The Toxic Reality of the ‘Fear of Not Doing’

A few weeks ago, I spontaneously booked a long weekend away to Zanzibar, Tanzania with my sister on a completely out-of-character whim. Out of character because, believe it or not, I am not fond of traveling.

*Gasp* I know, I know: Who doesn’t love traveling?!

It’s not that I don’t like seeing new places- I do- it’s that I find the anxiety that accompanies traveling to be way more exhausting than I would voluntarily subscribe to. And while I generally relax as soon as I’ve dumped my bags on the pristine floor of whatever hotel in whatever foreign city I’m visiting, gearing to rear my horns through the 101 activities on my itinerary, this time was a completely different story. This time, there was only one thing on my itinerary: relax.

We’d booked a room in Mwezi Boutique Resort, a quaint little honeymooners’ hotel on the southeast coast of the island. I soon discovered that it was a honeymooners’ resort because, apart from actually being surrounded by happy couples, there really was nothing much to do around the hotel; an indication that the hotel management did not expect its guests to be spending much time outside the perimeters of their bedroom. (That, or lack of budget for any activities…).

Armed with my Kindle with two new e-books recently downloaded, I felt ready. Except, I didn’t expect the sudden arrival of FOND: the Fear of Not Doing.

You know when you’re just about to leave the house and you start feeling like you’re forgetting something? And then the whole day, you’re left with this nagging feeling in your chest that surely you’ve left the iron on, left the windows open during a storm, or locked your cat in the bathroom?

That’s how FOND feels, but worse. It’s not just a nagging feeling that you can bury deep down with an incredulous shake of your head over how silly you’re being. It’s an anxiety that threatens to spill over. I watched, mesmerised, as the other hotel guests lounged by the pool for hours on end, doing nothing but… nothing.

I couldn’t sit without reading. It felt like committing a sin. I finished my two books and sent a silent thank you up above for my ability to easily download a third one on the device. If I was in the pool, I had to be doing laps. Or stationary peddling. Or people watching. To stand, float, and close my eyes was not an option. Every time I overheard someone talking about going on a tour of Stone Town (where Freddie Mercury was born) or doing a spice tour, I felt my heart beating at the fact that I wasn’t doing them too.

It’s almost comical, the notion that I had to force myself to actively relax.

It didn’t make sense, and yet that was exactly what I had to do. I forced myself to close my eyes and just… float – both metaphorically and literally.

When people asked me how my trip had gone as soon as I got home, all I could think was: it really wasn’t as relaxing as I would have wanted it to be. And while, yes, the conditions of the room were subpar, I realised that that wasn’t the actual issue.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, or maybe it’s a Homo Sapiens thing, but feeling anxiety over not being productive is more common than you’d think. It makes you feel like you are a burden upon society if you are not producing, creating or exploring. But what’s the point of doing any of those things if they are out of fear of failure?

Just like every other issue that plagues the world, the first step to recovery is admitting that you are suffering in the first place. As soon as I realised what was going on in my head, it became a whole lot easier to bring myself to do nothing.

Well, not exactly.

Letting go of stressful thoughts, allowing worries to melt in the sun, giving your mind the rest it deserves and indulging in fresh passion fruit straight off the trees – those are all activities, right?

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