A Powerful Tool For When You Get Anxious About The Future
“Something came back abnormal in your test,” the receptionist told me on a Friday afternoon. “The doctor wants to see you in person to talk to you about it,” she said.
“Wait, what? Can you tell me what it is?” I suddenly felt shaky and sick.
“I’m sorry, no, I’m not able to say. The doctor has to talk to you about it. Does Monday afternoon work?” she asked.
“Sure, yeah. Monday is fine,” I replied with a sigh.
Naturally, I was convinced something was terribly wrong with me. And within minutes, Google confirmed my fears. I most likely had an incurable illness and life as I knew it was, indeed, over.
That weekend, we went for a boat ride with friends and visited a wine bar. It was an ideal weekend, yet I was lost in thought. I couldn’t shake the worry that consumed me. I’d talked to all of my friends about my worries, called my mom twice a day. I was annoying but I couldn’t stop. On Sunday night, I lay awake, picturing the doctor breaking the terrible news to me.
Finally, Monday afternoon arrived. I sat in the sticky plastic chair, trying to slow my heart rate as the nurse took my blood pressure. “Your blood pressure is pretty high,” she said with surprise.
“Oh, I’m just really nervous right now,” I said with a tight laugh. My palms were sweaty as I clasped them together tightly. The nurse left the room and I breathed deeply. The doctor will be here any moment. We’re so close. This is the moment of truth.
“Hi Alissa! How’s it going?” the doctor said with a smile.
I forced a smile, “I’m doing pretty good!” I lied. I couldn’t believe how much we lied about how we were actually doing. What I really wanted to say, ‘You know, I’ve been pretty terrible. I’ve barely slept and I’m scared out of my mind about this cryptic message your receptionist left me with on Friday!’
“So, your test results,” my doctor said as she sat down. I scanned her face to see if I could guess what she was going to tell me. Is it going to be really bad? I couldn’t tell!
“The bacteria count was pretty high in your gut. It looks like you might have a touch of candida overgrowth,” she said matter-of-factly.
I breathed out, realizing I’d been holding my breath while she talked. Wait. That’s it? Candida? For me, a girl with gut issue experience, having candida overgrowth wasn’t that big of a deal. I started making a grocery list in my head. I’ll cut out sugar, wine, dairy, peanut butter, tomatoes… I already knew how to get my gut flora back to normal.
“I wish I would’ve known this sooner! I was freaking out all weekend,” I blurted out.
“Oh, I’m sorry! We shouldn’t have called you like that right before the weekend,” she said nonchalantly.
So, that was it. I suddenly felt foolish for how much I’d worried. I felt like I needed to apologize to the five people anxiously awaiting my text to hear my test results. In true Alissa fashion, I’d gotten everyone involved in my worries because I needed their support.
“Act as if it’ll be okay.”
This story is just one of many where I’d stressed, worried, and catastrophized an event, only for it to turn out… completely fine.
While I don’t believe my doctor’s office should’ve called me with a cryptic message right before the weekend, I do believe I could’ve handled it better. I mean, my entire weekend had been hijacked by this one worry.
Last summer, my friend told me about a powerful tool for anxiety that she’d learned from her therapist. The tool is to “act as if” whatever you’re stressing about isn’t true. Often times, we like to act as if the worst is going to happen because we think we’re protecting ourselves.
But how protective are we really being when we ruin our entire weekend worrying about something that doesn’t end up happening? I mean, that’s just raising our cortisol and making us miserable. That kind of stress is often actually worse for us than the actual thing we’re worried about.
How to use the “act as if” tool:
- You’re anxiously awaiting test results, like I was. Act as if: Your results are going to be fine and you’re going to be okay! Until you actually know the results, there’s no use in adding undue stress to yourself. If there’s something to actually worry about, worry about it when you have the facts.
- You’re embarrassed by how you did in a presentation. Act as if: No one noticed your blunder! Seriously, does it really matter either way? You can’t go back and change it. Why stress? Move forward and assume they didn’t notice. If they did, they’ve probably already forgotten about it!
- You don’t feel like you fit in. Act as if: That’s not true! Act as if people think you’re awesome, smart, and cool. Because you are. And when you believe it, others believe it, too.
“Acting as if” is my favorite tool to use when I find myself future tripping. Getting ourselves all worked up is quite easy to do, especially in the face of great uncertainty. *Ahem* Coronavirus, I’m looking at you!
But, the beauty of our wild imaginations is that we can also create better scenarios with them, too.
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