Things are going just fine so why I am I worried about the other shoe dropping?
Oftentimes, one of the first things a client will say to me is: “I do not know why I am having such a hard time, things are great for me right now.” I usually stop them right there and point out that, in reality, if we are struggling, things are not “great” for us right now.
What people typically mean when they say that to me is that from the outside their lives look good. They may have achieved success, made money, found love and recognition. Others likely are telling them they have so much to be grateful for and happy about. But these reassurances from others can make us feel even worse that we can’t seem to appreciate our “gifts.”
First, I suggest we throw out the phrase “I have nothing to really be worried about.” This phrase implies that people worry and feel fear only when it is rational. Unfortunately that is not how anxiety works. The root cause of anxiety is commonly a fear of the unknown. Even if we have all the things we have hoped for, that does not make the future any more certain.
We live in a culture obsessed with selling and showcasing fear. Think of the last time you read an article or social media post about someone dying from a disease; now think about when you read about someone who recovered from a disease. We are oversaturated with images and stories about bad things happening to people. When we see videos of others suffering, our body often reacts. We feel tight, scared and on guard. The body cannot differentiate that this incident is happening to someone else—and not us—and that we are just watching it. The amygdala, or emotional brain, signals us to be on guard for further danger. Also, the amygdala does not register that you got a promotion or met a new partner. The amygdala encodes fear more readily than joy.
So let’s think about what we are exposing our amygdalas to on a daily basis. This could be media, conversations with people who focus on negative stories, TV shows, and/or books. Negative images seep into our bodies from everywhere, and we carry them with us even if they are not in our awareness.
But, there’s no reason to fret—we can help our bodies feel more of the safety, security and positive experiences in our lives. First, we need to pay attention to the good—and often simple—things that happen to us (e.g. someone holds the door for us, our train comes in early, we make the light crossing the street). By bringing attention to what is working well we can begin to create a counterargument to all the negativity we see. We need to focus on the small, positive details in our own lives to avoid generalizing about negative events that happen to others, which we hear about.
By focusing on what’s going well, we are training our amygdala to release their hyper-vigilance and fear and enjoy what is right in front of us. Once we do this, then we can look at what we are still struggling with in our own lives, and that which we want to change. But we can’t do that work until we dig out from under all the fear-inducing messages that influence us.
Life will never be perfect or easy, but we can find peace and tranquility when we keep the focus on what is happening in our lives, rather than fearing external experiences are destined to befall us.