Opinion: Why We Fear The Future And How To Enjoy The Present
I was in Japan when I first came across Yoshida Kenkō. Truth be told, he'd been long dead by the time I found him. On a busy intersection somewhere in Minami, I'd been flipping through the pages of his musings in A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees. In it, he'd written: "What a glorious luxury it is to taste life to the full for even a single year. If you constantly regret life's passing, even a thousand long years will seem but the dream of a night."
Taken aback, I closed the book, crossed the street, and promptly left his little treatise on time lying sadly in a communal area at my hostel. Someone else must have taken him home.
Time has always been somewhat of a struggle for me. Especially these days, anxiety comes naturally, and with it the many fears, uncertainties, and uncontrollable oddities about the future. I've learned that sometimes it's normal, other times it's excessive. Psychologists term this as "anticipatory anxiety", or fear of things that could happen. They usually centre around events that people can't predict or control (such as, say, a global pandemic).
While anticipatory anxiety isn't necessarily a disorder on its own, it often can be a symptom of other disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or panic disorder. If you are experiencing severe symptoms of anticipatory anxiety, it's best to consult a professional, otherwise, there are a few ways you can help yourself while at home.
How Not To Fear The Future
- Try grounding techniques - There are many easy grounding techniques you can do to calm yourself down and centre your mind. Most of them revolve around placing focus on your senses: what are things you can hear, smell, see or taste? Describe your surroundings or anchor yourself by focusing on your body and noticing what you're feeling. The fear of the future usually dissipates when you notice you are in the present.
- Have faith in someone - This is purely for those who feel comfortable in being faithful, but prayer usually helps calm the mind. It can be a repetitive process: repeating the same prayer until it calms you down, or it can be as casual as talking to whomsoever you believe in. It doesn't have to be dogmatic and it can be as simple as having a conversation with the universe, but having faith that Someone out there loves you and is not out to punish you can often do wonders for your mindset.
- Reword your thoughts - Part of cognitive behavioural therapy is reshaping your mind and reframing your thoughts. When we're feeling down, we can often be hard on ourselves and absolutist thoughts can get in the way of what reality really is. Next time you find yourself fearful of something, make the effort to try and see things from an objective lens (oftentimes, it's not as bad as we think it is!). If it helps, speak to a friend who can add to your perspective.
- Consider therapy - As we said, anticipatory anxiety can be a symptom into something more serious. If your symptom is interfering with your daily life, it's best to consult with a professional who is better equipped to help amid specific circumstances.
Now that we've tackled a bit on how not to fear the future, it's also important to address how to stay in the present. Most of these can be achieved through grounding and mindfulness techniques such as:
How To Stay In The Present
- Eat or drink something - The pandemic has probably been a huge source of anticipatory anxiety for a lot of people. One of the ways you can ground yourself is to eat or drink: savour something slowly to remind yourself of where you are at the moment.
- Meditate - Many people have acknowledged that it's difficult to meditate, but the good news is there's no wrong way or right way to do so. Simply taking the time to close your eyes and focus on yourself is a powerful way to remind yourself of the moment.
- Go to a place with nature - For those who have the opportunity to do so, step out into nature! It will engage all your senses and can be a wonderful decompressor from a stressful day at work or school.
- Keep a gratitude journal - Gratitude can be hard to practice sometimes, especially when things get difficult. But if you have the time, it can be a good idea to list down a few things every night that make you thankful. It doesn't have to be a lot of things or even big things. It can be as simple as getting to eat your favourite meal, or discovering a new song you enjoy. Staying in the present is much more fun when you remind yourself of how many things there are to be grateful for.