by Aaron K. Potratz, LPC
Most people who have anxiety are focused on the future. “What if this happens?” “What if that happens?” These are common fears or worries about things that may take place, causing anxiety because of the lack of certainty or control. They also keep you from being present and focused on the here and now, where our control and certainty lie.
There might be a “what if” that’s helpful, though. What if…you could think differently about anxiety and it could help you be free of it?
In her book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” author Susan Jeffers offers three layers of fear that get to the root of it. First, you’re afraid of something happening. Second, you’re afraid it will make you feel a certain way. Third, you’re afraid you won’t be able to handle that feeling.
Notice how Jeffers moves from the future to the present, from an event outside your control to a feeling and coping strategy completely within your control – right now.
Now, it might take some time for you to develop an effective strategy or to build a strong ability to use it effectively and consistently. However, it is something you can do right now and it will have a direct effect on your future experience of that fear.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s pretend you’re afraid of losing your job. If that were to happen, you would probably panic and not have any idea how you would pay your bills or find a new job. The root fear, then, would be that you would not be able to handle the feelings of panic or take the necessary steps to rectify the situation. Sounds scary, right? Yes, that would be frightening!
What if you began talking with people you know about their experiences with losing their job, asking what steps they took and how they handled it? What if you gathered information about the options out there for people who need help paying bills or where you might turn to look for employment? What if you found out there were resources available to you and that people have been able to find a way to make things work – even if it was very difficult and undesirable?
In this “what if” scenario, you have discovered what your scary situation might be like and gathered information about how you might respond. Believe it or not, you’ve started developing some coping skills and begun to cope already!
If you take the time to think through your future anxieties or worries like this, you can find many possible solutions to challenging or complex situations in life. Furthermore, you can discover that life’s challenges require some basic skills to get through: hard work, perseverance, endurance, responsibility, honesty, and humility.
This doesn’t mean that you should go out and make a plan for all of the possible fears you have. It does mean that you can look at your current challenges and work at building character traits that will help you now – and in the future.
When you have these traits and have practiced using them in various trials in life, you begin to develop a sense of confidence and competence – that even though life may throw you a curve ball, you can find a way to deal with it. You don’t need to know how right now, but you trust that you will be able to figure it out with the help of supportive people around you.
Being prepared for the future isn’t about having a backup plan for every situation, but it does mean building abilities and resources to be able to engage to face the challenge. Working on these things now can give you a sense of purpose, help you focus, and motivate you to take action right now. When you are fully committed to this, you’ll find that you’re no longer worried about the future because the present has enough to hold your attention.
Aaron Potratz is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Approved Clinical Supervisor in Oregon. He owns a private group practice, Discover Counseling, and co-owns another private group practice that he supervises, Life Discovery Counseling Services. He has been a therapist since 2007 and specializes in anxiety, trauma, and relationships, and offers online counseling throughout the state of Oregon. Aaron also does consulting for therapists who are starting or growing their private practices.
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