Coping Mechanisms

Over the years I have explored many ways of coping with fear, uncertainty and trauma. Some were so ineffective as to be laughable, others were reasonable but didn’t work for me and mostly I learned that usually it’s a moving target. Not everything works all the time. More recently when I try to decide how to spend my time I have been exploring this thought experiment.

  • 1. If I knew that today was my last day, how would I want to spend it?

I use this question whenever I find myself getting too involved in news, scrolling or other neurotic activities that are not contributing to my well being. I think I was twenty-five when I began to really start paying attention to world news and events. It was and remains an important aspect of my life but as much as we are genuinely interconnected there is a risk of becoming so overloaded with irrelevant information as to become paralyzed by it. And here, irrelevant information refers to anything that I am not going to take action on, that will not alter my behavior or will not help me make decisions.

After twenty-five I became convinced that if I wasn’t paying attention to the broader world news (beyond my small local and professional niche) then I was risking ignorance. The problem with knowledge, especially in our hyper-connected world, is that we cannot process all of it. And, to an extent, knowledge that you won’t be using or acting on isn’t actually useful. It doesn’t mean that the knowledge itself isn’t useful but that it isn’t useful to you.

Which brings me back to the first part of the thought experiment:

If I knew that today was my last day, how would I spend it?

This question makes it easy to put aside what is not essential to me, to the behaviors that I don’t actually want to be engaging in. It forces me to consider how I would want to spend 24 hours without using them to invest in something bigger than a simple day. Some of the scrolling I am doing leads me to information or discussions that fill me with a sense of purpose, help me to understand something I hadn’t before or simply make me smile. That’s worthwhile and worth keeping.

There is also a second question in this thought experiment:

  • 2. If I knew that I would have the life I want to live with no constraints, how would I spend that time? What kind of world do I want to live that life in?

I don’t want to live every day like there is no tomorrow because experience says that in fact there is a tomorrow and the tomorrow me would appreciate if today me did not leave dirty dishes in the sink. There is a balance to be found and it can only be conceived of when I consider my ideal life beyond constraints. In the day to day I get bogged down with the things that don’t go as planned. It’s all well and good to banish my anxieties by living in the moment but I know that my anxieties are my wishes for tomorrow to fit my ideal of what the future can be if I do x, y and z.

No matter my anxieties, I cannot actually control all the variables even if I’m aware of them. So, as a way of conversing with my anxiety and using that energetic ball of nerves for something useful I ask it what I would do if all the things I’m anxious about were not a factor. Often, the anxieties block out the ability to consider what actions I can actually take because they’re so concerned with the actions I cannot take, the obstacles and the constraints. Anxiety is just inert action. It’s the need to react but the inability to do so because of [fill in the blanks with whatever the anxiety is saying]. So I don’t fight my anxiety, I ask it to help me answer the question of what it really wants to be doing once the constraints aren’t there.

If I knew that I would have the life I want to live with no constraints, how would I spend that time? What kind of world do I want to live that life in?

Of course, the second part of the question is a reminder that the constraints themselves are usually as much about the larger world as they are about the inner world and the world that is immediately around me. It’s where a lot of my anxiety has come from. The sense that the broader world beyond me is the one I have the least control over. Which is true and false. Everytime I react to the broader world beyond me I am effecting it. The interconnectedness is difficult to see when things are going well but becomes more visible when something disrupts it.

Over the weekend I wasn’t journaling as much and yesterday I spent too much time trying to keep up to date on the news. I’d managed to find some calm on Friday and I’d had a good weekend all things considered but then I lapsed into anxious habits without intending to. It stemmed from the desire for signs of a resolution to the broader issues. A need to feel comforted. But then today I accepted that I didn’t want to sink into that place. So I journaled. I returned to these two questions and am putting aside the things that aren’t welcome in either scenario.

I’ll still be checking news because it is important to me but I’m limiting that time by finding other activities I want to do. I won’t stop myself from checking because it will just feed the curiosity but I will be more vigilant about filling my time with things I actually want to do that support me in my day to day as well as the life I want tomorrow.

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