Are you future-anxious or a past-fretter?

I have a theory. There are two types of people in this world: those whose anxiety is primarily based around fretting about what has been, and those who worry about what’s yet to come.

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The former suffer from regrets, remorse and obsess over what they should have done. They hang on and find it hard to move on.

The latter can let the past go (“what is done is done”), but tie themselves up in knots over all the things they need to do and whether they’re doing enough. They’re forever trying to map out – and preempt – all possible scenarios. They grasp at certainties and obsess about the unknown.

Me, I’m firmly in the latter camp. I think this tendency sets you up to be more anxious, as opposed to depressed. I think future-anxiety creates agitation – there’s nothing to “anchor” your angst to. It’s like bobbing for apples – all grasping forward, fretting, flaying about. The certainties we try to grasp, of course, simply don’t exist, or shape-shift as soon as we grasp at them.

In contrast, I know lots of people who are past-fretters and they tend to get very heavy with their fretting. Looking back slows you down, and depression can easily follow.

Now, in general I tend to veer toward a Kierkegaardian framework for anxiety. I do, in fact, see it as tied up in a broader existential search for meaning. As with all human predicaments, I believe anxiety serves a social or evolutionary purpose. Kierkegaard sees anxiety as the very human condition that moves us forward from being mere animals. Worrying about the future has seen us form contingencies and improve our place on the planet. “If man were a beast or an angel, he would not be able to be in anxiety…the greater the anxiety, the greater the man,” he famously wrote.

“He therefore who has learned rightly to be in anxiety has learned the most important thing.”

Indeed. To learn to be in anxiety – that’s certainly something worth fretting forward into the future over.

Are you a past fretter? Do you agree with my take? I’m open to being wrong…

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