Something we’ve been talking about a lot in sessions is worrying about things before they happen. I feel like this is especially relevant during this season, so I wanted to share a couple thoughts. If I’m going to be really honest, this is something I totally struggle with, and it makes it hard to stay living in the moment I’m in. Anyone else?

Here’s an example: there’s a scary event coming up (for example, Christmas dinner with your extended family… you know, the kind with unsolicited opinions from Great Aunt Sue) so you try to plan for contingencies. You think about possible outcomes. You think about what you might do if Great Aunt Sue makes a comment about this or that.

This whole pre-worrying thing is really just your brain’s attempt to keep you safe. Which is really great and all, except for that it’s not really effective. What you’re really doing is giving yourself a false sense of security and control, so that you can feel safe. The thing is, your brain is wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain; it has been, ever since humans needed to run away from saber-toothed tigers. It’s a modern-day version of an evolutionary adaptation.

In evolved humans (who aren’t running from saber-toothed tigers), this pre-worrying starts after we experience trauma. Our brain gets rewired to seek danger constantly. It looks for a saber-toothed tiger, so that we can protect ourselves. But not everything is a saber-toothed tiger. Sometimes it’s just Great Aunt Sue. We have to re-train our brain to react accordingly. Wanna know more about how?

We have to do the work to self-soothe. We have to work to create new neural pathways, and re-train our brain to remember that not everything is a source of danger (be it a saber-toothed tiger or Great Aunt Sue–if you know you know, check out my last post!).

We have to train our brain to respond to threats as they are, rather than to constantly scan our environment in search of them. Here’s one way you can try going about it:

If you start to feel yourself worrying about something coming up (looking at you Great Aunt Sue 👀) I want you to think about dropping anchor. I want you to pause, take a breath, stretch out your muscles and ground yourself in the current moment. Look around, identify your surroundings, focus on your breath, feel your feet on the ground. Do whatever it takes to help you feel more secure in this moment. Dropping anchor doesn’t change the sea; it won’t change what’s going on around you, but the goal is to help you feel as grounded as you can as you go through this experience, so that you can change how you’re feeling about it.

This is great for when you’re anticipating something big and scary, like Great Aunt Sue, and find yourself spinning out with worry. It’s also great to try during the actual big and scary event itself!

If you find yourself struggling to stay in the moment, because you’re worried about something coming around the bend, I’m with you and I can help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you could use some support!

Pre-Worrying: Please Excuse My Great Aunt Sue

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