We all have things that keep us up at night. The “worst case scenarios” that rustle through our minds and bodies, filling us with fear and doubt and pain. Whether it be the thought of losing a loved one, not being able to pay our monthly bills or suddenly becoming ill, we oftentimes cause ourselves to suffer, even if these “worst case scenarios” only exist in the abstract.
The interesting thing about our collective approach to these “worst case scenarios” is that instead of dealing with the reality of our fears, we bury them deep inside of us. Most of us never rationally discuss them out loud or come up with a plan for dealing with them should they occur. Despite our fear of dying, many die without wills or trusts. Despite our fear of illness, many of us avoid visiting the doctor or even having health insurance.
Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher who dedicated his studies to the question “How do I live a happy, fulfilling life?” offers a new perspective. He suggests,
“Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look them squarely and contemplate them often. By facing the realities of death, infirmity, loss, and disappointment, you free yourself of illusions and false hopes and you avoid miserable, envious thoughts.”
Epictetus says to contemplate the painful events, which means to think about them in an honest, direct way. Once you do, you’ll realize that much of your fear, pain and “miserable” thoughts will fade. By facing our “worst case scenarios” before they happen and coming to terms with their reality, we are better prepared to deal with these situations when they invariable occur. If you fear losing your parent, think about what you are actually worried about: not being able to spend time with them. In that contemplation, you may realize that even though it’s your biggest fear to lose your parent, you haven’t seen your parent in weeks or even months. Change your course of action. Meet your nightmare head-on by changing. That way, if the “worst case scenario” happens, you’ll not only be emotionally prepared to face it, you won’t have regrets.
On a sheet of paper, make three vertical columns. In the left column, write down your biggest fear. Take a moment to think about the fear you’ve written down. What about that scenario actually scares you? Jot that down in the middle column. On the right-hand column, write down something concrete that you will do now to minimize the fear in the middle column. For example, if your fear is that you will die, and you are afraid of dying because it means you no longer will be able to spend time with your loved ones, then the third column could state, “I will visit my family more often.” Rationalizing fear this way should allow you to start viewing fear as something you can overcome or minimize with smaller actions right now.