Astronauts are trained to foresee every possible complication; their lives depend on it.
- What if one wing of the ISS catches fire? Here is a list of 10 procedures and everyone’s jobs to go with it.
- What if one of their three members gets knocked unconscious? Here are 4 logical ways to solve the problem.
- What if they lose control on re-entry? Here are 5 possible procedures for landing on land or sea, within every country’s boundary – all in Russian.
Also, they wear diapers on spacewalks, just in case.
Even though I haven’t worn a diaper in my adult life, I would make a good astronaut. Give me an environment, and I’m instantly brainstorming all the things that could go wrong, and how I could fix it twenty different ways.
In the case of astronauts, over-planning and imagining outcomes makes sense; it’s their literal life or death.
However, unlike an astronaut, as I critically foresee every single possible outcome, I don’t do it logically. It’s not my job. I’m not saving lives.
It is self-induced toxic stress. I say self-induced, because I’ve learned there is a different way.
Anxiety is a funny thing. It makes us flawlessly prepared, but we waste a lot of energy being on guard for things that will never happen. It keeps us living in the shadow of the what-if future of fear.
We are not astronauts. Our real-life (not imagined) situations will not end in death, or even mild disaster. Every. Single. Time.
Unless we train our brains to de-escalate, we submit to a level of stress arousal that is not healthy over time. By constantly preparing for the worst-case scenario, we are literally choosing to throw our bodies into the worst case – toxic stress, heart disease, high blood pressure. Not to mention the unhealth for now, going through each day with panic bubbling out of every pore and a mind that cannot focus.
Here is a different way: the 5 strategies I’ve learned along the way to regain power by refusing to submit to anxiety.
1. Find Something That Energizes You
What is something that gives you confidence when you do it? Make sure you routinely do that thing!
It could be cooking, your accounting job, taking photos, writing, karate, running your business, teaching, knitting, tending goats – whatever it is that makes you breath deep with enjoyment, do that thing. Consistently.
If we lose the thing that gives us life, we soon find ourselves unmoored without a raft deep at sea.
2. Say Hi to Anxiety When It Comes
If you have an anxiety diagnosis, chances are anxiety will return. And when it does, welcome it with a cheerful ‘hello’!
I wrote more about saying hi to anxiety here.
Anxiety is your body’s stress response.
It feels danger. It is fearful.
However, when you acknowledge it and greet it, you relax; your body stops perceiving anxiety as a threat. Suddenly you get your brain back. You can think through whatever the thing was that made you anxious to begin with.
3. Find Your Limits and Live Within Them
Limits are boundaries: we need to be good boundary-keepers. I do not mean to say that if you struggle with anxiety you are allowed to avoid things out of fear, or make no effort to meet all your daily responsibilities.
Boundaries are an awareness what you can handle, what triggers you, and the wisdom to stay within your safety zone. If you have a tendency to fall off of cliffs, walk far enough away from them that even if you do trip it’s not an emergency rescue effort to get you back.
This might mean you limit the number of nights your family has activities to attend. Perhaps you learn to say ‘no’ or, equally important, ‘help’. Sometimes you might leave the laundry unfolded or the dishes undone for a night or two if you feel yourself at an edge. And maybe there are certain people you need to reduce conversations with.
You are allowed to have any limits you need to stay in your safe zone.
All of our situations are different. The key is learning yourself.
Learn that worn-out feeling before the anxiety comes and then giving yourself permission to do what you need to do to prevent yourself from tipping over. And for some of us, that worn-out feeling is too far, and our guardrail needs to be half a mile away from the edge of the cliff.
Know your own limits. You are worthy of staying within them.
4. Trust Yourself to Problem Solve
You make good choices. You are making choices all the time: food, cleaning, caregiving, driving, schedules.
You make good choices. So trust yourself that if a real problem arises, you will be able to figure it out in the moment.
I gave up trying to control foreseeing the time of birth of my second daughter. It was wearing me out to anticipate when her birth would be every time we went for groceries or my husband left for work. So one day I gave up control: I didn’t fill the car up with gas before going home.
I ended up going into labor that night. And we didn’t have enough gas to get to the hospital that was over one hour away. Guess what? We stopped for gas on the way. The baby was delivered two hours later in the hospital. Not having a full tank of gas wasn’t a big deal.
I traded a day wrought with anxiety for one that I could enjoy with my firstborn daughter. I would have missed the quiet and joy of the last day my oldest was an only child if I hadn’t trusted that we would be okay even without holding every foreseeable future in my mind.
You are capable of solving any problem that comes. And looking back, you will see that it was only a small deal, not a full-blown astronaut death disaster.
5. Allow Yourself to Have a Bad Day
I still have moments and days when I’m stuck mentally. I cannot get out of the anxiety or depression that has hit me. I really don’t like that I do. You probably feel a little defeated on those days too.
But one day when I was stuck, for some reason I suddenly remembered where I’ve come from. I remembered all the good days I’ve had since my two years of inescapable dark. And then one ‘regression’ didn’t seem so bad. I have learned so much, healed so much, ingested so much hope.
I feel like everybody has a bad day now and then, even if they don’t have some sort of mental health diagnosis.
Take it in stride and know that one bad day, or even three, doesn’t have the power to define you.
If we can master these skills, we can stop living like astronauts who overthink and plan for every disaster. The disasters that spring upon an average women are likely less severe than any an astronaut would face. Besides, chances are we don’t make enough money to operate in their state of predictive worry anyway.
Find joy, say hello, let it go, trust yourself, and give yourself the same compassion you easily lend everyone else.
You are capable of diminishing the authority that anxiety has in your life, and you are worth effort it will take to learn to live free of its heavy shadow.