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The Eternal Well of Worry

We never seem to run out of things to feel anxious about.

Anxiety is one of the most common things we discuss in talk therapy. Everyone, to some extent, has anxious thoughts. For some people these thoughts are a slight annoyance; for others, they are paralyzing. Some people experience anxiety as a result of fears about external forces like relationships, current events, or work issues. Others experience anxiety as a filter, something about themselves through which they experience everything in their lives in an anxious way. No matter what the roots of our anxiety are, many of us hold these fears deep inside, a source waiting to be drawn from, like a well that never runs dry.

When a client strongly identifies as being anxious and refers to themselves as a worrier, unable to stop thinking about the future and all the bad things that might happen, the image I sometimes describe to them is a well deep inside us, with the water coming from this well representing our anxiety. Each of us has our own well, ready and waiting for us to draw from it. It’s our own personal reserve of anxiety, a place we can come to in order to draw upon the fears, anger, and stress that we have become accustomed to and incorporated into our lives. There’s a well-worn path that leads to it, a familiar wooden bucket tied to the side of it, and our reflection is always there looking back at us as we stare down into the water.

This well never runs out. We might draw from it to address a particular subject, a hope or fear, but just as no amount of worrying will ever make a problem go away, no amount of water drawn from the well will ever empty it. Sometimes we binge, drawing bucket after bucket from the well, in the hopes that if we throw ourselves completely into this process we can use it all up. However, even though the water level might go down, and the well might look empty for a moment, eventually the water of worry starts to seep up from the depths, and the well is full once more.

During those peaceful times in our lives when we don’t draw from it, the well just sits there peacefully. It doesn’t empty or overflow; it remains at a constant level. It maintains a state of fullness inside of us, no matter what’s happening in our lives on the outside. This source of worry is always there. But just because the well is there doesn’t mean we have to drink from it, right?

It’s a very hard thing to just stop doing because we have decided we want to. This process is something we’ve been involved in our entire lives. We are compelled to act the way we act, and we’re comfortable with the familiarity of the process even if we do not enjoy the result. Like many things out of our control, it is hard to stop ourselves from trying to change something we cannot change, and instead to learn how to accept such things without the struggle of trying to change them. By accepting them, we take back the power to feel how we want to feel. Yes, an unexpected bill might trigger our feelings of anxiety regarding money, which have practical present-day implications, as well as sources going back to our childhood that may not be specifically about money but more about the emotions behind our relationship to it. This reaction might never change for us. However, if we can accept the well for just being there instead of feeling like we have to drink from it, we might find ourselves feeling differently. The well is there whether we drink from it or not. It’s not going anywhere. It’s not going to overflow. It’s not going to recede. And it’s not going to go away; it’s a part of us, a part of our identity. Our lives will go on whether we drink from the eternal well of worry or not. So let’s learn to choose not to drink from it. We can acknowledge it without participating in it. There are better ways to stay hydrated.