By Laura A. Garren
In childhood exists a condition known as excitement; however, in adulthood the same state feels like anxiety. Why? Probably because as a child, one is looking forward with happiness to whatever one is anticipating: Santa, the last day of school, a birthday party. Parents protect, or at least try to shield, their children from the unpleasant aspects of life. But in adulthood, one has to face these realities: paying bills, getting back the results of a medical test, preparing for a job interview. Since, as children, we were “protected” by our parents, as adults we may not be equipped to deal with excitement-cum-anxiety. To appropriate a popular platitude, anxiety is a smile turned upside-down.
Since upcoming events, pleasant or un-, are inevitable, what can we do to quell the churning feelings that accompany them? Once upon a time I thought, “Nothing.” I believed that my feelings were in control. They were runaway horses pulling a buggy; I was aboard, clinging for dear life, when I should have been using the reins to check those horses. I was exhausted from the effort.
I was working at a bookstore at the time, and a benefit was having access to all those tomes; the accumulated wisdom (or not, depending on the subject matter) of all those writers. One day while I was straightening, a title caught my attention: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Dale Carnegie. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I started to read it; and then I started to understand that I could grab hold of the reins and determine speed and direction of my horses. Carnegie asserted that I had a choice: I could feel anxious all the time or I could realize that worrying didn’t change anything. Worrying about what was going to happen could not, would not ever, affect the outcome. My mind boggled.
I embraced this premise. Of course, as with any skill, I had to practice letting go of worrying, time and again, before I became proficient. Fortunately—no, unfortunately—I have had many opportunities to practice. I have become fairly expert at talking myself out of feeling anxious or worried. Sometimes, of course, these feelings are instant and primal and cannot be headed off, at least initially; as when my husband suffered a life-threatening stroke and subsequent serious complications. I had to struggle for a long time to manhandle those horses down to a reasonable gait, but with time I was able. Am able.
Although I sometimes still feel the reins slipping from my grasp, I always manage to hold on. My horses still may be frisky, but they’re not out of control as long as I pay attention and realize that I can choose to feel anxious or to let go and let things happen as they will, worry or no.