Uncertainty and future depression
Sometimes our fear of the future can trigger depression and anxiety.
Fear of the future or “chronophobia” used to be something specific that affected some people with anxiety or depression. With the way Covid-19 has changed our world, I feel like I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t experiencing at least a bit of chronophobia these days.
This ongoing crisis has affected so many facets of our daily lives. Many of us seriously struggle to look into the future calmly and with confidence. Just the thought of going to the grocery store can trigger anxiety these days. Not to mention that many people who have lost their livelihoods during lockdown may be experiencing future depression. They simply do not know how their lives will ever get back to normal.
I feel the same way. When I think about how I used to easily travel between Canada and Europe, I get anxious. It’s impossible to predict when travel will normalize again. I am unsure when I can see my family. Restaurants are still closed and even the beach is no longer a place of refuge after a busy work week.
Future depression sneaks in on those days where everything seems “unreal”. It’s on those days I truly struggle with what is happening in the world with Covid-19. I simply cannot see a positive future outcome and it causes depression to rear its ugly head. But, let me tell you that this reaction to the current situation is normal.
Why we fear the future
When we honestly think about it, we have to admit that there is never actually any certainty in the future. We are not psychic and we can never know what the future actually holds (until we learn to bend the space-time continuum - which I’m personally not working on at this time :).
Yet as a society, we have some agreed upon illusions of certain goals that we have deemed as “stable”. This includes being in a certain relationship, or holding a certain type of job. We act as if these things mean that each day will somehow bring another consistent experience. We have decided on this “life purpose” of striving towards certain goals in order to feel secure in some way.
The truth is that no matter whether you’re in a relationship or not, no matter whether you have an office job or you’re a temp, there can never be total stability in life. Life is a consistent flow of change and new experiences and unforeseen events happen every day.
If that statement makes your stomach sink, then you’re in the same boat as the rest of us.
“I never think of the future - it comes soon enough.”
- Albert Einstein
You can see why we like to build ourselves little pockets of illusion to feel a bit more safe and a bit less overwhelmed. If I were to think about this truth about the future and its ever-evolving flux, I would be very overwhelmed. It requires us to be constantly evolving, learning and growing in order to keep up with life. Some days, I just feel like I don’t have it in me. And that’s when future depression and fear of my future happens.
So what is the solution to feeling this burden of the unknown future?
Future depression is a change in perspective
According to psychologists, the key to living with this constant fear of the future is all in the perspective. They recommend changing our thinking and our focus from the future, to the “now”.
The first step is understanding that having a “life purpose” of a specific goal set in the future gives us the perspective that we are working toward a destination. Seeing things this way can easily lead to disappointment as life changes course and we miss our target.
In order to overcome this disappointment and fear of the future, psychologists recommend we strive more towards “having a purpose” in our daily lives instead. This changes the goal to the feelings we experience in the moment, rather than a specified place in the future. We aim to do the best with what we have in the moment, and express gratitude for the things that make us feel positive and connected each day, instead of stable and secure in the future.
In my experience, when I shift the focus back to the now, I find that I’m more focused on sparks of love and gratitude, connection and generosity. And in the end, these are all the positive things you need to build a better today and a better tomorrow anyway. I find I pay more attention to things I can control and change right now, rather than waiting and planning for goals I may reach in the future.
“Being in the now” is not a new concept. In fact, it may be one of the oldest concepts known to man. Many philosophies and religions are based on the concept of “being in the now” or “mindfulness” for good reason.
Our busy modern lives are increasingly asking us to think about a time other than now. Advertisements ask us to think about losing weight for bikini season. Jobs ask us to plan appointments two months in advance. Schools release schedules for classes and exams for the whole term. TV shows take us back to the Roaring Twenties or into the future.
It seems like our minds are being trained to be anywhere but in the here and now.
In part I can’t help but wonder if this increase in the fear of the future is related to us living in the most scheduled and planned society ever. We are professionals at worrying about things that have not yet happened. We are professional chronophobes and future depression does not come as a surprise. Yet, as we already explored, there is not a lot we can do about the future. No matter how much we buy into the illusion that planning will control and secure the future. Sure we can plan for the future, but ultimately, we can only influence the now.
Become present to counter future depression
There are many great ways to practice being more present or mindful. These practices can also help you keep future depression at bay. Whether it’s just drawing your attention back to fully experiencing the moment no matter where you are, or trying meditation for the first time. Anything you do to bring yourself fully into the present makes it impossible to ponder about the future at the same time.
If you’re interested, seek out some books, videos, local classes or visit a studio or Ashram near you. Just remember that it can be a very individual process and not every method may speak to you right off the bat. Keep an open mind and don’t get discouraged if one isn’t your style. You can also do things at home to stay present.
Check your thoughts
Thoughts hold so much power over us and that can go one of two ways. They either bring about positive emotions or negative emotions. So, it only makes sense that you become aware of your thoughts. Start looking into what you spend your time thinking about during the day. Do you constantly think about all the bad things that could happen to you down the road?
Acknowledge those thoughts, but at the same time understand that they are just thoughts. There is still plenty of time to make changes and have a different outcome. If you stop the thought train in its tracks and refocus your thoughts on something positive, you will not be wasting your day on worrying about the future.
If you catch yourself thinking about a conversation you had with your boss and your thoughts come to the conclusion that you will lose your job - stop. Those are just thoughts. Focus on what you will cook for dinner today. Call up your friend and meet for coffee. Put on your favorite music and dance it out. When you refocus your thoughts to the here and now, you take back control over anxiety and fear of the future.
One thing that really helps me is keeping a journal. When I take time to write down what I think, it’s hard to wander off to the future. I write about the here and now. A lot of entries detail what happened on a certain day and what my thoughts about it are. Sure, there is the occasional entry about my future dreams. But generally, my thoughts are very much present in the now.
Using your senses to block future depression
Another thing is using my senses to ground myself. If you are part of the Jōrni, you will have learned about a particular technique to help with panic attacks. You can use a similar technique to bring yourself into the present moment. Really focus on what your senses are picking up. Focus on what you can hear right now. Notice what you can see and smell around you. When you eat, really think about your food and how it tastes, smells, and looks.
If you feel up to it, being part of a community also really brings you into the moment. I used to volunteer at the hospital and later the local animal shelter. Giving my time to others and forming bonds with other people and animals was very effective in keeping me engaged in the present. I had very little time for my thoughts to wander to the future during those times.
Gratitude is also a great way to be present. One of my teachers said that gratitude and depression cannot exist at the same moment. If you are focused on feeling grateful, there is no room to feel depressed at the same time. So, I take a few moments when I wake up and throughout the day, to just go over what I am grateful for.
Just remember that many people suffer greatly with disease and poverty. If you have a roof over your head and food to eat, those are definitely things to be grateful for every day. You can build from there and find small things that you are thankful for. This centers you in the moment and instead of thinking about what you are lacking, you are forced to think about your abundance.
Meditation to counter future depression
And lastly, I have been blown away by the positive effect meditation has had on my life. I understand that meditation is not for everyone. If you have never tried meditation and are open to it, you can start with the free meditation from the Jōrni, for example. Meditating with a group or an online meditation guide might be easier for you to start out with. It takes time and is not something you should just do once and expect results. Practiced consistently though, meditation can give you many positive benefits and help ease anxiety and depression.
Maybe you will end up incorporating many little bits from all kinds of places to form your own practice like me. There are a lot of ways to learn to be more present in your life. Any bit you incorporate into your routine will have a positive effect.
To me, it seems like the key to fighting off future depression is to work with what we can influence right now. Over time, practicing mindfulness and staying in the here and now can help us understand that all the positive things we do in the now will likely culminate to a more positive future. That is really the only way to feel better about what is to come. Focus on what you can do. Because you can only do things now.
Most of the time, I stress myself out over things to come in the future only to have them change on me anyways. Does that happen to you? You worry for days about a problem, only to have the situation change completely. I spend so much time and energy worrying, when I could be enjoying the here and now. Over the past years, I have really tried to shift my focus from all that future-worrying to living with purpose in the moment.
Fearing the future cost me a lot of energy and it also started to affect my health. The constant stress and fear chipped away at my immune system. I would get sick much more frequently and generally feel lethargic and numb. It also affected my sleep. There were nights I could not sleep at all. I would lay awake with a rock in my stomach, scared of what was to come. This only further laid the foundation for depression and anxiety to take a hold.
Free yourself from future depression
Constantly living in fear is really no way to live at all. And I mean that literally. It sucks the life out of you and all the joy out of being where you are now. There are steps you can take to build up your resilience to future depression. An important step is to shift your focus from the future to the present.
We are all uneasy about the future at times. Life happens and change can be very scary.
Especially during this epidemic, things are so different from how we are used to living our lives. Consciously bring yourself to the present moment, whenever you feel anxiety or fear about the future. Try some of the suggestions in this blog to stay in the present moment.
That’s not to say you cannot ever think about the future. If it makes you happy, dream about the future. In particular, if thinking about that future vacation, your birthday party, or an upcoming wedding puts a smile on your face. But, if thinking about the future gives you anxiety and future depression, scale it back and live in the now.
We are often so busy thinking and worrying about the future that we completely forget to appreciate what we have right now. I encourage you to take a step back and focus on the now. Be grateful for what you have right now. Your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, your work. Anything that makes you feel good. And then stay in that happy moment and enjoy!
Stay focused on the present. Future problems often have a funny way of working themselves out all on their own.