Online Anxiety Support | When Worrying About Tomorrow Takes Away Your Ability to Live Today | Rebecca S. Blakeman, PhD
Searching for Online Anxiety support? It will surprise no one to read that rates of anxiety have increased in the last year. In many ways, anxiety is a normal response to the very abnormal/unusual circumstances we have faced, and continue to face, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A blog by Rebecca S. Blakeman, PHD.
While some anxiety is expected and even normal in this situation, it is important to respond to this anxiety in healthy ways, so that anxiety does not escalate and become unhealthy and counterproductive.
Some readers may have already become confused at the notion of anxiety being ‘normal’ or ‘productive’. In actuality, anxiety is not only normal, but it can be beneficial. There are times when we need to be anxious. Anxiety is actually an important part of our survival system…This triggers our fight or flight (or freeze) response, which can be helpful for dealing with true danger.
It is healthy for new drivers to have some anxiety about driving…this means they have an appreciation for the seriousness of driving and the potential to do great harm if one is not careful. It is healthy for parents to become anxious when their newborn has a fever because it leads them to seek immediate medical intervention, thus helping to ensure their child’s survival. Taking safety precautions to avoid COVID-19 (masking, distancing, avoiding indoor dining, not gathering indoors with non-household members) is very adaptive.
I often say, “Having an emotion does not mean you have a disorder,” and that is especially true for anxiety…it is a normal, and healthy part of our lives.
Perhaps we cannot run errands for fear of being judged if we go to the store. Maybe we cannot open the computer to pay our bills because seeing how little money is the bank triggers extreme anxiety. Perhaps, we cannot maintain healthy relationships because our fear that someone will leave us. Generally, anxiety that interferes with daily functioning tends to be based on the future.
We worry about whether we will lose our job, whether our partner will leave us, whether we will get into college, whether we will get COVID-19…we worry about bad things that might happen in the future. Again, some anxiety about these things can be healthy and adaptive.
But when anxiety gets out of hand, it can do more than propel us to make good choice, the fight/flight/freeze response can paralyze us, cause extreme irritability/agitation, or trigger us to avoid all responsibilities, thus creating many more problems. As always, there is good news when it comes to crippling anxiety; there are things that we can do to (1) prevent it and/or (2) manage it if it develops.
We cannot adequately hold two simultaneous thoughts, so by forcing ourselves to focus intently on the moment we are in, we force ourselves not to think about the future. Often, our anxious thoughts come to us when we cannot do anything to address or resolve them…such as at 3:00am, when we’re stuck in traffic, when we’re in the shower, or when we are preparing dinner/trying to get the children through their nightly routine.
Because nothing can be done in those moments to solve the future ‘problems’ we worry about, the worry serves only to derail us from living the moment we are in. When this happens, remind yourself that no amount of worry in that moment is going to help anything; it is only going to distract you from sleep, enjoying the music on the radio, starting or ending your day in a healthy mind state, or creating happy moments with your family.
When you realize that there is no benefit to worry in that moment, you can give yourself permission not to worry at that time (worriers tend to be rule followers, even if they are the ones setting the rules, so it is important to give yourself permission not to worry).
It can also be helpful to remind yourself that you are safe in the moment. If you are in bed at 3:00am, you are safe from losing your job in that moment. If you have not been diagnosed with cancer, you are safe from receiving a diagnosis in that moment. Creating thought blinders, so that you think only of the current moment you are in, can be extremely powerful for reducing anxiety about the future.
Secondly, it is important to remember that you are likely not psychic. You cannot predict the future, so there is no reason to live as if your anxious predictions are fact. If you ‘predicted’ that you would win the lottery, would you spend the money before you had actually purchased a winning ticket? Of course not. It does not make sense to live today as if our ‘happy’ fantasies about the future are real or factual…it makes no more sense to live today as if our ‘scary’ ideas about the future are real or factual.
Thirdly, it is important to remember that if even bad things happen, it will not be the first time it has happened to someone, and other people have survived your worst fears…so you can, too. Life comes with things, both good and bad, that we cannot control, and that we do not deserve…that is life. But other people have experienced the same setbacks…and kept on living! There is likely nothing that separates you from them, in terms of the ability to be resilient through hard times. Yes, there may be bad things that happen in life, but remembering that you can and will get through anything that comes your way, even if it is unpleasant and you cannot imagine how you will get through it, can greatly reduce our fears about things that may or may not ever happen in the future.
So ask yourself what purpose your anxiety and worry serves. If it is not propelling you to make good decisions, is there any benefit to worrying? Are you believing your negative predictions about the future, when there is no reason to believe you have psychic powers? Are you allowing anxiety to steal the current moment you’re living in? Remember to stay in the moment, stop believing your psychic predictions, and remember that people the world over experience setbacks and struggles…and keep on going!