A few years ago, our family discovered a dog-friendly beach in the Florida panhandle. We piled our belongings and our Labrador retriever and drove 18 hours to this relaxing, non-commercialized vacation spot. Available activities consist mainly of sitting by the ocean, walking along the water, kayaking, hiking in the state park, watching sunsets, and nighttime campfires on the beach. We hope for good weather when we go, so that we are able to enjoy all these activities.
A week or so before our most recent August trip to the beach, I started checking the weather forecast. The seven day outlook featured a more than 60% chance of thunderstorms every day. This projection put a slight damper on trip preparations, but I packed sunscreen, water accessories, and the beach tent, as usual. A few days before we were to leave, I rechecked the weather and the forecast was the same: apparently, a tropical depression was forming and there was plenty of moisture around the Gulf Coast. This meant storms were, in fact, likely to redevelop throughout the week.
Just in case, I added playing cards and board games to the suitcases and off we went. About an hour after we arrived the first day, it started to rain. I looked at the forecast again and saw the chances of rain had increased to 100%. This, I thought, is the TRUE meaning of a tropical depression. Before setting one foot on the beach, I had let the possibility of rain erase my vacation optimism. I shared the bleak outlook with my family, and my youngest son pleaded with me to stop checking the weather and just take the days, “one at a time.” That night, we broke out the card games while it poured outside and I resolved not to look at the forecast again that week.
The next morning, we woke to partly cloudy skies. It remained clear all day, giving us the chance to kayak and swim in the ocean. We were even fortunate enough to spot a group of dolphins in the bay. That evening, we caught a partial glimpse of the sunset, shrouded by merely a few stubborn clouds. The next day, although dark and ominous clouds gathered close to us a few times, they never produced rain. Sometimes, we saw bright bolts of lightning off in the distance. One morning, we saw a rainbow over the ocean.
Sometimes, it did rain and we were forced to spend an afternoon indoors. I would love to say we passed the time peacefully until the weather cleared, but storms could brew between us, too, as might be expected when it rains on a Florida beach vacation. Yet throughout the week, we did have sunshine and many opportunities to enjoy a break from some of the stressors we face in everyday life. The time I spent anticipating rainy days did absolutely nothing to improve the weather, but did everything to ruin my mood. I was acting as if vacation was a washout before I even felt a drop of rain.
When we anticipate negatives, we put ourselves through many difficult thoughts and feelings without even experiencing the event we dread. It did not rain every day on our vacation, despite the dire weather predictions. In reality, the only way to know what was happening each day was to go outside and look up at the sky. When we try to take life one day at a time, we avoid the energy drain that comes from looking ahead and expecting the worst. Vacation weather, similar to daily life, can be full of surprises regardless of our expectations. When we worry less about dark clouds, we can live more fully in the moment and truly enjoy those peeks of unexpected sunshine.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.