Uncertainty | Why You Actually Need Anxiety

"All things are difficult before they are easy."  Thomas Fuller


To say that the year 2020 is one of “uncertainty” is quite a massive understatement.  With only a few months left of this surreal turn-of-the-decade, I think about a list of words that would describe the last several months:





6 feet














What words would you add?  And would we have ever guessed that any of these words could describe our lives for months on end?


I think the uncertainty of our current situation may be one of the most difficult aspects to manage.  There is no end date, no real sense of when life can return to “normal,” no actual sense of what “normal” will be like in the future.  When faced with uncertainty, I believe that people often try to find as many ways as possible to minimize the discomfort, anxiety and stress that naturally coincide with uncertainty.


But what if we responded in a different way?  


What if we learned how to live with a certain amount of anxiety, and to lean into that discomfort as a way of being transformed?

Enter the “Window of Tolerance” (many thanks to Dr. Dan Siegel).  


The Window of Tolerance suggests that we all need a moderate amount of anxiety/arousal/stress in order to function and respond to the demands of the day.  Operating out of our Window allows us to get up in the morning and tend to our responsibilities throughout the next several hours of the day.  However, if we experience too much anxiety/arousal (“Hyperarousal”), we become panicked, scattered, overwhelmed and flooded with emotion.  Not a good place to be.


But, the goal then is not to eliminate all anxiety/arousal because then we’d be in the place of “Hypoarousal:”  numb, emotionless, checked out.  Think Netflix binge, and there you have it.


From my experience over the last six months, I think our Windows have started to close too much.  We’re trying to shut out pain or fear or uncertainty or chaos, but what we’re actually doing is shutting down our capacity to engage with life and still live with purpose, meaning, hope and joy.


So how do you keep this Window open?


1.  Be aware of when you enter into Hyperarousal and Hypoarousal.  What are your signals, mentally, emotionally and physically?  What are your triggers?


2.  Be intentional when you are in Hyperarousal to find ways of calming your body and your heart, NOT finding fixes for your problems.


3.  Be proactive when you are in Hypoarousal to do something purposeful, and ideally something that is of service to others.


This is hard work, and it’s worth it.


In this with you,


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Alair Olson, M.A.

 Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist



South Mission Valley | San Diego, CA  

858.634.0302 | therapy@alairolson.com