Life at 20-something: How to live in the present when anxiety creeps in
Silent sirens sound in our heads. We deny it for days, not wanting to admit our ridiculous reaction to changing plans. But eventually our internet search history unveils our true feelings — a nearly chest-collapsing weight that prompts the question "How can I live in the present?"
With congested calendars as the norm, we've become accustomed to timelines and schedules that provide structure at work, next to our hard deadlines and urgent project proposals. But that same strategy breeds anxiety outside of work.
When we meticulously reserve our calendars months ahead of time — until scheduling an appointment becomes as challenging as a game a Tetris — it's no wonder we feel devastated when our plans fall through.
We pencil in the perfect weekend with friends ... and they bail. The concert we've been looking forward to gets cancelled at the last minute. The boyfriend schedules a guys night on top of our standing date. Our stomach drops, we feel sick and the looming panic settles in.
Instead of facing the night with hope for all of the possibilities, our brain's flight response attacks our delicate hearts, sending electrifying waves of panicked energy throughout our bodies.
"It's too late to make new plans," we think. The darkness blankets our minds like a cold autumn night, bringing with it the terror of All Hallow's Eve. We convince ourselves that we're confined to our homes, anxious and lonely while the rest of the world makes memories worth sharing with their grandchildren in the years to come.
We debate the solutions: we could push past these irrational thoughts and move on — a task easier said than done when anxiety paralyzes our every move. We could attempt to make plans but, really, how successful will they be? This mental game is quickly becoming a wide-awake nightmare we cannot escape.
Living in a world where structure and deadlines dictate our 40-plus hour work weeks, it's hard to disregard those useful indicators outside of work. Life's variables are a mixed bag — a monkey wrench thrown into plans, causing unexpected twists and loss of control.
But, in some cases, we have no choice. We must adjust our plans — stop dead in our tracks and walk backwards toward sanity. Alas, we pause to ask ourselves, "What's the worst that could happen?"
The truth is: our brains are hardwired for structure — making sense of the people, activities and the world around us — but without our sanity, what plans will we have left to make?
While living in the moment may not always come naturally, we must learn to shed the structure. We must leave our future-oriented tendencies at our desks amongst the toxic and chronic stress.
If we continue to let the unease of changing plans dictate our attitudes, mental capacity and sanity, we'll die with those habits. We can't pray for our Social Security check, promising that's when we'll finally give ourselves a moment to breathe.
The time is now to live in the present — to walk amongst the colorful fall leaves and take a moment to just "be" — leaving the future to figure itself out.