March 14, 2021

Why (& How) I’m Finally Giving up the “What-ifs.”


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I am planning on taking a road trip next week.

What started out as excitement about picking the Airbnb and planning a getaway a few months ago has now been taking my sleep and causing me writhing anxiety.

One of my top bucket list items is travel. I always say I want to travel and see the world. I believe this is true, but how are my fears stopping me and making it difficult for me to follow through?

My mindset can be insane. I’ve begun to see myself more and more clearly over the years, and I’m getting more in tune with my psyche. It’s a scary place in there.

The thing I hear myself saying the most is: what if?

What if the car breaks down?

What if we get in an accident?

What if I lose my phone and all of the contact info and map?

What if I can’t breathe in a higher elevation?

What if my husband and son go somewhere else and something happens to them and I am stranded?

You get my drift?

My brain goes into panic mode before a trip, and I can only “what if” about all of the negative things that could happen. It puts me in a frenzy the week before the trip, and I usually can’t calm down until the second day I’m in my new location “vacationing,” and then a few more days of bliss before I need to head back home.

I’m learning it’s not worth taking trips if I can’t relax while packing and get excited for the trip and am only thinking of the doom and gloom and disasters awaiting me. This is a form of hypervigilance. I am fairly attuned to this way of thinking and have done it my whole life. I grew up in an alcoholic home and my mom was a fearful alcoholic.

I would tell her I’m going somewhere, and she quickly threw at me all of the things that could go wrong and reasons why me doing such a thing would be unsafe—instilling fear of most all situations within me. My mother was too afraid to drive on the freeway and lived an extremely sheltered life encumbered by her own fears.

I don’t have my own inherent sense of security. I don’t have that inner voice saying, “Go for it; it will be awesome; you will be okay.”

So here I am practicing with myself now. I have learned to become my own loving parent. I can be smart and prepare for my trip or any other given situation, but when the “what-ifs” come, I am going to practice something new by saying, “I don’t do what-ifs.”

This is something I heard my son’s teacher say and it stuck with me. We can spout off all of the worst-case scenarios and what-ifs, but a friend recently told me that 98 percent of those things we are so worried about never happen.

I have faith. I trust that everything will be okay, but if it’s not and there is a huge tragedy, I believe I will be taken care of. I will know what to do in that situation or I will be guided. I will be safe and protected. I am capable of making good decisions. I don’t have to be afraid. I can stay calm, cool, and collected in any situation. I can breathe and stay steady.

But, what if I forget something as I’m wildly packing way more than I need for this getaway? I can replace the item while away, and it will be okay.

I can work to calm this frantic child inside. I can tell her it will be okay. She has the skills she needs to travel and make adult decisions.

Many times, I feel like I am not adult enough to do adult things. The first time I traveled with my son as “the adult,” I felt so scared. I’m in charge? How can I do this? And my “what-ifs” went wild.

Living this life can be challenging. There is much uncertainty and no guarantees. We put ourselves at risk every time we step out of our comfort zone, but what is the alternative? Living a life of safety and never checking things off of that bucket list for fear of the “what-ifs”?

I am a work in progress and going to start practicing this now. I will reassure myself when “what-ifs” start popping up. I will create a series of mantras to repeat.

Here are some examples, but I would love more suggestions.

“I have everything I need in this current moment.”

“I am safe and I am loved.”

“ I am protected by my creator.”

“I will know how to handle any given situation.”

“I have faith and can trust the unknown.”

I strive to live a life unencumbered by fear of the unknown.

I want to see this world of ours, and the first step to change is acknowledging that which is holding us back from “living our best life,” so to speak. I acknowledge that I let fear and worry stop me from doing things I aspire to do.

The next step is asking for guidance and praying for help in this situation. Talking about our fears is the final step to liberation and freedom. Sharing our insecurities and vulnerabilities to get to the other side of them. Nine out of ten times the fear is just a boogeyman in the closet and goes away once outed.

We share the fears and then we ask for help or suggestions from friends or people who have walked before us. Who is someone you admire that travels the globe and lives that life of freedom we so desire? How did they do it? How did they get there? I guarantee they walked through some uncomfortable fear at the beginning.

Our body’s natural response is fear; this can be helpful, but it can also be a hindrance when it stops us in our tracks from making healthy, exciting decisions. I like to believe that I can be restored to sanity in any given situation. When my brain is acting up and telling me to worry about unforeseeable circumstances, I would like to stop and reevaluate.

When we are running from our prefrontal cortex, we are in fear and protection mode. When we learn to calm ourselves, we can get back to that lower part of our brain that helps us process our emotions more rationally and maturely. We are back in our “adult brain.” We can then think more consciously when not in a fear mode.

As I’ve said, I am practicing this as I go along and am by no means an expert. I would love to hear what has worked for you.

I am already looking more forward to my trip after sharing here. Thank you for being my sounding board.


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