I went out with my brother a few weeks ago. Our parents were visiting us both in New York, (kill two birds kind of thing) and we had to get lunch with one of our dad’s clients (kill three birds).
Getting lunch with your parent’s clients or friends, on a rainy Sunday in Red Hook, is never going to be something you look forward to with anticipation.
I was dreading it for the last three days. I was dreading it Friday when I realized I couldn’t spend Saturday relaxing because I’d have to get my errands done since Sunday was now taken up. Then dreading it Saturday night when I had to leave my friends early to ensure I wouldn’t be too hungover or tired on Sunday. And then I was dreading it all Sunday morning as I waited for my parents to show up. I was irritable, anxious and just blah about the whole thing.
Per usual, we got to the restaurant early. While our parents parked the car, I asked my brother if he was as annoyed about being here as I was. He wrapped his coat around the back of his seat then answered, “yea, but I just don’t think about things anymore. Like I honestly forgot about this and then mom and dad showed up and I’m already in the middle of doing it so it’s almost over anyway.”
He ate a piece of bread.
I always wondered why he was always so chill about annoying family things, and why he also seemed to never remember when we had plans. I just thought he was spacey. But he was employing his own coping mechanism. Rather than dread something, he simply didn’t think about it.
I do the opposite. And not just with family stuff.
I dread calling my grandmother. I dread having conversations with my boss on Mondays. I dread getting old.
I build up the days, the weeks, the months ahead in my mind, thinking about all the pain and suffering I may encounter. But why??? Why do I do this to myself?
“I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”
I discovered the Sophocles quotes in a Penn State freshman philosophy class, and in the same way I encountered Joan Didion, Bukowski and the ‘real’ history of the United States in those hazy college years, it changed me.
It changed the way I saw regret. And it helped me to see that stressing over what I said or did yesterday was stupid. I had already experienced the pain of the situation while in it, so why experience it again by thinking about it?
Today, I’m doing the opposite. I’ve gone from reformed regretter to dreader. I’ve stopped worrying about the past and started dreading the future.
And you know what happens when you’ve gotten in the habit of dreading? Everything becomes way bigger than it is. Case in point, my sister texting me she was too drunk to pick me up at the train station tonight so her boyfriend would be picking me up.
I angrily texted my fiancé, saying ‘how annoying, right?’ But he just laughed. Then texted back, “Big deal? She’ll be with her boyfriend and she’s young, it happens.” Errrr, no that’s not the point, it’s the principal of it.
What principal though? The principal that I didn’t want to be taking the train alone last night, spending a week in Philly for work, away from my apartment and fiancé. But she didn’t know that was the principal. She just figured she had to pick me up at the train.
And it’s not a big deal. I mean, the drinking thing isn’t ideal, but that’s for another newsletter. It’s not a big deal that a plan got slightly changed. But when you’re dreading everything, small changes seem like a huge deal.
“There’s something off about that girl. Borderline. Any little shock could push her right over the edge.”
— Margaret Atwood
That’s how I feel. And I know that’s how other people feel about me. Any little comment, change, or inconvenience is going to throw me off into a breakdown.
So how can we change this? Because I’m starting to see lines on my forehead and it’s way too early for that – I don’t have money for botox yet! And I’m also losing precious days, minutes and weeks of my life in a state of agitation or gloom.
And I want to be strong. I’m tired of being weak and worrying all the time. For once, I want to go away without my fiancé having to hear how nervous or anxious or how much I’m dreading leaving. One time I want to walk out of the apartment without uttering a negative word.
Just Get The Damn Thing Over With (For Immediate Tasks)
There’s two ways to get into a cold pool. Jump straight in or stand on the second step of the shallow end, slowly teasing your way into it. First the belly, then the neck, then the head.
That’s how I get in the pool and it’s how I approach every dreaded task.
Not only do I prolong it by avoiding it, but when I do get around to it I’m holding my breath and acting like a little bitch about it the whole time.
Mel Robbins famously coined the 5 second countdown. It’s one of those brilliantly simple techniques that if you get in the habit of using, you’ll find yourself approaching tasks with more efficiency and less dread.
The concept is that every time you meet an immediate task you don’t want to do, like calling that difficult client, finishing that proposal, calling your grandma, you just count down to 5 and like jumping into a cold pool, just get it over with.
Because you’re going to have to get in the pool sometime. One way or another, you’re going to have to bite the bullet, so why drag it out? Why spend all day worrying about the inevitable, only to meet the inevitable clawing the ground? Stop thinking, just do.
Worry About It Later (For Past Tasks and Future Tasks)
Like yoga or Real Housewives, allocate a time in the day to get all your worrying done. According to Gary Zammit, founder and executive director of the Sleep Disorders Institute in New York, the reason many of us don’t sleep well is because we use that ‘down time’ to worry. So he says to pick a dedicated worry time during the day.
When you tell yourself that you’ll worry about whatever is bothering you at a specific time, you can stop worrying about it in that moment with the promise to think about it later. And when later comes, that worry about that weird email you boss sent at 11 am is no longer a big deal to you. Just by giving yourself distance over it you’ve understood the insignificance of it. 9 times out of 10 that’s wat happens when you distance yourself from your dreaded thoughts. You see them for what they are – unimportant.
Reframe The Dreaded Thought
As you sow in your subconscious mind, so shall you reap in your body and environment. Whatever your conscious mind assumes and believes to be true, your subconscious mind will accept and bring to pass. Whatever you habitually think sinks into the subconscious. The subconscious is the seat of the emotions and is a creative mind. Once subconscious accepts an idea, it begins to execute it. Whatever you feel is true, your subconscious will accept and bring forth into experience. – Jane Roberts
Change the way you think about it. If you’re vibrating to the frequency of ‘I hate this. I know something bad is going to happen. I’m miserable’, then you will attract those things – misery, trouble, discomfort. But if you reframe your frequency and start replacing “I’m nervous” with “I’m excited” or “I don’t want to do this” with “I get to do this”, you’ll see everything starts to react to you differently.
Remember That Everything Passes
Why do we dread? I think it’s something that comes with age. You have enough bad experiences –crazy people sitting next to you on trains, delayed flights, bad days at work — that you can’t help but know, and dread, what’s out there.
But as much as bad things do happen, good things happen too. And sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the thing you’re dreading turns out to be the best thing for you.
And even if the experience is as bad as you’ve dreaded it to be, then past experience should at least remind you that everything passes. Bad days don’t last and whatever you’re dreading isn’t
If you really can’t stop yourself from worrying and dreading, at least do yourself a favor in the moment and remember that everything passes. Nothing is forever and this event, job, moment you’re so dreading will eventually end.
I’m employing it right now, sitting on this train, about to spend a week away from my fiancé and home. But I’m reminding myself how fast a week goes and how once it over, I won’t be traveling for awhile. And who knows, this space may give me time to gain a new perspective on other things and give my relationship a break that is always good when two people spend lots of time together.
And I’ll be saving money because I don’t have to buy my own groceries when I’m traveling for work. And then I’ll be able to treat myself to a nice night out for dinner back in New York when I’ve completed this task. See, maybe this isn’t so bad. I can handle a week. I don’t need to dread this.