So many people come to counseling because they are distressed over what “may happen.” They are trying to plan a disastrous future that is unlikely to happen. When you spend a lot of time worrying about things that won’t happen, it interferes with your taking care of and preventing future problems. For example, when I get my electric bill, I have several choices; I can pay it now, I can put it aside for a future date and plan to pay it after I get paid, or I can put it aside and start worrying about it, only to pay it after spending hours making myself anxious and upset over it. Your worrying doesn’t help you pay the bill, but it only causes you unnecessary anxiety.
Do not spend your time What Ifing
If you really don’t have the money to pay it on time, taking action, such as calling the electric company and asking for an extension, will help you relieve anxiety. Anxiety comes about when you chose to take no action at all, and rather, spend your time “what ifing”: “What if I don’t get paid on time, what if the electric company won’t give me an extension, what if my power gets turned off, what if I die from heatstroke because my AC was shut down?” All this is unproductive and dis-empowering. Check yourself this second. Are you okay NOW? If so, relax. You can deal with the challenges that come up in life without giving yourself anxiety if you ban “what if” from your vocabulary and instead, take care of what you need to do in a timely manner without worrying.
I believe that the following story, talking about staying in the here-and-now and not worrying, comes from Buddhist Monks (I may be wrong, but it seems the kind of story I think they would tell). It’s one of my favorites:
There was a man walking in the woods. All of a sudden he saw a bear and began running. The bear chased him to a steep cliff. The man tried climbing down the cliff but fell. While he was falling, he touched the side of the cliff and caught onto a branch sticking out of the rocks. While holding onto the branch, the man looked up and saw the bear above him with big yellow teeth, looking at him and drooling. The man looked down and saw a river rapids filled with crocodiles.
He looked up, he looked down, then he looked around. Near him were two chipmunks which came up to the branch and began chewing on it. He yelled at them, but they ignored him and kept chewing on the branch. The man looked up at the bear, looked down at the crocodiles in the rapids, and then looked at the chipmunks chewing the branch that he was holding onto. Then he looked around some more and saw a strawberry bush with a giant strawberry growing out of the cliff. The man let go of the branch with one hand, reached out as far as he could and plucked the strawberry. He put it in his mouth, chewed it and savored the taste, and then said “delicious.”