Don’t sweat the small stuff. Live every day like it’s your last day.
When surfing social media, I see these pieces of advice and their variations multiple times a day. I’m not sure how many people posting these sensible nuggets of counsel really believe what they’re saying or merely passing on a slogan. For those that use them for sloganeering and self-motivation, the trick is turning the catchphrases into true core beliefs. That’s not easy to do.
I think I have solid credentials to write about this. I spent most of my adult life sweating the small stuff and looking for tomorrow’s opportunities. I monitored every detail of my professional life. When things didn’t turn out just so, my stomach would tie up in knots until I fixed the mishap and made adjustments for next time. My mind was working around the clock.
At home, the slightest hint of disapproval from Sandra would gnaw at me for days. My busy schedule and non-stop preparing for the next move would keep me distracted for weeks at a time. When that caused strains in family time, I was constantly in a state of looking for the next open weekend or vacation to make amends.
For an anxious person, the small stuff and trying to shape the future are amplified even more. I was diagnosed with general anxiety in 2004. A Harvard study published in 2012 reported that patients with a genetic disposition for heart disease “who have generalized anxiety disorder – constant, pervasive worrying, even about mundane matters – are more likely to have heart attacks and serious heart problems.”
Here’s how heart disease researchers think it works. The heart labors harder because anxiety sufferers are in a constant state of adrenalin fueled “fight or flight.” In that state, the body prepares for an altercation and the blood thickens to prevent excessive bleeding from a cut or blow. For people like me with a family history of clogged arteries, the combination of narrow vessels, thick blood, and pieces of plaque floating around could be deadly.
Throughout my life, I heard the wise advice to not sweat the small stuff and live every day like it’s your last a zillion times. I regularly vowed to follow it. Unfortunately, I was never able to really embrace it, until God intervened during the summer of 2010. It turned out to be another one of His amazing gifts to me.
For over 100 days, He gave me a bunch of big stuff to sweat about. Before I signed the surgery approval form, the surgeon was required to advise me that my chance for survival was 50/50. When ICU doctors recommended putting me into a medically induced coma, I agreed knowing I might never wake up. I emerged from the coma paralyzed from medication and a month on a ventilator. I didn’t know what laid ahead.
That summer, God taught me that what I wanted wasn’t as important as what He wanted for me. Heart disease and complications ravaged my body. He wanted me to fight for my life and my family. He didn’t want me to think about tomorrow or the next day. He wanted me to concentrate every minute on the task at hand.
Once I awoke from the coma, I had no choice but to put His lessons into action. At first it was difficult as I wanted to go back to my old ways. I learned that I had to take it one day at a time. I couldn’t give up when simple things like lifting a spoon to my mouth or walking to the bathroom seemed impossible. During the next few years, I kept learning that worrying about unimportant things didn’t help. Looking too far ahead was fruitless. Living for the day became a way of life.
The world looks so much differently now. I see people “hangry” at restaurants because the food is taking too long. I hear people grumble about co-workers and agonize about wanting to make more money. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, we read about family spats over an unknown slight. I understand those very human emotions, so I want to sit with every person feeling pain and share the gift God gave to me.
Last week, I dedicated my daily walk on social media to a young man and family friend who has lived with muscular dystrophy since he was a kid. He spends most of his life in a wheelchair. When I see his smiling face while enjoying a concert or hear about how he is doing, I marvel at how he faces the challenges that most of us can’t even imagine. He and his family are the personification of courageous fighters. I hope to follow their example every day.
When the small stuff starts getting to you, take a deep breath and let it go. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or any assortment of ailments that get in the way, seek professional guidance and share your story so you can find the silver linings. I was so consumed with the small stuff and the future that I almost let the beauty of life pass by.
Here’s some advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff. I know it’s easier said than done, but I’m convinced that this is what God wants from all of us. There are so many things that can be barriers to living that philosophy. I learned how to dismiss the mini roadblocks the hard way. My life changed drastically overnight. Don’t wait for that. Live every day like it’s your last.