It’s that time of life again — that time when I feel more vulnerable than at any other time. It takes my breath away, and not in a good way. It’s the time I always need to remind myself that nothing is really wrong until I hear the news that it is. And that’s always after I call and ask for my results — that long wait until the doctor or his nurse comes back on the line. It’s that all too familiar time when sweat runs down my legs until I learn the biopsy came back negative and all is well again. Until the next time.
Yes, of course I had symptoms that were worrisome, so I did what I always do, which is exactly what any reasonable person would advise you not to do — I googled my symptoms. Based on my search results I should have already been dead and had little chance of seeing another day. As ridiculous as all of the possible diseases and conditions were, I was still tempted to crank my worrying up to high gear, not because they were likely, but because they were possible. When anything is possible then everything is possible, and there is always something to worry about.
Sometimes I wish I could be more like my sweet furry friend, Georgia. She is so at peace in the moment. If she and I can share a cushion on the sofa, or a short walk around the garden, her world is complete. Sure, when the postman is actually at the door she flies into full-frontal attack mode, but she doesn’t worry before or after and never distracts herself from the pleasures of the moment.
When we spend time worrying about what might (or might not) happen, we deceive ourselves. We create anxiety that achieves no purpose, that is useless. We can’t fix a problem that hasn’t happened, and in most cases we can’t even prevent it because it’s all in our head. My goal is to embrace the present moment, but when we stress about things we can’t control, we undermine the present, making it no longer available for us to embrace. When we worry about things that have not yet happened and may never happen, it is simply a waste of time.
This type of worry is called anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety means focusing on situations that might happen, which could mean anything from “I might get some bad news,” to “We’re all going to die!” If the event never happens, we’ve wasted a lot of our emotional energy, and even worse, we’re unable to enjoy ourselves during the time before the event. And if it does occur, we’re already so emotionally exhausted that it becomes even more difficult to cope.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s nearly impossible not to worry when you’re waiting for the results from a medical test. But I can also tell you that there is no benefit in wringing your hands while you imagine every worst-case scenario. Let’s not spend our precious time worrying about what might possibly happen and how we will possibly feel if it does. Instead, let’s fortify our emotional assets in the present so that we can be better prepared for when the difficult times do present themselves. Not that they will. Everything is fine. I’m not worried.
“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today.
It is already tomorrow in Australia.” — Charles M. Schulz