The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.
A few weeks back I felt almost paralyzed by a huge event at work that I was coordinating. There were emails flying back and forth: agenda changes, room reservations and catering to arrange, audio/visual requirements and security to contend with. Then of course all the last minute arrangements that someone mentioned only as an afterthought but changed my plans in major ways. No big deal. I just can’t breathe.
I allowed this tension to creep into my shoulders and neck. I glued myself to my desk, checking and rechecking each detail as many times as the higher-ups asked, “Are you sure?”
The day of the event, my body was in overdrive. I rushed from one spot to another, checking details again and correcting more last minute issues. I hadn’t been able to sleep much, yet I felt as if I could have lifted a car out of the way if it were necessary.
And the day after? It was like the car accident I had as a teenager. My whole body ached; my head throbbed. The tension in my shoulders created spasms of lightning as I consciously tried to lower them to a more normal position. Relax, I begged as I rose through frozen molasses out of bed.
What was the point of all that stress? There were still errors, no matter how many confirmations I’d received. Which was fine, by the way, because guess what? The world didn’t end because we needed to replace the broken phone five minutes in. Nor did it end because Susan can’t have cream in her coffee and needed almond milk. The world moved on and the event went well.
It’s funny what stress can do to a person. Stress is literally the perception of a threat – real or imagined is the tricky part. The blood pressure rises with the surge of adrenaline. Blood platelets actually get sticky. Cortisol is released, which actually suppresses the immune system. Plus so many other reactions that put your body into the fight-or-flight mode of survival.
I was fortunate enough, years ago, to hear a lecture by Deepak Chopra. It feels like eons ago, and I think I could learn so much more if I heard that lecture again today. He spoke of the stress response as a necessity for actual danger, such as the presence of a bear in your path. An angry bear.
What I need to keep reminding myself of is… there is no bear.
The majority of the time, the stress we feel is not the present moment. It is fear of the future or guilt from the past. Stress is “resistance to what is,” as Deepak said to the audience all those years ago. As I reflect on what is, I can choose my reaction to it. It already is, so my emotional outbursts will likely have no effect. Then I came across this nicely put together diagram online:
I know, I know. It’s not that simple. But there are definitely better uses for your imagination than anxiety. And just when you feel like you can’t breathe … it’s exactly the moment you need to breathe deep.
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