The Problem with Anticipating Pain

May 13, 2019

Categories: Pain

I’ve been getting in a bad habit of anticipating pain. Here’s what I mean: Let’s say I’m entering a situation that is uncertain, or has the possibility for pain. I’m focusing on the possibility of pain at some point in the future, and it’s making me feel crappy in the present.

Buying a House

For example, we recently bought a house, and it needs some work before it is ready to move into. Part of me feels excited about that, but there is also some fear. Questions race through my mind. What if the repairs cost more than anticipated? What if we discover something else that needs to be fixed down the road? What if something breaks and the house turns out to be a bad investment?

Anticipating Pain

I start down the road of all these questions, and it makes me feel anxious and upset. But I’m anticipating my pain. Nothing bad has actually happened yet, but my mind is operating as if it will certainly happen. So, I experience similar feelings of anxiety, stress, and distress, as if the bad things have happened already.

No One Can Predict the Future

But who knows? The bad things I’m anticipating may not come to pass. No one can predict the future. The only way to know what will happen is to move forward and see. But when I anticipate pain, I’m living out the worst-case scenario ahead of time. I’m experiencing all the negative consequences, even though they aren’t actually my reality (and may never be).

Focus on the Present

The alternative is to shift our focus to the present, and deal with what comes up each day. It’s like the Bible says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” If you find yourself experiencing pain or stress, check in with yourself. Is something bad happening right now? Is there a problem to work on right now? If so, get going and see if you can tackle the problem.

But if the answer is no, and you’re worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future, try to let it go and shift your focus to the present. You aren’t currently experiencing the problem, so there’s nothing you can do about it right now. You’re just spinning your wheels. Try to enjoy the present moment, and if the thing you’re worried about happens in the future, trust that you will have the capacity to deal with it then.


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  1. […] is something you can do to plan for your future so the bad thing is less likely to happen. But feeling anxious about something that may not happen usually isn’t worth […]

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