A Question For My Anxiety: What If Things Work Out?
As we crawl through the slow shift between seasons and dive headfirst into the flux of life, I can’t help but think about the weight of transitions.
Transitions are unavoidable in life and also in my job—I work in higher education, and each year ushers in a new graduation season and a new group of students worrying about what lies ahead.
Transitions bring about a certain flavor of uncertainty. It can feel like there’s this invisible force pushing us toward something uncomfortable. At times, we can get fixated on the worst possible outcome—we let that voice that tells us to stay in our comfort zone take the steering wheel.
It’s a trap I know I easily fall into.
I used to worry like I was getting paid for it.
I’d worry about how many emails I’d have to read when going to work, I’d worry about all the bills that were due, I’d worry about mistakes I’d make on projects, with friends, and just in life. It’s almost as if I felt more comfortable teaming up with anxiety than being hopeful. Fixation had taken over my life, and it was often hard to breathe.
But I’ve started challenging my worst-case scenario thinking.
My therapist recently taught me to interrupt my anxious thinking with thoughts like, “What if things work out?” and “What if all my hard work pays off?” And that simple strategy has helped so much.
What if things work out?
One example: Before I hosted a recent Twitter chat on wellness, I found myself worrying that no one would participate, since I’d only let folks know about it a few hours before the scheduled discussion. My worries started racing: “What if people think I’m a fraud? What if I’m tweeting questions and I’m the only person responding? How embarrassing!”
But then, I challenged myself to think: “What if a few people show up and actually benefit from sharing their self-care practices?” That mindset shift helped me put more energy into my efforts and less energy into my negative “What ifs?” Instead of going in with my eyes closed and bracing for the worst, I began to ask myself, “What’s the best I can give for an ideal situation?” Then, I did it.
The chat was successful, and tons of people participated, networked, and shared their barriers, struggles, resources, and successes around self-care. I was glowing.
It’s that attitude that encouraged me to share this very tip—“What if things work out?” and “What if all my hard work pays off?”—on my Twitter account, knowing it might help a few people.
To my surprise, the tweet went viral, gaining more than 230K retweets and more than half a million favorites. I was interviewed by the London Times, and several Instagram accounts with large followings (including BuzzFeed) posted the tweet on their feeds. It showed me that I’m not alone in letting my worries get the best of me—we’re all out here looking for a little more hope and a little less fear.
My therapist taught me to interrupt my anxious thinking with thoughts like: "What if things work out" and "What if all my hard work pays off?"— Sinclair P. Ceasar III (@Sinclair_Ceasar) April 11, 2018
So, I'm passing that onto you wherever you are, whatever you're leaving, or whomever you're becoming.
So, I’m passing this tip on to you—wherever you are, whatever you’re leaving, or whomever you’re becoming.
Consider the notion that things might actually work out. This isn’t an exercise in empty optimism. Bring your full self to the most hopeful space you can. Imagine that this pending change might bring good with it.
Bring your full self to the most hopeful space you can.
The other side of this upcoming transition could be exactly what you’ve been needing.
It’s scary. But, there’s a lesson waiting for you when you arrive.
Take hope with you. Always.
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