Postponing Anxiety

In February, my son announced that he was thinking of traveling through Mexico for a month. His plans weren’t firm yet but he was thinking of it.

I tried to dissuade him from that idea. Canadian tourists get killed in Mexico, I told him.

I had an irrational fear of Mexico. I wasn’t afraid of Mexican people. But over the years, a fear of the country of Mexico had built up with the occasional stories of tourists getting killed there. I knew that millions of tourists went there every year and didn’t get killed. I knew lots of people that had traveled there and loved it and have gone back many times. I even knew wonderful, kind, generous people from Mexico.

But I was still afraid of Mexico. And I didn’t want my son to be traveling there on his own. Even if he was with his friend Jay.

People get killed in Canada, Keaton told me. People get killed in Hamilton, he said. Someone had just been murdered here shortly before this came up, so he had a concrete example.

I didn’t have any concrete examples. Just an irrational fear built up over years of hearing an occasional news story.

His idea to go to Mexico turned into a plan. And the plan had a date. He was heading to Mexico on March 5. The tickets were bought and a vague itinerary was made.

I was petrified. I tried to hide it, but when I was on my own I imagined the worst. I tried to think of other things and preoccupy myself as the date came closer. It wasn’t working. I spent a lot of time with ice cold worry in my gut.

Two days before he left, I came across some advice.

If you are worrying about something you have two options:

    1. Do something about it.
    2. Schedule your “worry” for another time and forget about it until then.

There was nothing I could “do” about it.  Keaton was going.  So, I decided to schedule my “worry” or anxiety about Keaton’s trip.  I made a calendar appointment for May 5: “Worry about Keaton going to Mexico”.  Seriously.

Whenever some nagging unease about his trip would surface in my mind, I would remind myself that I was going to worry about this on May 5.  Was it easy? Not at first. But the more I reminded myself that I was going to worry about this on May 5, the less often the anxious thoughts came.

And then a funny thing happened. Positive reinforcements started happening. We found out my cousin’s daughter was traveling through Mexico at the same time and had been traveling on her own for 3 months. We heard that a friend of Deb’s mom was living in Mexico. One of Keaton’s friends from school had moved back to Mexico. Keaton and Jay met up met up with all of them. And they met some other wonderful people down there. He sent updates and had a great time.

Before I knew it, he was back home. At this point, I still have a week to go before I have to start worrying about him.  And now Deb wants us to go to Mexico!

Obviously, my anxiety wasn’t at a level that I needed any medical intervention. But it was still disruptive and corrosive. It is horrible when you are preoccupied about something that you really can’t do anything about. Instead of letting it eat away at you, schedule your worry for a specific time in the future and let it go until then.

 

© 2019 Peter Gruner

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