I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently (Philadelphia last week, California today, Dallas and South Bend in June). Each time, a few day before I travel, I get these benign feelings of travel anxiety. Now, in general I am not an anxious person, so I wasn’t really sure where these feelings were coming from.It would start with practical details: did I book the ticket correctly, will I remember to pack everything (I never pack in advance), do I have all my stuff together like driver’s license, boarding pass, credit card, notes for my talk, and so on.
Then, once I’ve dealt with that, my brain moves on to the more nebulous stuff. Will the kids be OK? Will my talk be good? What will I miss when I’m gone? Will I feel lonely so far from home? Will I be able to sleep at night?
I know in my logical brain that these are not real problems. I know this because I’ve traveled before, and everything is usually fine. But my brain persists in feeding me this anxiety, hoping that I will pay attention and take it seriously.
Which then becomes a battle of emotion vs. intellect.
The feelings are real. I truly do experience low-level anxiety every time before I travel. But the FACTS are fake news. The facts are that I have all my documents and I have all my clothes and I have my notes and everything will be fine and whatever isn’t fine can probably be made fine.
But the real feelings are so very real, and it takes energy to push those persistent thoughts out of my head and not let them take over.
This exercise is real, and the muscle it is working out has a name in Hebrew: shalva. Shalva is a word that means serenity. It’s a state to aspire to. Serenity is the opposite of anxiety. Serenity is closely related to “emunah” – faith – and optimism. It is where we go when we get into the boxing ring with anxiety and pessimism.
It’s a lifelong battle.
Not everyone will have the same flavor of persistent thoughts. For some it’s travel; for some it’s health; for some it’s relationship paranoia. But we first have to do a reality check: is this true, or is this fake news? And if it’s not true, we have to bring out that serenity – the shalva – and the hope and the excitement for life and the optimism.
I’m working on it.