I am a thorough person. Especially when it comes to my anxiety.
So when a bad thing that may or may not happen looms in the future, I go ahead and get super anxious, just to cover my bases.
You know, “be prepared” and all that.
As I wrote in an earlier post, my hound dog had surgery recently to remove a growth that was possibly cancerous.
Note that I said possibly cancerous.
Going into the surgery I did not know if the biopsy would come back as normal, cancerous but treatable, or cancerous and life threatening. But just to play it safe, I decided to assume the worst and melt down the night before the surgery. To say that I decided to do this is not quite accurate. Anticipatory anxiety has been my habit for so long that it is often hard for me to choose otherwise. So the familiar feeling of dread washed over me and I cried into my hound dog’s fur the night before his operation for fear of losing him.
Thankfully, my dog’s growth turned out to be benign. After the relief washed over me, I began to think about all the time and energy I had wasted assuming the worst. I wished that I had reacted differently.
But the good thing about life is that it often gives you a do-over.
About a week after my dog’s surgery, weather predictions began telling us our area would soon be hit by Irma while she was still a strong tropical storm. Living in Georgia, we have been hit by tropical storms before and know their potential dangers.
So we began to prepare.
But as I prepared I consciously told myself a different message. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”
Instead of running through the worst case scenarios over and over in my mind, I intentionally made a place for hope inside my mind and soul. Don’t get me wrong, I still had my emergency rations on hand and battened down the hatches. I just did so with a mind that left open the possibility that everything was going to be A-okay.
I did quite well at this for some time. Whenever I felt the familiar sense of doom creeping up, I would take note of it and then choose to let it go.
And then the storm hit. It was a really weird feeling to sit in the dark all day and watch our pine trees sway and bend in the powerful wind and rain. I could feel the panic rise in my throat when the thought would cross my mind, “There is no way those trees can withstand this wind. Surely they are going to break and fall.” But then I would come back to my breath and remind myself that in that very moment I was okay. Nothing bad had happened yet and nothing bad was happening now.
And since I did not yet know if things would be bad in the future, I chose to stay in the present moment where I and all around me were actually doing just fine.
This practice of staying in the present moment is no new revelation. People have been writing about it for centuries. My husband began practicing what we now call Mindfulness about a decade ago and has been teaching classes on it for the past five years.
And each year when my husband teaches his class I re-read his favorite book and remind myself how important it is to live in the present moment. I remember how much suffering can be avoided if I choose to let go of my fears about the future and choose to soak up every bit of right now.
It is a big learning curve for me. I am sure I will be practicing Mindfulness for the rest of my life. But little by little I am getting better. And I am starting to be able to let go of my old friend Anticipatory Anxiety.
And I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t miss this doom-filled frenemy at all.
If you want to learn more about living in the present moment, letting go of future fears, and other helpful mindfulness teachings, I highly recommend this book:
It has been a life changer for me and I would love for it to help you as well.
And for those of you still recovering from the storms that have hit our nation and those of you who are living through personal storms, know that you are in my prayers for strength and comfort and better days to come.