Don’t Worry Be Happy

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, June 24, 2020
By Cristina Nicole Fernandez, Esq.

As the world begins to move into this “new normal” post-COVID 19 quarantine world – I cannot help but wonder what our lives and realities will look like in the future, reflect on what I’ve learned from life-altering experiences I have had in the past, and what is to come next, that no one can even begin to imagine.

I celebrated my 37th birthday on May 20th.  Coming into 2020, I was planning a huge birthday celebration this year, then lots and lots of travel and adventure.  Then COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing became a global reality, and I’m guessing you can imagine what came next.  Canceled….

As I moved through my yoga and meditation practice on my birthday, a beautiful thought came to me.  The practice I have today, the life I live today is one I could not possibly have imagined some years ago.

In 2008, at 25 years old, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, underwent rigorous chemotherapy protocols, and a bone marrow transplant, and the course of my life was forever changed in a moment.

Happy dog on the grass getting sun with sunglasses

My psychologist at the time taught me a valuable lesson and practical tool I have relied on throughout the years.  There are very real fears that will come up in my life that I cannot control, fears that exist and are valid, but that are not necessarily valuable to have in my face every day.  A fear of dying, a fear of not being able to live a full life after cancer, and I can go on and on.  These fears can consume you and prevent you from living, and even worse, can actually kill you before cancer or chemotherapy does.  She pointed out that though these fears may always be present, I did not need to have them ever-present in my thoughts.  They did not need to dictate how I lived my life, how I planned for my future, or whether or not I was allowed to daydream of a beautiful fulfilled long life.

My psychologist helped me do the work to verbalize and let out the fears that were ever-present in my mind. Then she asked me to imagine I put all of those fears and worries into a box, and put the box away in the top shelf of my closet.  What would happen then?  Well, the fears and worries would still be there.  But they didn’t have to permeate my daily life, weigh me down, and cause additional stress in a life that was already challenging enough.  See cancer did not kill me, but stress could have.

Regardless, whether you’re a man or a woman, when we worry or stress exhaustively, our bodies release certain hormones which “fuel the body’s stress response (also dubbed “fight-or-flight”), speeding breathing and heartbeat, directing extra blood flow to the brain and muscles, perking up the immune system, and triggering other changes that prepare your body to respond to a perceived threat.”  Medical research tells us when we trigger the stress response too often in the body, it can lead to very severe health problems.  Not to mention, insomnia, avoidance, pain, conflict in relationships, and even perhaps you can make your worries come true.  So why stress about something that is going to cause you more to stress about?

Yes, the future is unknown.  Children will face fears as they step back into schools for the first time.  When will it feel right to let our masks down around strangers?  What will the future look like?  Who knows?

But my life has taught me that not only is it unhealthy (even deadly!) to worry and focus on those fears constantly, but it is also unnecessary.  Yes, the future is unknown.  Ten years from now you will likely look back, as I have, and realize many things are not as you could have ever imagined.

At 25 I could not envision life at 37, probably because in reality, I did not even see myself living that long at the time.  But here I am.  Healthier and stronger than ever, physically and emotionally, and doing things I never thought I could do.

2020 did not bring what many expected.  A year many thought would be filled with “20/20 vision and clarity” spiraled into a global pandemic, creating economic and financial turmoil across the world, the loss of lives, and brought fear into the hearts of many.  Our plans may have changed, life may be taking a different course, but let’s not allow fear to dictate how we live our lives today or what we envision for ourselves in the future.  Celebrate the unknown, the curveballs, the challenges.  Find the lessons in today’s problems and focus on what makes you happy, what you want more of tomorrow.  And when the worry comes seeping in, take the time to set your fears aside, put a smile on your face, know it will soon pass and you cannot possibly know what comes next…. Don’t worry, be happy NOW…

If you enjoy music as I do, turn this song up, whistle, do a silly dance, and schedule your worry time for later.

For more resources on the “Worry Box Technique” see the following links or call our office to schedule time with a therapist or coach who can help: