How to stop anxiety with real problems
Imagine getting this voicemail at the time the school bus is supposed to arrive. Anxiety provoking right? I mean I sent my 5-year-old to kindergarten. They sent emails and made comment assuring us that “our child will not get lost”. I didn’t even ask for that assurance, they just offered it freely.
As a therapist who strives to live my life with uncertainty, I initially wasn’t worried. Like I always say, when there is a problem, we’ll solve it.
What do you think? Is there any question in your mind that THIS IS A PROBLEM?
This is what I’ve been talking about all along. When your anxiety hits you and you’re anticipating a problem, you’re guessing a problem, you’re living your life as if there is going to be a problem……IT’S NOT A PROBLEM.
A problem needs to slap you in the face.
You need to not have any doubt that there is a problem to be solved. If you cannot physically see or hear the problem that slapped you in the face.
(b-roll slap face)
Then you’re feeling false anxiety and are reacting to something that isn’t really there. The body needs to learn that you ONLY react to REAL problems.
So back to the story. The bus was supposed to arrive at 3:30….. it didn’t show. The call was given at 3:30 – what was I to do? Problem solving kicks in, the anxiety kicks in.
This is what it’s designed for. What would you do in this moment? When there is a real problem presented in front of us, we have to focus on what we have control over.
I can call the school for an update.
I can get in my car and drive to the school.
There really isn’t much more I can do. Here’s the kicker. The brain automatically plays out situations in our head. These are the what if’s. and guess what? We can treat them the same as ANY OTHER PERCIEVED THREAT. Yes, I do have a real problem presented in front of me, but I practice not reacting to the guesses.
We do this by using a lot of maybe, maybe not statements, even though it can be very scary. My brain went to the worst….
Did she get kidnapped?
Did she get on the wrong bus?
Did she think she could walk home?
Is she wondering around the school?
Did she get hit by a car?
Did she pass out somewhere?
These guesses are NOT THE PROBLEM. My perception is. I can answer each of these with a “maybe” or “possibly” --- because all I know is that they cannot find my daughter.
Man, this is incredibly tough to do, but it’s ALL WE CAN DO. So in short, we focus on what we have control over and leave the rest uncertain.
If I reacted to “did she get kidnapped?” what am I supposed to do? Call the police and report a possibility, just because it came to my head. Drive the neighborhoods looking?
Here is what ended up happening…….10 minutes later I got this voicemail.
(b-roll answering the phone)
I now know a solution…get in the car and pick her up. That’s what we did. When we got to the school, the teacher was sobbing, the school was apologetic, my daughter was well….. only sad because she didn’t get the chance to ride the bus with her brother on the first day.
I mean, you were told to get on the wrong bus, following blindly the directions of others, taken back to the school and picked up by your parents.
Man, kids are resilient. Here’s the deal….What we learn is that giving assurance or reassurance doesn’t work. The school sending an email assuring all the parents that everything is going to be fine is a guess. This is most assurance giving. A complete guess. We need to learn in our life to either
1. Not give assurance unless we know 100% (something like, gravity will continue to hold us to the ground)
2. Leave things uncertain, teaching us and our kids to allow life to be and solve problems when there are problems.
We can only prevent so much and must allow life to just be. So why am I telling you this story?
I’m sharing this story as an example of when we need our anxiety. These moments happen rarely. I mean it. RARELY. And even with real danger anxiety, we still can practice uncertainty.
Treatment for anxiety is uncertainty. Allowing yourself to risk the what ifs. Allowing yourself to live life regardless of the buzz reminding you of dangers. Because you don’t follow those “what if’s” anymore.
So tell me, for the times you feel anxiety, how many of them are REAL? Meaning, How many have actually manifested the way you thought they were going to. You see, we forget about the times it didn’t happen are really good at remembering the times where the catastrophe or “bad” thing did.
Your job when you’re feeling anxiety is to quickly look around you for immediate danger. If you don’t see any, you treat it as a false alarm by using the magic words….”maybe, maybe not.”
Stop living in the future of what ifs. Instead live and enjoy your life NOW.
Anxiety of kids going to school
Stay uncertain with real anxiety
Nathan Peterson, LCSW
OCD can be tricky! I want to provide useful information for your OCD, anxiety, tics, tourette's, BFRBs, and many other anxiety related disorders.