Some anxiety – I like to call it catastrophizing, is basically like entering into a very vivid daydream about every worst-case scenario possible and it’s nice to have a worst-case-scenario lifehack. What if my partner dies in a car crash? What if they’re disabled? What if my daughter isn’t careful and someone abuses her? What if we go bankrupt and end up homeless? Not realistic fears, not things that are likely to happen – typically it’s the worst possible things that could happen. Happily, there is a great way to fix it.
This isn’t daydreaming about things that are likely to happen, it’s really the worst that could possibly happen, ever, to anyone. The absolute worst. By worrying about these what-if questions your life becomes similar to navigating a mine-field of potential disasters. It starts to seem like doom is lurking around every corner and like you’re struggling just to stay alive, and who doesn’t need a lifehack for doom?
Here is a great anti-catastrophizing lifehack from DIY Health: For Women. It’s simple, portable, free and gives you a great reason to have fun for 30 seconds.
Pay attention to your mind – every time you catch yourself thinking what-if-a-piano-falls-out-of-the-sky thoughts – activate your lifehack. Instead of a negative fantasy, switch to a positive one. Start thinking about the best case scenarios – the ones where Brad Pitt shows up on your doorstep with flowers and offers to cook dinner and vacuum the rug. Or Angelina Jolie really wants to come over to get to know you better. How about the one where James Bond shows up to tell you that this suitcase full of cash actually belongs to you? Or your spouse shows up at your office with two tickets to the Bahamas and you don’t have to worry about packing because you can just buy all new things when you get there. Make it over-the-top good and don’t hold anything back.
Really picture that scenario happening – see every detail, if you’re going to dinner in your fantasy pick out what you would order. Really get into it and enjoy it. All of this only takes 30 seconds out of your day – it’s not like you’re spending hours in this positive fantasy (like you might do with the negative one). It’s basically a break that allows your brain to jump track, to get distracted from the usual pattern of bad thoughts and to get a little less used to catastrophizing. This allows you to break the cycle of absurd fear and worry thoughts. After all, anxiety has a brain chemistry component but it also has a habit component.
The hardest part, just like with meditation, is actually noticing what your mind is doing. For many of us this form of worry is second nature and we don’t even really notice when it’s happening. It just becomes the background chatter in your brain. In order to stop the background chatter you have to notice it. If the noticing is the hard part, you may benefit from some mindfulness meditation to start to be aware of the merry chase your brain is leading you on.
This exercise isn’t necessarily about the good fantasy, it is simply to point out how completely ridiculous it is to get caught up in the ‘what-if’ place. The smiles you get from the good fantasy are really just the cherry on top. Ironically, it’s easier for your pessimistic human mind to recognize it as ridiculous more easily when you fantasize about good things than when you fantasize about bad things. It seems that we all know Brad Pitt isn’t showing up for dinner, but we’re not totally sure the roof isn’t going to collapse or a loved one isn’t going to get into a car wreck. Huh.
There are really enough difficult things in life without creating new ones for yourself, so if you catch yourself getting into a big mental story about the worst case scenario, then take a minute to create a mental story about the best case scenario. Now what if suddenly your boss tells you that you don’t actually have to come to work anymore, but they appreciate you so much they’re keeping you on the payroll.
By doing this over and over again the catastrophe thoughts seem to vanish. They go away on their own because you’re not feeding them any more and you’re not exercising those mental pathways. Just let them go and if they come back, well, it’s a great opportunity to revisit that great fantasy where you’re horseback riding down the beach with the Old Spice® guy.