By Published On: September 28, 2013Categories: Anxiety

What does that even mean, anyway…life is a fluid?

It is common for people to perceive life as a linear series of milestone events, many of which have general time markers on them. For example, some learn to drive around age 16-18; at 18 they graduate high school and maybe go to college; at 21 they can order a drink; at 22 enter the “real world” or consider graduate school; maybe in 20’s or 30’s get married; couple years after, have children; and so on.

While obviously there are exceptions and variations to the milestones, it’s striking for how many people this is the somewhat “solid” perception of life. However, in reality, life isn’t usually so easily planned out, and when things don’t go according to this type of plan, the dissonance can start to wear on your mental health, potentially leading to depression, anxiety, hopelessness, lowered self-esteem, and other manifestations of fear and disappointment.

The “grand plan” above can be helpful and healthy for children and teens to formulate a sense of certain aspects of society and the world. (Each family and person develops their own value systems and forms their own grand plan). Without this, children and adolescents would be more prone to lacking direction and not have a good sense of what they’re working towards in the present. They would more likely live in the day-to-day with no sense of what’s next, or what “should” be next. So there is technically nothing wrong with having one eye on the linear, long-term vision.

However, moving past adolescence and towards adult independence, it becomes more clear just how much of a non-linear, dynamic fluid life is. We come to see that the grand plan is actually more of a “grand idea”. We see that life isn’t necessarily prescribed and that our desires or present realities may counter what we thought life was supposed to look like.

Some people live a single life and are very happy; some choose not to retire and work until they can’t anymore; some have unplanned children, or end up not having children even though they wanted children; some are in different careers than they desired; some get married and then get divorced; some want to get married, but are struggling to meet someone; and so on.

Why is it so hard to cope with life as a fluid?

Life as a non-linear fluid can be difficult for many people because even though a linear frame is healthy for the developing person, the realities of life often have a way of bringing the unexpected. Sure, the grand plan may end up working out, or parts of it might, but it generally doesn’t “just happen” the way many were taught it would.

Sometimes life can be frustrating and disappointing. People may experience the disappointments and unaccomplished markers as a sign that something is wrong with them or that they are doing something wrong. However, in reality, for many people having unintended changes in the script can be quite destabilizing.

How do we deal with disappointments and frustrations while searching for your vision?

Sometimes, it can be helpful to zoom out and create a sense of where you want to go in the bigger picture in life. However, as part of this, it’s also important to leave room for flexibility in the picture, and within yourself as you go. Is there room (physically and emotionally) for unplanned obstacles, or for changes in the plan as needed? How do you deal internally when the plan diverts from the expected path?

It can also be helpful to be aware of the balance between the present and the future. If we have two eyes on the future, then we’re missing the present, which can lead to a sense of life passing us by. This can often lead to a sense of regret and possibly depression when one day realizing too much effort has been put into following the linear path and feeling you’ve missed the rest of life.

On the other side, if we’re only in the present, then our greater life goals may become non-existent in our vision. It can lead to a sense of flailing and create significant anxiety or depression, or generally feeling unfulfilled when not accomplishing any greater goals. Learning balance between your mind, body, and emotions is important for navigating the fluidity of life.

Overall, when we believe that our lives are supposed to follow a set path, it is fine as long as it happens. The question becomes what we do and how we react when we are faced with the unexpected. For many, therapy is where people learn to manage and navigate the unexpected turns in life. The more we allow fluidity and release fantasies of the prescribed life, the more we can create a sense of autonomy while also handling the obstacles, turns, and changes that come our way.

Learn more about anxiety and how I can help you. 

Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy. 

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