One of my patients was very distressed.  We worked on talking her down many times.  She could differentiate reality from fantasy.  She could tell worry from pain.  She could distinguish this moment from past moments…  But what was nagging at her was, What if she were right?  That is, what if her worst fear actually did happen, and it did.  For all our talk of being mindful, what if the worst thing you imagined came true?  What are the odds?

This young woman was in a power relationship with a rich and dashing young man whom she didn’t trust.  His lifestyle required him to travel to far away places, foreign lands and meet pretty girls for “business.”  She stalked him on Facebook, which of course all therapists know is a no-no.  What good can come of it?  It’s a form of slow torture.  She could see the minute he logged on to the minute he was out.  Who he was with, who he “liked” and who he watched.  What if, she wailed, her anxiety was CORRECTLY telling her he was in fact a cheater.

And then he was.

So how to lessen your anxiety when your anxiety is telling you exactly what is wrong?

I had to ponder this a long time.  Why take away a top notch skill that helps you suss out evil?  A skill so primitive it literally tells you there might be a saber tooth tiger coming.  A skill so sensitive your body just knows

Well it’s one thing to ruminate on a thing, and then when it happens say, See, I told ya so! It’s another to pay attention to your body but not be prisoner to it.  So it’s a matter of degree.  As Pema Chodron said in her book, When Things Fall Apart, “nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know…”

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So don’t get confused between paying attention to your anxiety and being dictated by it to self-sabotaging excess. This young woman eventually got herself sick from watching her husband in order to confirm her deepest fears; it became a self-fulfilling prophesy.  She wasn’t suppost to give in to her anxiety, just notice it, respect it.

A great article in the NY Times said we can help our children by teaching them four things about feelings:  Feel It, Show It, Label It, and Watch It Go…  The goal then is not to deny your anxiety and what it signals, but to own it and accept it, control what you can, and know that even if there is a repeat, it’s never really the same.  Indeed you are not even the same.  Perhaps this time, even if it does happen, you will know just what to do.