When I’m afraid, it helps to follow the advice I regularly give to my son William when he begins a panic attack: breathe slowly, bring yourself back to your body, stay in the present moment, repeat to yourself, “I am safe.”
Most of what worries us lives either in the future or the past. It’s fear over a potential outcome that might never materialize or regret over something already done. If we make an effort to exist in the present moment, with all of its attendant feelings, sensations and realities, we have a better chance of staying calm and collected.
The question I’m trying to ask myself is: what is under my actual control? We all know that our response to any situation is completely up to us, but practicing this while under stress is still challenging. Our minds nose way down the road, anticipating poverty, relationship conflict, uncertainty, loneliness. It’s easy to become overwhelmed.
The key is to bring my focus back to the present moment. To breathe. To imagine myself as safe, cared for, loved…as I can provide these things for myself. Prepping for doomsday scenarios only increases the chaotic sense of panic. Whatever comes, each one of us will have no choice but to deal with it.
Imagining stress is optional, facing reality is not. We are better off working to remain calm and stable, so we are in a more secure mental space to handle misfortune if it should arrive. And it helps to remember that most of what we worry about never actually happens.
Good things are just as likely to occur as horrible ones. Most of our problems originate in our minds, because we long for a specific outcome and anything other than that brings us grave disappointment and loss, even if it was only a vague possibility instead of an actual reality. Damn this internal pessimism of mine, this infernal waiting for the other shoe to drop which ruins even the happiest of days.
I should know by now that the doom and gloom I forecast usually disappears with time. If I allow a little light and air on it, I’ll watch it vaporize. Old habits like shame, depression and fear roar back into life if we let them, for they’ve worn a deep, familiar groove in our subconscious. I have healthier skills available to me, such as trust in myself and others, a newly-kindled optimism, the ability to set a long-term goal and work patiently at reaching it.
Where it all falls apart is the intersection with other people, for I cannot control what others do and say. But I am not responsible for the actions of other people. I must simply observe what they do (or fail to do) and then respond in the healthiest way I can. The stress of others does not have to become my reality. Only if I let it. I can come up with a happier strategy. The critical thing is to be clear on what’s mine and what isn’t – a lifelong struggle for me but one I have to keep working on.