Simple way to handle anxiety

July 24, 2012

I guide you one day at a time.
You must not anticipate the Gift
by fears or thoughts of the days ahead.
-Two Listeners

I’m not sure there’s anything harder than the practice of taking each day on its own terms, not projecting out beyond “right here, right now.”

It’s easy to let the imagination run wild with worst case scenarios.  In fact, left to its own devices, that’s what the imagination does: it goes wild with speculation: What if this happens, or that happens?

Well, what if none of those things happened?

It’s taken a long time for me to understand that worrying about things doesn’t change the outcome one single bit. It just makes me crazy. 

A long time ago, a therapist taught me how to handle anxiety. When I’d begin to spin out on what ifs, she suggested I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” in that scenario. And think it through.

What I found was that the worst case scenario wasn’t the bogeyman my imagination thought it was.

Someone I know suffers from an extreme fear of flying. Any bit of news about an air crash –even a TSA report years later– hits his radar screen like a bomb and triggers anxiety. His worst case scenario is being on a plane that crashes. This fear keeps him firmly rooted close to home and prevents him from the many wonderful experiences that travel can bring.

An irrational fear like that can only be fought with logic and reason. He can stop himself from spinning out on air travel anxiety by thinking it through. Statistically, it’s far more dangerous to travel by car than by air. How many flights go up and down successfully worldwide every single day? The odds are overwhelmingly on the side of a safe light.

Of course, there are times when statistics might not be a help. Maybe the odds in your favor are very low. But still possible.  In that case, the only safe haven is the ability to live in the moment, one day at a time.

It’s something I aspire to.

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