[November 10, 2022] by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas
Agonizing Over What is to Come
Do you ever feel like you are holding your breath as you go through the day, waiting for the other shoe to drop – waiting for that next bad thing that could happen? We’re not talking about experiences from the past, rather, about experiences to come, experiences that often involve a perceived takeaway or loss that is beyond our control. Not an ideal way to start our day – yet too often we do.
It seems that this phenomenon has ramped up in the wake of so much disruption of the status quo and the perceived loss of stabilizers and guard rails from the past. In so many of our conversations today, we hear the pain and regret for an anticipated future – such as the loss of security, or a loved one, a child leaving the nest, a floundering friendship, a job loss, or even a decline in our youth and vitality. Don’t you think we can all relate to at least one of these?
And then we hold our breath and wait in an attempt to protect ourselves from what we imagine can or will be, staring into the darkness. We cycle back and forth between fear and hope, using hope as a filter to distance ourselves from reality. We begin disconnecting in small but significant ways from what is going on around us, grieving what could or will be.
And as we withdraw, we experience many other insidious effects such as lapses in our attention, forgetfulness, loss of energy, loss of joy. We become less flexible and less creative. Our anxiety rises, and depression sets in. And we continue to hold our breath and wait.
This is not a healthy way to live. When we close off, the new can’t make its way in.
What are some healthier alternatives to withdrawing and worrying about an unknown future? Consider a few tried and true ways to move through the unknowns, the painful, the anticipated things to come.
The first is to find healthy ways to distract yourself from the intrusive thoughts that bring you and your mental health down. AKA - get out of your head. Rather than wallow in your fears, find ways to divert your attention to the present by doing something that brings you joy, or contributes to the benefit of others. Here’s a few to consider, from low effort to high effort.
· Take slow deep breaths. Inhale deeply, and exhale slowly.
· Discover and listen to new music.
· Take a bubble bath.
· Organize your junk drawer (well this might work for some) or bake a cake.
· Call a fun friend and laugh out loud.
These are great exercises because not only are they low in effort, but they are activities we all can do. Be kind to yourself. Take time each day to try new ways of getting to that better, happier place. You don’t have to be an overachiever. Start small and soak it in!! Feel the shift!
Dance to a favorite groove (and if you are so inclined – share that with us and we might even share one of ours).
Do a puzzle such as sudoku, crossword, or jigsaw.
Watch a documentary and learn something new
Meet a friend for coffee (a personal favorite of one of your authors) or a glass of wine (yes, a favorite of the other author).
Take a walk and notice what’s going on around you.
Again – these are all doable. The key is to just pick one and start.
Work on a project with a friend. This could involve learning new skills and making new connections.
Volunteer your time doing something you enjoy. Consider working with the local theater, a school, or kids’ sports team. Oh so many possibilities with this one.
Send positive comments to friends or strangers. Go ahead make their day and yours!
Make a handmade gift for someone. Let your creative side shine!
Take a fun class. How about the history of the Beatles? That’s a win-win – you get to listen to great music, and you get to learn some pretty cool things about them.
We think you get the picture. Do something to get outside your head – or just outside. Experience some satisfaction and even joy and contribute something positive to someone else.
Second, face your fears. There comes a time to accept where you are and just stay there for a while. Don’t jump! Don’t turn away. Engage with it actively. Stay and find your ground and let clarity begin to dawn.
Consider how you would experience the situation, and how you could handle it should it actually occur. Soak it in as you imagine the experience. Stay with it until you have insight into who you aspire to be in the storm, in the loss, in the future. Share this with a friend.
Lastly, lay it to rest as you focus on the present. Get on with doing what you can where you are with those you’re with. Live life!
Take some intentional time throughout each day to focus on what is true and known in your life today. Think about what’s going well, who cares about you, your comforts and supports. Consider your capabilities and possibilities. Take a walk and acknowledge what is beautiful and lovely. Look for the virtue in others. Show someone else an unexpected kindness and consider an unexpected kindness you have experienced. (If you have been following us, you know we love those small acts of kindness).
We all live in a battle for our mind, and our thinking can bring us up or bring us down. Worrying, ruminating, regretting – these will not add a single hour to our life. We can help each other learn to leave it behind and focus on those things that are good. Do it for the health of it!
Our hope is that by reading this, you are better able to take a few cleansing breaths, center yourself and rethink the future. You are an amazing human – soak it in!!
Breathe in the good s**t Breathe out the bulls**t!
~ Author unknown