Everyone’s New Hobby: Preoccupation With Impending Doom
My client looks out the window of my office. I follow his gaze and see the snowcapped peaks in the distance beyond Denver, and imagine that he’s reflecting on their beauty too.
Then he turns back to me, and says, in all seriousness, “Every time I look at the city I expect the flash of the nuclear bomb that is going to kill us all. Or when I’m out in a crowded place that someone will just open fire.” We look out the window together: he watching the horror unfold in his mind’s eye, and me looking at the tranquil mountains, as the relentless Colorado sun warms the greening trees below.
My next client doesn’t notice the view at all. “I can’t sleep.” She glares at me, jaw clenched. “Every time I look at my phone I feel like I could scream. Our government, our entire country has been turned into a reality TV show. Starring idiots. But they’re in charge. I can’t stop thinking about how these lunatics are in charge of my life now, and what that will mean for me. The environment. North Korea. Syrian refugees. White supremacists. Terrorists plowing into crowds. It’s all going to hell, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.”
I look out the window, and she follows my lead this time. Thankfully, the mountains are still there.
How to Deal With Situational Anxiety
I’m having these kinds of conversations more and more often lately. Not with crazy people, either, in case you were wondering. Both of these people are much like my other counseling and life coaching clients; extremely successful, high functioning, totally “normal” people who you’d never guess are suffering.
You, my dear reader, may be a lot like them: Roiling in the grips of fierce situational anxiety related to feeling overwhelmed by things happening in the world… over which you have zero control.
Here are a few anxiety management strategies I often share with my clients, to help them regain their sense of inner peace. I hope they help you, too.
1. Stay in the present. Do you have a window? It doesn’t have to have a mountain view. What’s happening outside right this very second? Chances are, absolutely nothing. The present moment is almost always completely safe.
Look out your window, and notice the fact that whatever catastrophe you’re envisioning (nuclear winter, a maniac with a pillowcase on his head spraying bullets) is not actually happening right now. You’re having a thought. A distressing, anxiety provoking thought, that is unleashing a physical reaction in your body. That’s all. Stay in the present. It’s really very nice here, usually.
2. Limit your exposure to triggering information. It’s not helpful to terrorize yourself with an assault of fear and / or anger inducing information — particularly about things over which you have no power.
Sometimes anxiety can trick you into believing that hypervigilance is useful. It’s not. It’s just exhausting and traumatizing. Turn off the automatic notification settings on your information apps. If a nuclear war happens I promise you’ll find out about it, eventually.
3. Control what you can. Your anxiety and anger have served their purpose, in that they’ve helped you get very clear about what you don’t like. But over-focusing on the problems and continually simmering in an adrenalin-broth of fury and fear doesn’t help anyone.
Try shifting into thinking about what you do want, like a cleaner, safer world, workable systems for everyone, social justice… and then think about how you can help make that happen in your little corner of the world.
Commit to being a force of good in the world. Mentor a disadvantaged kid. Volunteer. Recycle. Get involved. Channel all that negative energy into motivation. Take positive action, and flex the muscles of your personal power. You’ll feel better, and more in control, once you do.
4. Remember that every moment is a choice: You have options. While you can’t control many of the things that happen in the world, you can always make choices about how you respond to them. The way you think determines how you feel.
You can allow yourself to feel anxious and victimized by forces beyond your control… or you can consciously choose to stay in the present, set healthy boundaries about what you allow into your life, and participate positively in creating the kind of world you want to be part of.
I hope these ideas help you feel more empowered…
xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby