So, I just had a mini breakthrough about dealing with anxiety and worry.
A couple days ago I went to the movies with my 2 kids. We went to the Movie Tavern, which is a different kind of theater where people sit in barcaloungers while waiters and waitresses serve the food and drinks. It’s like going out to a meal and a movie all rolled into one. If you haven’t tried it, you should. It’s a pretty awesome way to watch a movie. But it’s a little pricey, so since I’m a single parent on a budget, it will have to be saved for just a couple times a year.
Anyway, while I was sitting in the movie, something all of sudden came to me.
It was this phrase:
Worry isn’t a prediction of the future, it’s a reflection of the past.
I wasn’t even thinking about worrying or anxiety or how my worry and anxiety gets triggered. I was a little worried about my 16-year-old sitting 2 seats away, fidgeting in his seat, itching to check his phone. So, I guess maybe that’s what unclogged the thought. But I wasn’t trying to figure anything out. Not right then.
But here’s the funny thing about my brain: I’ll throw stuff into it and just leave it alone and somewhere deep in my subconscious, that information whirls and bounces around, and eventually pops back into my conscious mind with answers or little lines that make a lot of sense to me.
So, I thought about that line for a couple minutes. And here’s what I sort of figured out:
Worry isn’t a light looking into the future.
It’s a shadow from the past.
It’s not a warning bell for what’s to come.
It’s a shadow of what already came.
And it’s not a prediction of the future, No, worry is just a reflection of the past.
One of my biggest triggers is when my 16-year-old texts me while I’m at work. In the past, I’ve received texts from him that eventually led to ambulances and hospitals. Unfortunately, that’s not an exaggeration. But it’s been over a year since any of this happened.
Sure, I still get some texts about him being angry or feeling anxious about one thing or another, but none of these texts have led to anything major. And I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of texts that have simply been to say hello or even tell me he’s earned a 100 on a test.
Yet, my heart still races whenever my phone buzzes. And my stomach begins to knot.
Why? Because of the past. Because I’m afraid of what it might lead to. I’m afraid that the past will predict the future.
What’s the saying? He who forgets the past is bound to repeat it? Yep, that’s it.
So, aren’t I only being smart to always think of the past when my phone buzzes? If I don’t worry, won’t the past repeat itself?
Deep down, isn’t this the justification for much of our worry and anxiety? I’m worrying because I’m learning from the past and hoping to prevent future Armageddon.
Writing it now makes it seem ridiculous. Putting light on it. After all, how many texts have I gotten from my kid in the last couple of years? A thousand maybe? And how many have led to catastrophe? Three? Maybe? And none in well over a year.
Yep, getting triggered seems ridiculous. It makes no sense.
But in the moment, it makes all the sense in the world.
And there’s this too;
On some level I believe that my worry is helping to ensure that the past doesn’t influence the future. . And if I am not vigilant and worrying enough, if I’m not thinking enough about what I’m afraid will happen, then it will happen.
As if I am some sort of Jedi or something. As if I can control the future with my mind.
Obviously I can’t
Yet, I still hold on to worry. I still embrace the anxiety. Because it gives me control. It makes me feel like I’m not completely powerless. But in reality, it doesn’t truly give me any more power to control the future. All it really does is take away my power in the present moment. It ruins every moment as time passes.
As for the future… How can we control that? Well, at the end of the day, we can’t.
And we can’t predict the future either. That’s the cold, hard truth.
Everything is just guessing. Everything.
But by being present in the moment and being who we are meant to be in every moment, we can help shape how we feel in the future. We can help steer our lives toward goodness and we can take care of ourselves, and nurture ourselves so that as the future unfolds, we’re prepared to be the best version of ourselves – not the perfect or good or perfectly good version, but the best version we can be at any given moment.
Letting go of anxiety and worry is key to helping live a good life. But how we can do it?
Ultimately we all have to find the answer to that. For me, what I figured out in the movie theater is a major step in the right direction. But it’s only one step.
I came up with 2 more – 3 total steps to help alleviate worry and anxiety:
- See it.
- Study it.
- Set it free.
All start with S for easy remembering. At least it helps me remember.
First, I have to see it. I have to recognize that I’m experiencing anxiety and worry.
This can be easy, but not always. Sometimes I’m worrying so much – so often, for days on end – that I don’t realize it anymore. Or I have so much happening in my life that the worry and anxiety gets mixed-in with a lot of other emotions.
For me, I constantly have to remind myself that I am not my thoughts or feelings, I’m the being overseeing my thoughts and feelings.
I’m not the worry. I’m the being seeing that I’m worrying.
This helps me gain enough space to see what it is I’m feeling, So, if I’m anxious or worried, I first recognize it and then that allows me to move onto Step 2.
Next I have to study it. I need to analyze exactly what I’m feeling and why.
Almost always the worry is accompanied by my stomach turning to knots, my breath becoming labored, and my mind beginning to race. While all these things are obvious, I don’t always recognize them right away. But the more I do, the easier it gets. So, after I finally recognized the anxiety a few times, I recognized it faster the next few times, and even faster the next few. I’m starting to get to the point where I catch it within several seconds.
And once I recognize it, then I have to decide if the worry/anxiety is warranted? There are times when we can’t help but feel worried. There are times that will automatically be filled with anxiety. But for me, these legitimate times feel different.
For example, when I got a phone call that Wildflower had been badly injured in a car accident, I remember feeling like I was going to pass out. I walked back to my desk with my legs wobbling and my knees buckling with every step. I pretty much collapsed into my chair and closed my eyes to gather myself.
Then something in my mind and body took over. Of course I was still filled with worry, but I began operating on a different level. I’m sure there’s a word for it. But I dont know it. I just know how it felt. And at that point, the issue wasn’t the anxiety and it wasn’t the worrying either. It was dealing with the very real possibility of Wildflower dying. That was the issue.
That feeling – after the car accident – was much different than the feelings I get when my child sends me a text – the feelings that threaten to cripple me and invade my mind with what might happen in the future. Those feelings are so much more hollow. They are all about playing on the fears of what if. They have nothing to do with what is actually happening.
And you know what? As I mentioned at the top of this blog, there have been times when things really have gone sideways with my children. And some really serious shit has happened. And when the crap hits the fan, that same thing happens to me. I get motivated. I go into a state in which I’m able to withstand whatever’s happening. Yes, there’s worry and anxiety and even fear happening inside of me, but it’s not threatening to cripple me. In a way, it’s helping me. It’s motivating me.
The useless worry, the harmful anxiety, does the exact opposite. It paralyzes me. Or tries to anyway.
So, now I come to the third step for dealing with worry. I have to set it free. Let it go.
But before I can do this, I have to answer the question: Is there any action I can take to directly respond to the worry? If so, I do it.
Maybe it’s rushing to the hospital. Maybe it’s staying an hour late at the office. Maybe it’s buying flowers for a romantic partner or taking my kid out for ice cream to talk about what’s going on in his or her life. Whatever it might be. I take the action and then let the worry and anxiety go.
Or maybe the answer is that there isn’t anything to be done about the worry. If that’s the case, then just let it go.
What good will the worrying do anyway? I know for me, most of the stuff I worry about never even happens.
So, I try to stay in the moment and I try not to borrow trouble. But of course, I fail a lot. And that’s okay. I don’t judge myself harshly when I do worry too much or I forget to take the 3 steps outlined above. I just make a mental note to try and do better next time.
And the goal doesn’t have to be to completely stop worrying and/or feeling anxious. That would be almost impossible. But the goal could be to just be a little less worried for just not quite as much time. Even just recognizing being anxious or worried is a major step in the right direction.
And, of course, recognizing it for what it really is: It’s not about the future. It’s something in the past triggering the feelings. Remember that.
We’re all just guessing when it comes to the future. So live in the moment. Recognize what you’re feeling. See it. Then take a look at what exactly you’re feeling. Study it. And then take action and let it go. Set it free. Live a better life.