You can feel it, the oppressive, overwhelming angst of four walls closing in on you. Except it’s not walls, it’s life; life itself seems to be coming in, bearing down and suffocating you. The questions swirl in your head: Is this it? Is there nothing more to look forward to? Will I be doing the same thing day in and day out? What’s the meaning of it? Where do I go from here? WHAT’S THE POINT?
If you’ve never felt this way, I’m sorry if the last paragraph has made you feel anxious. But for many adults and for most of my coaching clients these feelings creep-up periodically. Sure there are plenty of times when they are feeling good, satisfied and enjoying what they do, but these moments are punctuated by intense periods of disquietude, a feeling of deep emptiness and overwhelming helplessness. It’s the kind of feeling that makes you want to run out of a room screaming. It can make your skin crawl. Sometimes it feels like there are no solutions, which can be devastating, other times you just want to say “fuck it all” and run away.
What I am describing is not depression, nor an anxiety disorder. It is simply what happens when you lose sight of the meaning, direction or purpose of your life. If you have never felt it, consider yourself lucky, you probably have a pretty good sense of what is right for you, and you’re living it. I for one have felt that strong desire to run away because where I was standing didn’t feel right. At the time I had no idea what right looked like for me; it was awful. But it only remains awful if you don’t understand it, don’t know what it means and what to do with it. Once you understand why it insinuates itself into your consciousness, why that specific feeling is being expressed, then it’s actually a useful signal, a measure of the quality of your life.
I recently worked with a client who shared this sense of loss and emptiness. It rekindled those same feelings of helplessness, that same dread. I shared the story with a friend who (infuriatingly) reminded me that we have a choice in how we feel. I won’t lie, I kind of wanted to punch them in the face. But they’re right… well, kind of. We may not choose how we feel initially, but in so far as we can identify and modify our thoughts, then we can shape our emotional responses.
In the case of the angst surrounding the purposelessness of life, we can choose to be suffocated by it, or appreciate that it’s simply a signal that we need to rediscover or revisit that which gives us meaning. I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but I’d rather work to understand what fulfillment looks like, than sit with the restless, skin crawling cold sweat that comes from feeling like there is no solution, no hope and no purpose.
If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, if you’ve felt the angst I speak of take solace. You don’t have to be stuck feeling this way. As dreadful as it may seem when the fear envelopes you remember all emotions have a beginning, a middle and an end. Emotions are simply an internal alarm, be thankful that your mind has such effective warning systems. When it fades away, and your brain has regained the ability to think with clarity it is time to start dreaming big, then be honest with yourself, and finally make it happen.
Dream about what you wish life would look like. Be honest about which parts of the dream are missing in your everyday and what choices you are making that contribute to the void. Make a change happen. For any dream you may have, there is a real-life expression, a way you can touch upon the dream while taking into account all the barriers, roadblock and limitations of your actual life. A feeling is but a signal, understand the signal and you can determine your course of action.