Shark Tales (or The Funny Thing About Anxiety)

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Anxiety is a funny thing. I read recently on Google+ that “Anxiety is the process of imagining a future you don’t want and panicking about it now.”  Made me laugh, but it really does describe the mental chaos that creates the emotional/physical response so typical of anxiety.

I have been swimming with sharks. For anyone who has read any of my blogs or who knows me well, the idea of being on the water out of sight of land causes me anxiety because being the catastrophe queen, I just can’t imagine how I would survive a disaster that left me in water so deep that whales/sharks/Lochness monsters could be underneath me and I wouldn’t know. I imagine myself as so much chum, waiting to be chomped. Consequently, taking a cruise is not high on my list of things to do. In fact, if I were truthful, it’s not even ON my list.

The light blue is water of a perfect depth for snorkeling

In the Maldives, we decided to go out snorkeling with the dive club. Consequently, I had a very bad night. I’m given to catastrophizing. I know this, and I came by it honestly. (Most Marvelous Father is a world class worrier. He worries about catastrophe when things are going well because, well, things are going well.) I measure risk by deciding what the worst possible outcome might be, and if I think I can handle it, then I go ahead. If I don’t think I can handle it, nothing… absolutely nothing can make me do that thing. The other way people measure risk is by the chance that something will go wrong. This is Bill’s method, so needless to say, we’ve had a few interesting ‘discussions’ about some proposed activities. Over the years, I’ve learned and implemented the tools that help control anxiety and the emotional responses that come with it, but sometimes, a looming event overwhelms all my strategies and I lie awake in the dark, thinking about the worst case scenario.

I was determined to go snorkeling and spy on fish in the “real” ocean, so I went, anxiety and all. (I actually had the fleeting thought, “If I die, I die.” Catastrophe Queens also do drama) When I learned we would have a companion from the dive club, I was relieved. If he was going in the water, then he was going to get shark eaten as well, and he didn’t seem worried about it. Must be okay. (I also decided that I would adopt Bill’s method of assessing the risk ~ I know nothing whatever of the data regarding shark attacks in the Maldives, but it made me feel better.) As soon as I jumped into the water and the world of the fish, I forgot everything but the astounding, spellbinding mix of multi-hued fish.

Later on the boat while we waited for the divers to recover from their dive, I thought about anxiety.

1. 99% of the things I have worried about, have never happened.

2. The 1% that has happened were not the things I feared, but some other catastrophe. Something I hadn’t foreseen, planned for, or considered as a possible outcome. At the time, the experience was unpleasant, painful, or inconvenient, but I dealt with it and survived it.

3. Negative thought patterns/habits create anxiety in the first place and even completely bogus self-talk can make it better (how would I know what the chances are of being bitten by a shark in the Maldives?) I just chose to believe in the validity of the self-talk more than I believed in the catastrophizing.

4. Reconnecting myself with reality ~ the here-and-now ~ using techniques and strategies I have learned (and teach my clients) always creates a ‘thinking’ space and allows me to ask myself; “What’s actually happening right now? Hint: it’s never the thing I’m freaked out about.

5. And finally, I welcomed the experience in the Maldives as another opportunity to practice self-acceptance and to have compassion on myself. I know that my standard/usual/customary response to new things is anxiety. I was reminded that accepting the discomfort of my emotional response to the mental chaos and purposefully busying myself with the reality of ‘doing the next thing,’ allowed me to control my fear rather than vice versa. This got me over the edge of the boat into the open ocean and the wonderland beneath the surface.

The lesson of the shark reminded me that anxiety really only becomes a problem when  allow my response to limit my options in the present.

Black Tip Reef Shark

Oh. And the whole shark thing? When Aboun, our companion, grabbed my arm and gestured to the left, I looked where he pointed and saw a Very. Big. Fish. I thought, “Oh. It’s a shark! Cool.”

As I watched that Black Tip Reef shark cruise by, I experienced a sense of surprise at the realization that I felt no panic, no anxiety. I experienced nothing but a sense of amazement as the thing I’d spent half the night awake about prowled by without so much as a glance in our direction, and I was thrilled to be watching it.

The funny thing about anxiety is that it is created in the mind therefore it is also banished by the mind ~ and nothing will have changed externally. We are such incredibly complex and intricate beings.

4 Comments on “Shark Tales (or The Funny Thing About Anxiety)

  1. On the subject of sharks – two weeks before we arrived in New Zealand, a Great White came too close inshore and attacked somebody off the west coast of North Island, an hour’s drive from Auckland. The locals seemed unconcerned, shrugging the incident off, as a random, if tragic, incident.

    • Did YOU go swimming out off the West Coast after hearing this bit of information? I didn’t think so. I wouldn’t have either, no matter how many brightly coloured fishes might be down there. No. No. No.

    • I think I blog because I don’t have time to //really// write. I guess I’m hoping that all these little blurbs will turn into something coherent and worthwhile when I’m not looking.

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