“Both optimism and anxiety require us to imagine something that hasn’t happened yet. If we have the ability to worry about the future, it also means we have the ability to imagine a better one.”

Jess Ekstrom, Chasing the Bright Side

For the first time in my life, I have found myself dealing with anxiety. Being an emergency physician means that I was trained to handle the unexpected. I thrive on novelty, and when I chose emergency medicine as a specialty I rather enjoyed the adrenaline rush that comes along with a true emergency. I pride myself on being calm and even-keeled in the eye of the storm.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has left me feeling something different – anxious and worried. I sometimes find myself future casting and heading into a downward spiral of worry. I wonder will I get sick from taking care of COVID patients at work, and if so would I end up hospitalized unable to see my family? Will my husband, kids, or elderly parents fall ill? I worry about my kids now doing e-learning and if I am doing enough to help them with their education right now. I worry about the economy and how so many of my physician colleagues are without work or income.

The worry is natural and normal during a time of such huge uncertainty. Things I could have never have imagined happening have occurred. 

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But what has helped is realizing that I am worrying about a future that does not exist yet. Thankfully I am healthy and strong. Despite taking care of lots of COVID patients in the ER, I know how to protect myself and at my hospital we do have enough personal protective equipment. My family has also been staying healthy with the precautions we have been taking. And my kids are doing well and learning academically, but we have also been teaching them other life skills at home like how to cook and clean. 

A Choice to Make

So I have a choice to make. I can either focus on all my fears or anxieties or I can choose to focus on gratitude. And if I choose to spend some time in worry, I need to also give equal air time to what is going well.  

When I find myself getting overwhelmed by future casting a variety of scary futures that have not yet happened, I bring myself to the present moment to the NOW. (Author Jen Sincero says NOW is an acronym for Never OverWhelmed.) Where am I seated? (At home on the couch). What is happening right in front of me? (I’m writing this article, and I am safe and sound.) I breath and tell myself how lucky I am to be strong and healthy right here and right now.  

Moving to the present moment and focusing on my immediate safety and health helps pull me out of the worry and anxiety. The truth is that none of us know what the future holds so why spend so much time and energy worrying about it and assuming it’s going to be all doom and gloom. That is simply our imagination. If we can imagine a scary future why not also imagine and entertain the possibility of the rainbow after the storm?

Giving equal time to both possibilities allows me to stay more grounded, and I also know that whatever ends up happening I will figure it out as I always have in the past and as I’m sure you have too. 

Archana Shrestha, MD is a life coach and practicing emergency physician in Chicago. She is coauthor of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” and Cofounder of the Women in White Coats blog. Learn more about her by going to  MightyMomMD.com . She can be followed on Instagram @MightyMomMD

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