I take the streetcar and subway to work in North York three times a week. The commute is 45 minutes long, but I leave an hour beforehand just to be safe. On days when I’m running a bit late, I tend to get disproportionately agitated – my stress exacerbated by small things like people walking too slowly in front of me, or a changeover in streetcar drivers delaying my trip. It doesn’t take long for panicky thoughts to invade my brain: What if there’s a subway delay, or lots of traffic on the streetcar tracks? What if I’m late and my boss decides to have a meeting? What if they have that meeting without me, or worse, wait for me? What if everyone stares at me and judges me for coming in late? What if they fire me? Should I just call in sick today???
I am a notorious downward spiral-er. What my spiraling often boils down to is the lack of perspective I have during my episodes of emotional duress. I think of my anxiety like the multiplying Horcruxes in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts; each individual anxiety activating a new one, burying me under piles of fears and doubts that aren’t even real. These bad thoughts have a domino effect and as a result, something small – like being 10 minutes late for work – feels enormous and insurmountable.
In an article for Refine the Mind blog here, Jordan Bates explains what we all need to keep in mind during times of emotional duress. He writes, “The world of anxiety is a world of fiction.”
Bates reminds us that when dealing with things that we’re anxious about, we tend to mostly focus on the possibility of bad outcomes – things that might happen. Might is far from a sure thing and by focusing on it so heavily, it’s easy to forget about the other half of the equation: what might not happen.
Yes, I might be late to work today, and I might get in trouble for it, but I also might not. My boss might send out an office memo about being punctual, my colleagues might attribute the memo to me, or they might not.
And finally, here are a few last words from Bates about being mindful in the face of “needless fretting”:
“Anxiety stems from the evolutionary by-product of exaggerated fear. For primitive human beings, constant fear was a necessity. When only the strong survived, being ever-vigilant of danger was necessary to live. It kept you on your guard. It drove you to seek shelter, food, and water. In our world today, basic amenities are covered. We don’t have to worry about threats lurking around every corner. Yet, certain prehistoric parts of our brain are still inclined to be afraid and anxious…As we go about our days, our minds drift about, unchecked, and think about any number of things. When you’re being mindful, you actively work against this phenomenon. The ability to be mindful is not something we’re born with. Like most skills, it must be developed and refined.”
Zakiya has her degree in journalism from Ryerson University and currently works as a freelance content writer based in Toronto. Zak is a dedicated journal-er and enjoys writing and reading fiction, particularly science fiction, in her free time. Mental illness is something that has touched her life and the lives of her loved ones, so she is supportive of anything that brings attention to and provides new perspectives about mental health.