28 March 2016

Nothing personal

One factor that undoubtedly exacerbates my anxiety and stress levels is that I'm inclined to take negative experiences personally, even when these affect a far wider audience.

Let's say, for example, that I plan to attend an open-air theatre performance. Ahead of this, I'll obsessively check the forecast, fearful of bad weather spoiling the event. And, sure enough, it pours down on the day in question - which is no surprise really, given that rain is the default meteorological condition on our sodden little island.

Nevertheless, I'll moan to myself about why this had to happen today of all days, as I perch on my protective plastic bag and huddle under an umbrella. Why did my evening have to be ruined like this?

My evening - as if Mother Nature had specifically targeted me. Never mind the actors on stage exposed to the elements or the rest of the audience shivering in the damp and cold; I'm the only one who's really suffering. Or so it seems. 

Image courtesy of Aduldej/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of my all-time favourite films is The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, the unwitting star of a reality show that has tracked his life since birth. Unbeknownst to him, he's living on a massive studio set, surrounded by actors, and everything that happens in the 'town' of Seahaven Island revolves around him.

I sometimes seem to labour under a similar illusion that everything revolves around me. What do I really imagine, though? - that the equivalent of The Truman Show's producer, Christof, is orchestrating my life down to the last raindrop? That would be a strange view to hold, considering I have no religion and don't believe in fate.

I only came to the realisation of this selfish, inward-looking approach when I got caught in a traffic jam on the way to visit my parents a couple of years ago. 'Not again,' I thought, as my stress levels began to rise. 'Why does this always happen to me?' 

With nothing else to distract me, I began scanning the other cars on the motorway. As I looked at the occupants of those cars, I registered that this wasn't just happening to me, it was happening to thousands of other people: there were hundreds of vehicles both in front of and behind mine.

And many of these people were undoubtedly in a far worse predicament than I was: perhaps travelling with a baby or an elderly and infirm relative, or with a plane to catch or a wedding to get to. Suddenly I felt stupid for taking this unexpected delay so personally. 

In spite of that epiphany, I still frequently fail to see the bigger picture when faced with an unfortunate turn of events. Those of us of an anxious disposition spend so much time inside our own heads that it can be hard to look outward. Hard, put simply, to prevent that anxiety from making us utterly self-centred. 

All I really need to remember is that there are more than 7 billion people on this planet - it is categorically not all about me, me, me.

* * *

I love this clip from The Truman Show, in which the studio's rain machine briefly malfunctions and the rain falls only on Truman.

No comments: