moments, the next step occurs to us. 

The solution to the problem plops into our minds with sudden clarity. It might even be something we thought of earlier, in a stirred-up state, while digging our hole, but we dismissed it for one reason or another. 

Or we realise the problem isn’t a problem at all anymore, and it was instead a spectre of our anxious thinking. 

When we see differently, we do differently. 

And to see differently – to get the perspective, insight, clarity, space and calm that helps us – we must stop digging. 

Sounds great, I guess

Ok cool. Nice sentiment Siobhán. Sounds good. Easy, even. What’s the problem? And why isn’t this working? Why are things… rather – to speak technically about the current status of our global challenges – a big fucking mess?

To stop digging, we need to know we are in a hole first… and so few of us can recognise a hole. 

And of course we can’t. We aren’t taught about holes in our unconscious indoctrination into the Story of Progress. More, bigger, faster, higher, sooner. Up, up, up. Growth! 

There are no holes on the climb to relentless progress. Holes are for losers. Neophytes, naysayers, heretics!

“Oh, that thing there? That’s a Chasm of Advancement, not a hole!”

“What, that other thing? That’s a Cavity of Improvement!”

“That big black, endless, scary-looking abyss-like thing? A Fissure of Performance!”

Back to you

You can reject that cultural story and turn back to you. Holes are an inescapable part of being human. We all get in a hole from time to time.

(Bored of the ‘hole’ metaphor? We are nearly done, my friend.)

I was in a hole less than a day ago and will be in another soon enough. 

So will you.

A pickle. A funk. A mood. A depression. A huge, big-seeming, engulfing, panic-stricken place of suffocating darkness.

How do we know when we are in a hole? How do we know to stop digging?

It’s so very simple. The feeling will tell you. Your crappy feelings, the ones you hate and want to get rid of, push away, manage, control….they are your kind advisors. 

Your feelings will tell you when you are in the hole. 

That searing zing of anxiety, that rolling rumble of dread, that pulsing spear of panic – 

(am I unusually poetic today or what?)

-that’s the language used to mean: “Hey, human. You up there. You’re in a hole. Take it easy for a bit. New stuff coming soon.”

Recognise the hole. Stop digging. Hang out in the crumbling darkness for a bit (it’s quite safe).

As best you can, be patient (but you don’t need to be).

Things will look different soon. 

Now let’s go and tell the grown-ups who are messing up the world about this, shall we?