The fear of closing doors


Ever thought that it might be a good idea to slow down? At a time when stress seems to be adversely affecting the quality of so many people's lives, doesn't it make sense to stop living life at 90 miles an hour and start making healthy choices for the sake of your mental, physical and emotional well-being?

Of course it does. But for many of us, slowing down is a threat, a frightening, even overwhelming challenge.

Many of us are obsessed with keeping all our options open. But that's not always such a good idea. Rather than narrowing our choices in the response to overwhelming stress, juggling too many options only leaves us feeling trapped, exhausted, overwhelmed and often over-medicated (both chemically and non-chemically). Why does every door have to remain open? Why do we need to consider "every" option?

Someone spoke to me recently about an event he was considering attending. It was, he said, a "definite possibility". A definite possibility. What is that?

Fear of the disconnect

Whether it's a gadget that you'll never use, or continuing a relationship with an individual with whom you have nothing in common, or obsessively visiting Facebook, Twitter or some other online group to which you haven't contributed in years, or an event you have season tickets for but never attend, there's usually a story behind the attachment that makes disconnection and detachment feel almost overwhelming and that soothes and excuses feelings of loss.

This obsessive need to keep all your options open isn't just physically and emotionally draining, it is positively self-destructive. Yet the fear of missing out is even stronger. When options go away, when doors close, many of us experience a sense of loss that is deep, visceral (you feel it in your gut) and frightening. It's a feeling that touches on your sense of belonging, on security and control, on the fear that life may be passing you by.


  • Is it painful for me to give up options? If so, why?
  • Do I take an "everything is possible" approach to life to the extent that I am exhausted with all the possibilities?
  • What would happen if I closed just one door this week? How does that thought make you feel?
  • Am I in relationships that are draining? Why do I choose to stay?
  • At work, do I take on more to the extent that it affectings my health?
  • Do I (honestly) spend too much time trying to "stay connected". How would I feel if I cut back? Does it interfere with my quality of life? What do these activities get me?
  • How do I feel about being alone? Do I feel comfortable and secure in my own skin?
  • Growing up, was I surrounded by a sense of abundance or lack?
  • Do I need to have "all the information" before making important life or work choices? How do I feel when I don't have all the information?
  • Is my outlook on life generally happy, pleasant, anxious or fearful?
  • Do I always need to be "doing something?"
  • Do I wear "crazy-busy" as a merit badge?

So instead, many of us keep all our options open and refuse to let go because the fear we feel is infinitely greater than the distress, anxiety and exhaustion we put ourselves through by leaving all the doors open.

Emotionally and psychologically, many of us, it seems, would prefer to die slowly from stress than face the emotional loss of opting out or closing a door. It's the devil you know vs the devil you don't. Fear of the unknown is too painful.

The need to be "crazy-busy"

The same fear of letting go explains why we work more, take on more, spend an inordinate amount of time tied to our electronic leashes, go out eight nights a week and shop obsessively for "stuff". We want to have all the options. We want the bells and whistles. We want to stay connected – even if it's with toxic people who deplete our energy. We agonize obsessively over our careers and work so that we can keep all our options open and thereby feel we are in control.

So, there it is. Overworking, overbooking, over-engaging, over-spending, over-socializing, over-exercising, over-committing, over-doing, in a word - over-obsessing - for fear of giving up an option or closing a door. It's stressful and debilitating. It doesn't have to be. And, that's worth thinking about. After all, life is about choices.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.