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Why Imagine a Future that Gives you Anxiety?

After days of stress, overthinking, under-eating, fitful sleep, and teetering on the edge of outright panic, it took less than two minutes to complete the task, and instantly, relief followed. Sound familiar?

This pattern is all too familiar for me, a procrastinating Leo Sun Sign, with an overanalytical Virgo Mercury, and an obsessive Scorpio Mars. If the astrology doesn't make sense, no worries. There's a good chance you can still relate to the typical frenzy we work ourselves into by worrying about something that gives us some anxiety. 

There's a famous quote, attributed to Lao Tzu, that says, "If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." I like this quote because it paints a vivid picture of these three states which are easy to understand and resonate with. However, what it fails to express is that you only live in the present. If you are depressed, you are RELIVING the past through your present lens. And if you are anxious, you are IMAGINING the future through your present lens. It's all in your head. And I think this is the most important concept to take away.

So, why do we allow ourselves to imagine a future that gives us anxiety? When we picture an upcoming event, why do we focus on what might go wrong? When we think of something challenging we have to do, why do we assume we will fail? When we prepare for a potentially difficult conversation, why do we immediately consider all the negative outcomes? Instead, why not focus on what will go well, believe that we will be successful, and strategize on how to improve the odds of a positive outcome?

What is it in our conditioning that leads us to anticipate the worst? If I objectively look at the evidence from my past experiences, I can honestly say that things typically don't go as badly as I imagine in my doomiest and gloomiest. In fact, it's quite the opposite, and I am usually met with that feeling of relief mentioned in the opening paragraph. While relief is a great feeling, I would much rather feel the joy and validation of a successful outcome without having to experience all of the self-inflicted stress leading up to the situation itself. 

The answer is also in the quote. 

Through mindfulness, we are able to respond rather than react. Therefore, by bringing our attention to the present moment we have the ability to recognise our patterns and become aware of our conditioned behaviours. Now we have a choice. Do we indulge and feed the anxiety beast with unfounded worries? Or do we adapt and adopt a new perspective? By noticing the moments that trigger us, we can take a pause. This is where the shift begins. That moment of reflection is already changing the pattern and, at the same time, providing the body and mind the space it needs to return to a state of peace. From here, we can better understand that our thoughts can be released, or held onto, depending on what we want to nurture. The more we practice, the easier it will be to change these behaviours. 

Rather than using our imagination to make up less-than-ideal scenarios or self-fulfilling prophecies that reinforce our negative patterns, is it possible to recondition ourselves to look at the future as a fertile land of opportunity? If living in the present brings us peace, then we can use that to our advantage and avoid the anxiety altogether. Which, to me, sounds like the biggest relief.

Oh, and P.S. If you're interested in knowing more about the astrology, send me a message. :)

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