Anxiety and Hubris

It’s noon and partially cloudy. The dog’s toenails are tapping across the floor elsewhere in the house. Distant cars and the noise of a small airplane are drowning out my tinitus.

A basil plant is sitting on my window sill. I’m beginning to propagate it, so there are five cuttings sitting in water in a coffee mug. —Is it still just one basil plant?

two cups with basil stems sit by a window sill

It occurred to me today that my feelings of both anxiety and hubris come from a similar place. The same node. They have a similar texture, as if they were an inversion of each other.

Anxiety—irrational and overwhelmingly negative.
Hubris—irrational and overwhelmingly positive.

Hubris drops like too much fruit from a tree.
Anxiety climbs like vines.

Self-propagating and self-sustaining under correct conditions.

Maybe that’s too poetic. I’m not an adept poet.

Let me try in ordinary English:

Anxiety: Everyone tells me I am no one.
Hubris: I am better than everyone.

When I pay close attention during times of intense anxiety, I feel that my thoughts are coming from a place of vulnerability. (Sometimes it feels like a point in space in my mind.) Anxious thoughts pour out of it. They are repetitive. Narrow. Black and White. Unsophisticated propositional statements that hit accurately and painfully.

Hubris is trickier because it feels good, (at first). It comes from the same place as anxiety—real vulnerability. Hubris spins heroic fantasies that create false expectations I cannot live up to, and they eventually create a sense of inadequacy that leads back to anxiety.

I don’t think I have ever been able to stop feelings of anxiety. Anxiety goes away on its own time in the way that a storm dissipates. But I have had some success calming my hubris if I can catch myself in a fantasy or thought that is too good to be true. I then ask myself:

Is this who I really am?

Could I really speak to this (wealthy/famous/powerful) person in this way if I met them?

Is this fantasy an accurate representation of my abilities or character?

Is this how people would really respond to a conversation like the one I am imagining?

Sometimes I apologize to my fantasy characters for not being my honest self.

“Sorry Mr. President (or famous podcaster), I disagree with you. But I am not an expert in economics or foreign policy. I shouldn’t be here. I am in no position to advise or confront you. I am an ordinary citizen who has trouble sticking to my own budget. This is actually just the fantasy of a frustrated man. Goodbye.”

When a fantasy ends early, I find that there is leftover “energy”. I’m not sure where that energy goes or what I can do with it. But it is better if the energy is not used to push the pendulum too far in one direction. Because, hubris swings back around and becomes anxiety.