How to Overcome Fears of the Future

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Laying awake at night, I can’t stop thinking about what the world will look like in 6 months, and what this means for me. Will I be starting graduate school virtually? When will I be able to go back to my favorite breweries with my friends? Will I ever be able to meet people and go on dates? 

Talking to my friends over the past couple of weeks, there seems to be one theme that connects us all: anxiety over the future. Thinking of the future has always been something that causes me to worry, but it has become even worse during this pandemic time. I am struggling picturing not only my future but the future of the world in general. 

Oftentimes, my thought processes turn into a dark spiral and I will convince myself that the worst case scenario is the one result that will definitely happen. It’s been increasingly difficult keeping myself grounded when the news and social media are depicting general paranoia, and I know so many others are feeling the same. 

With all that in mind, here are some tools that I’ve found helpful to keep my future focus positive and keep my stress levels down. 

  • Only focus on what you can control. When thinking of the future, it can be easy to be overwhelmed with all the unknowns, many of which are totally out of our control.  Try to shift your thoughts on part of the story that you can control: yourself and your reactions. 
  • Adjust your goals. Obviously, I am huge proponent of goal setting. However, some of our goals that we have set for this year may have become waylaid due to these unforeseen circumstances. Don’t be afraid to change your goals to fit your circumstances, or even to make new smaller goals that will feel more attainable. Instead of feeling sad about not being able to achieve what you hoped to achieve, empower yourself to reach new goals, and adjust your old ones so that you can attain them. 
  • Write it down. A tool that my therapist has given me to manage through anxious moments is to write down what thought process lead me to that moment. By tracking how you got to a certain thought, you can avoid yourself from heading down that same path in the future. Use this exercise to point out the fallacies and irrationalities of your thought processes, and try to base your future thoughts in facts and reality. 
  • Give yourself something to look forward to. Even though our opportunities for exciting activities are limited, there are still ways for you to optimize your time and have an activity that excites you. Whether that be watching a favorite movie, having a virtual happy hour for friends, or being excited to explore a new running trail, do something that daily that excites you. 
  • Breathe. Using our breath to calm down is the oldest trick in the book, but one of the most effective. When you feel anxious, take some moments to consciously slow down your breathing and clear your mind. If you have the space and ability, try this while lying down or having your legs up the wall, and see if that makes a difference. 

Personally, some activities that I have taken up during this time to stay grounded in the present and not worry about the future include: revamping my running career (a goal I had already set for summer 2020); making plans to redecorate my apartment and online shopping to pick out new pieces; shifting my focus to a previous goal I had, reading at least one book per month; preparing my apartment to turn into a more productive study space in case I do online grad school; and more. 

The future is scary, unpredictable, and vast. It’s easy to get wrapped in the what-ifs, but the reality is, we won’t know what the future holds until the future becomes our present. The best thing to do is to try to stay grounded and thankful for our present, while being excited for the amazing prospects of what our future could hold

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