Turning Anxiety Into Opportunity

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Anxiety is really annoying to have.

Last year, in Portugal, a friend made me aware of the anxiety contained in my thoughts. It came out as we made plans for things to do during our travels together. She’d throw out an idea and I would picture the worst-case scenario and say it out loud. Since I have a big imagination, that scenario could go on and on and was very well thought out! She sealed in this issue for me one day when I expressed my concern at not being able to reach two of our friends by cell phone. She replied to me, “Heather, if they’re not answering their phone, then, clearly they’re dead.”

Remember this photo? Riding horses is scary for me, I was clenching the reins!

Photograph by my tour guide, with my camera.

I laughed myself right out of my anxiety with this ridiculous thought! However, until she called me out I actually wasn’t conscious about the depth and breadth of my anxiety. I still carry these anxious thoughts with me. So, I’ve decided to work on transforming anxiety into positive thinking. As a trained coach, I know that awareness is the first step and a very powerful one. Once you become aware of something then you can finally shift it.

“With a vivid imagination anxiety can take on lots of depth.”

When I arrived to El Calafate, Argentina I took a shuttle bus to my hotel. The passengers were placed in a small van and our bags in a tiny sort of caravan behind it. It was attached to the passenger car and the doors of the caravan had a hook to close them. I boarded the bus and, naturally, I imagined that as we drove along the bumpy roads, the hook of the caravan doors unlatched, and our bags flew out onto the road. I imagined passerby running to our bags, opening them and going through our clothes and being delighted at their new hoard of belongings. Yup, they stood right there in the middle of the highway, with cars racing by, and went through our stuff without getting hit by any cars. In fact the other cars stopped and they blasted some music to make an event out of going through our bags.

This is the luggage carrier behind the van. Comically, one time when leaving the airport, the driver’s colleague called to tell him he had left the door of the luggage trailer open!

Photograph by Heather Markel

And the shift – after chuckling at this stream of consciousness I thought to myself, “Our bags are fine. The doors are safe, we will have our bags when we get to our hotel.” They were just fine.

When I left some stuff I wanted in Colombia, my friend grabbed everything for me and FedExed it to my hotel. The tracking number showed that the package would arrive 4 days after I checked out. After getting stressed, I thought, “This is just the date they have to tell me, but it will arrive before.” I had my hotel check on the package status again and, sure enough, it was suddenly scheduled to get to me that very day! Positive thinking! Until, it turns out, customs decided they want a doctor’s note or something for my reading glasses that are in the package. So my package will sit in Buenos Aires for 3 months and then be returned to my friend. Positive thinking – I’ve lived without these items for a week, perhaps I can live without them, period. Bonus – less to carry, yay!

When I hiked the Perito Moreno glacier recently, I caught myself worrying, “What if I step wrong, twist my ankle, and then have to seek medical attention? That will delay my travels and really suck, where will I go and stay?” I shifted that to, “Wow, I’m hiking a glacier and I’m going to hike it with confidence and be just fine!” And, I was just fine.

Some days I catch myself thinking, “What else could go wrong?” I immediately correct that with “What else could go right today?” When I start a sentence “What if…” I keep changing the ending. Like when I entered a National Geographic photo contest recently and shifted my “There’s no way I’ll ever win” train of thought to, “Maybe I’ll just win.” On my recent venture to see penguins (more on that soon) I saw a bad weather forecast which could have canceled the trip. When I caught myself worrying about the weather, I changed my thought to, “We’re going to have a perfect weather day.” And, amazingly, we did. 

It’s not easy and the negative thoughts creep in all the time. But, I see them now as a fun game and challenge to think a million positive thoughts in a day and see what manifests because I did.

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