Sometimes I wonder how my grandmother wakes up every morning smiling, despite her frail heart, her arthritic joints, and the growing number of years behind her. (Surely it’d scare the hell out of me.) When I asked her about what keeps her going, she said to me, “What else is there to do?” I later learned that she has made all of her plans. She knows where she’ll be buried. She has all of the legal mumbo-jumbo in place. These things, along with the help of her natural jovial perspective, give her a sense of comfort. She’s ready for whatever, and this readiness allows her to face every day with confidence.

One of the interesting things about us worrywarts is that we excel at imagining the worst possible scenarios, but that’s where we stop. We rarely ever follow through and turn our anxiety into action. Most people don’t just sit around endlessly worrying about their problems… and those that do are likely dealing with some form of anxiety disorder, depression, or — at the very least — they’re not fun people to hang out with.

When you start thinking about your feared event, you’re likely running through all of the what ifs. “What if I have a tumor? What if I have a heart attack? What if I’m going crazy?” I’m just getting started. Our what-ifs don’t end at the feared event, instead they run amok and we begin what iffing the what ifs. “What if my family disowns me for going crazy? What if they lock me up?”

If we gathered all of the anxious souls up and threw them onto treadmills, we’d probably have enough renewable energy to power a small country. There’s no doubt about it: we’re good at worrying. I may not have many talents, but I’ll take any of you on in a worry contest any day of the week.

This anxious energy needs an outlet, and many people have great success with hobbies, yoga, exercise, and other forms of physical exertion that help to alleviate the built-up pressure. But that’s just one part of the equation. Another important part of the puzzle is planning for the feared event. Planning can seriously help you to reduce your fear. Simply having the knowledge that you’re somehow “ready” can be enough to make the feared event less fearful. Sometimes there may be disconnect between your fear and what you can plan for, but if you dig deeply enough, you’re sure to find the usual suspects at the root: the fear of death, the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassment, etc. Most of our fears can be boiled down to these in one way or another, but it may take a few games of “connect the dots” before we discover the true root of our fear.

Here are a few examples of things you can do to plan for your feared event:

  1. Write letters to the people you care about.
  2. Take out a life insurance policy.
  3. Program emergency phone numbers into your cell phone.
  4. Wear an ID bracelet that lists your medication allergies.
  5. Inform family members as to how you feel and ask them to check on you regularly.
  6. Keep a diary (this helps to materialize your fears into something greater than bite-sized bits of panic).
  7. Draft a living will and your last will and testament.
  8. Find and explore your spiritual or philosophical niche.

This is just a small list, but don’t overdo it. This list should be small. The point here is not to wallow in morbidity or to make yourself feel as though you’re dead, dying, or on the cusp of some serious illness. The point is to turn your anxious energy to whatever form of preparation that you feel is helpful. Note that if you’ve suffered from severe depression or even if you’re a bit unsure about this exercise, then you should speak with your doctor before doing any of these things. These activities may be difficult to deal with and there’s no reason to aggravate your depression in hopes of reducing your anxiety. There’s little point in trading one pain for another.

Always remember that you’re very much alive! Preparing for the future is not a death sentence. It does not mean that we are going to die soon, it just means that we’ve begun to acknowledge our impermanence and that we’ve started taking actions to help ourselves cope with this knowledge. It isn’t easy. Regardless, there’s comes a point where we have to put the future where it truly exists: out there, off in the misty distance. We have to let go of these nagging anxieties and learn to breathe deeply.

After all, what else is there to do?