Anxiety arises out of fears about the future.
At the base of much anxiety is a prediction about the future.
Do any of these predictions sound familiar?
“I haven’t studied enough. I’m going to fail my exam and flunk out of school.”
“My boss didn’t respond to my email. He must be disappointed in my performance. I might get fired.”
“If I go to the party, I won’t know anyone and I’ll just end up sitting in the corner alone.”
“Traffic is really heavy tonight. I’m going to be late for my appointment, and I won’t be able to reschedule.”
Maybe you can identify some other predictions that you make.
Anxiety becomes a problem when we run away with our thoughts and start to believe that the thing we fear happening is already happening.
That’s why you might lie awake at night worrying. Your fear or concern about something that might happen in the future hijacks your thoughts, and you can’t stop thinking about potential problems down the road.
Many people tell me that it is helpful to predict the future.
A number of clients tell me they like trying to predict the future. They say, “I can plan for what might happen, and that makes me feel better.”
In part, I agree with that statement. If your anxiety causes you to come up with a plan, and if knowing that plan is in place eases your mind, then that is indeed a very healthy use of future predicting.
For most anxiety sufferers, though, coming up with a plan doesn’t stop the anxious thoughts. Their minds keep finding more potential dangers or reasons why their plans will not work. Their predictions aren’t helpful. In fact, their predictions make them feel more anxious.
That’s when it’s important to realize that we can’t predict the future.
The future is fantasy. The present moment is reality.
Many people find it helpful to recognize that when they are lost in anxiety, their mind is focused on the future. Your mind is coming up with predictions of catastrophes that may or may not ever happen.
Until the future actually happens, our predictions are only fantasy, just fiction. The problem is when we start to think our fantasies about the future are real.
The antidote to anxiety is to bring your mind back to the present. It’s always better to live in reality than in fantasy.
To See If Being In The Present Works For You, Try An Experiment
If you are caught up in anxiety, it can be helpful to take a moment to come back to reality. To find out if this idea will work for you, you can try an experiment.
Step 1: Sit down and breathe
Sit down on a chair or sofa. Let your shoulders relax against the back of the chair. Feel the cushions supporting your back and legs.
Take a moment to observe your breath. Are you breathing deeply, quickly, or at a regular pace? It doesn’t matter which, just take a moment to observe 2-3 breaths.
Then, look around the room. Identify four things that you see in your room.
Finally, ask yourself, “Am I in any danger right now, in this room?” Most likely, there is no immediate threat. You are safe.
Notice if you feel any better.
Step 2: Ask yourself a question
Identify the prediction you are making about the future.
Ask yourself, “Can I predict the future?”
If your answer is “yes.” then ask if yourself if your predictions are always correct.
If your answer is “no,” then recognize there is at least some chance that your prediction won’t come true.
Notice if realizing you can’t predict the future makes yourself feel anybody.
Step 3: Repeat when the next anxious thought arises.
Sooner or later, another anxious thought is going to come up. There is a part of our brain that never sleeps.
Don’t be critical of yourself for having another anxious thought,
But, do acknowledge that it is just a thought.
Return to step 1 if needed, or step 2 if you are already present.
If you feel better, then congratulations!
You have a tool you can use to interrupt your anxious thoughts!
If you don’t feel better, then don’t worry. There are other ways to handle anxiety. You may just need guided practice from a professional like myself. Or, you may benefit from another technique. This exercise is just one example that most of my clients find helpful. There are more.