The young man sat confused and dejected in my office. For years he’d planned to live abroad after graduating from college.
He’d studied a foreign language, obtained the required visas and made all the arrangements for his travel. Now, a few weeks before his departure, he was dreading the thought of going.
My client was suffering from cold feet, a combination of anxiety, fear and doubts about making a major change in his life. While most commonly associated with impending marriages, cold feet can happen with any life-altering event. High school grads heading off to college may balk weeks before they’re to move into the dorms. Seniors leaving long-held family homes to move closer to children and grandkids are subject to pangs of sadness and self-doubt.
The amount of trepidation generally corresponds to the degree of changes soon to be made. We seldom fret about daily decisions. But when those choices involve major developmental issues, such as getting married, changing careers, having children or retiring from the work force, the stakes are significantly higher and therefore accompanied by more mental anguish.
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Time also adds severity to these moments. The longer we have to ponder the big issues, the more they develop lives of their own. We tend to overanalyze our options until we’re paralyzed by the decision at hand.
Of course, it’s not wise to make snap decisions. No one would advocate making a life-altering choice without fully considering every angle.
Still, having too much time to ruminate and rehash the data allows pressure to build up to unbearable levels.
Sometimes cold feet can serve as a warning. They are emotional flashing red lights that signal grave danger up ahead. For instance, a woman may have misgivings about marrying a man who’s spent time in prison. At those times, it’s best to pay close attention and avoid taking any actions you may regret.
Life choices are so difficult because no decision is 100 percent. Each dilemma comes with its own list of pluses and minuses. The closer the benefits are to the downsides, the more we grapple over what to do.
Wondering if your cold feet signify more than just pregame jitters? Then scroll back through the past six months. If you’ve been nagged by relentless doubts, you should definitely put on the breaks. Identify the areas that most concern you and either rectify them or reconsider your course of action.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been committed and joyful about your decision and your anxiety is relatively new, it’s a good bet you’ve got cold feet and that your plan is safe to pursue.
I’m a firm believer that each of us knows what we truly want. We may feel confused by additional factors. We may collect and consider varying opinions that momentarily cloud our deepest desires. Still, when we honestly assess our options, one path is clearly illuminated for us to follow.
Tips for fighting fears
• Create inner stillness. Anxiety creates psychological chatter that renders decisions nearly impossible to make. Allow yourself to be still with deep breathing, meditation or prayer. Then be available to what you need to hear.
• Listen to your real wishes. You probably know what you want to do. Honoring your true desires heads you in the right direction.
• Consult a panel of advisers. Sometimes we need input from others. Seek out a few friends, family members or professionals whose opinions you value.
• Look into the future. In a quiet moment, ask yourself, “What it I pursue this option? How will my life be?” Do the same with the second option. Your honest response will shed light on which direction to go.
• Set a date. Some decisions have built-in deadlines. Others are open-ended. Select a time to finally decide and put this matter to rest.
• Make the final decision. Allow yourself to select one course of action. Even if you still have doubts, it’s time for you to pick.
• Quiet internal critics. Your mind may continue second-guessing even after you’ve made your choice. Be aware of the thoughts but don’t listen to them. They’ll only confuse you.
• Reconsider if you need to. Few things in life are permanent. If, after your best deliberation, you realize you’ve made the wrong decision, do what you can to undo it. Learn what you can from the experience. Then move forward from there.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com