I had taken the rare opportunity to attend a matinee showing of The Greatest Showman with some girlfriends. It happened to be on the same day that my daughter’s bunny was released from the hospital following his neuter. Two unusual events for which I did not adequately plan. I sat in my van after the movie looking at the time. Contemplating the route to the vet’s office and then to my children’s two schools, I knew it would take a miracle of traffic-light timing and a lot of speeding for me to pick all three up on time.
My knee-jerk reaction was to stomp on the gas and drive out like a mad woman on a mission. My heart was already starting to pound with anxiety. That choice required not only speeding and luck, but was already starting a panic attack. I’ve had them since high school, although I wasn’t diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder till about 4 years ago. While I would be racing around town to get too many things done in not enough time, my mind would also be racing with what ifs and I should haves. What if I’m late to get my daughter from school? I should have picked the bunny up before the movie. What if the vet charges me extra for picking the bunny up late? What if I get in an accident? And, of course, the craziest of all, “I should have never taken time for myself and gone to that movie; everything falls apart when I do something for myself.” Wrong, it fell apart because I planned improperly!
Sometimes the what if game is full of nonsensical hypotheticals or worrying about things that wouldn’t really be the end of the world (like the bunny being picked up late). Sometimes they do bring a bit of clarity, like the only way to get all this done will be to drive dangerously. Hello, red flag! Something needs to change about this scenario.
If something is taking up space in your brain or causing anxiety, that’s your red flag that you should act. First, and most importantly, you must distinguish between what you can control and what you cannot control. Wheels will just be spun if you are trying to change the things you cannot control.
Things you cannot control include:
- Another person’s thoughts, reactions, believe system, feelings, etc.
- The weather, traffic, time.
- The past.
- The future.
Things you can control:
- Your thoughts and reactions.
- How you behave in the present.
I had no control over my past decision to pick up the bunny after the movie and before picking up children. I had no control over the distance and traffic in between these errands. I did have control over calming myself about the fact that some body or some bunny was not going to be picked up on time. I also had this amazing thing that can really help when you find yourself in an over booked anxiety-inducing situation. Are you ready for this? This is going to rock your world. It’s a cell phone! You might have heard of them, many are even smart.
So, I got ahold of myself and got ahold of this thing that I too often use just to waste time. But alas, it’s not just for surfing social media. It makes phone calls. The only question was, who to call to tell I was not going to make it on time. Since the 2-legged passengers can vocalize any feelings they had over being picked up late, I dialed up the vet’s office. That bunny never has complained about me being late that day, and since I called rather than rudely showing up an hour after I said I would, the vet’s office didn’t complain either.
This is a minor example, obviously. But this is the sort of thing we encounter on a regular basis. We can choose to stress and worry about the things we cannot control. We can compound the situation by continuing to make rash, unthought-out decisions. We can berate ourselves with I should haves and what ifs, or we can just take a breath, evaluate what is within our control to change, and do the best thing from where we are right now.
When it is obvious that the goal cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps. -Confucius