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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

When everything is going wrong, focus elsewhere

I went on vacation two weekends ago, and almost everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong. It was a weekend adventure to the Desert Trip concert in California (dubbed “Oldchella,” because it was a showcase of ’70s and ’80s musicians on the Coachella grounds) with my dad and my sister, and going in, I was already nervous. I’m a naturally anxious person; my dad and my sister are not. So the week beforehand, I had called them numerous times trying to figure out what the “plan” was. As of Tuesday, two days before we left, I didn’t even know what time the flight was. The two of them just told me to relax and that they’d take care of it, which wasn’t exactly helpful to my overly anxious brain.

When we arrived in Los Angeles (at midnight Pacific Time), we found that the rental car agency we reserved had a line out the door and that almost all the hotels near the airport were booked. That wasn’t the only thing that went wrong over the next few days. Hotels in the area had little vacancies, and my dad made the mistake of only booking a room for the day we were flying out. There were navigation issues and issues with grades and school that I couldn’t take care of because I had little to no Wi-Fi and we had just gone over our data plan for the month.

But compared to how I had been stressing out before the trip actually started, all of these misfortunes barely affected my mood at all.

I’ve heard of the term mindfulness before, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken it into consideration. I’m the type of person who is always worried about something — even when it seems like nothing is going on. But for the majority of this vacation, I wanted to focus on where I was, what I was doing at the current time and just push aside anxious thoughts of what schoolwork I needed to do and what we were going to do about the hotel situations. It was almost surreal; at one point, I was the one reassuring my dad (which is practically unheard of) when he thought that Google Maps was giving us wrong directions.

It was definitely easier to focus on the current moment and all the good things going on when I was away; after all, it was an exciting vacation, so enjoying the good parts of it was easy to do. When I got home, I was instantly overwhelmed by everything—from school assignments to how dirty my kitchen was to things people may or may not have been saying behind my back. I lamented the loss of the state of mind I had in California.

But it wasn’t something magical about the West Coast that eased my anxieties. It was my deliberate choice to focus on other things. I realize this is hard to do. Trust me, I’ve been told the same piece of advice over and over again, and sometimes I am better at applying it than other times. But this time, it really stuck with me because so much was going wrong; yet by focusing on the good things that were happening — I got to see an amazing concert and spend time with my family — I was able to feel at peace.

Will this cure my anxiety? In a short answer, no. But I am more aware about how focusing on the positive can really help, even if just for a moment of peace. In the crazy bustle of college life, it’s important to just take a moment and focus on the good things that are happening right at that instant, even if it’s something small. The first sip of coffee in the morning, the feeling of sunlight on your skin, the sound of your best friend’s laughter, the way the moon looks that night. Take a moment to notice those things and nothing else, and even if for a moment, just be.

Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior. Her columns appear on Thursdays.

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