Worry, nervousness, angst, fear, apprehension, stress. We use a lot of different words to mean anxiety. In general terms, anxiety is a fear that something bad is going to happen. Sometimes this is reasonable. Our brains and bodies react to fearful situations as a way to protect us. That’s why we’re able to slam on the brakes when we’re about to hit that care that just pulled out in front of us. In some situations, anxiety can be a life-saving emotion.
Many times, anxiety is just the opposite. It robs us of life. Anxiety causes us to predict negative outcomes regardless of evidence. Here’s a shocking truth – bad things do happen sometimes. Okay. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking. However, bad things happening sometimes does not mean bad things always happen. This belief is the foundation of anxiety. Changing these beliefs to more realistic ones are an important key for you to overcome anxiety.
Predicting the Catastrophe
Catastrophizing is the assumption that the worst case scenario is not only possible, but likely. It is true that nearly anything is possible. We have all heard stories and wondered, “What were the odds of that?” According to the National Weather Service, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 960,000. Putting it mildly, that’s a long shot. Yet, we can sometimes give the smallest chances a great deal of power.
Predicting the catastrophic outcome is the product of anxiety. We focus on a given situation so much that it becomes gigantic. As a result, we assume gigantic consequences. In this sense, anxiety has turned our perspective into a giant microscope. Soon, the issue is all we can see because we’ve magnified it and made it huge.
While nearly anything is possible, not everything is probable. In September 2011, the Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite was coming back to earth – in a free fall! According to NASA, they expected one piece to weigh about 348 pounds and be travelling at about 96 mph when it made impact. Worse, they didn’t know where it was going to land – somewhere between Canada and South America.
Remember, reality is usually not anywhere near as bad as our thoughts.
The truth is, it was extremely unlikely that anyone would be harmed or any property damaged. Was it possible? Yes. What is probable? Absolutely not! Most people didn’t walk around looking in the sky on September 23 and 24 (the expected impact dates). They just went on about their days as usual. If we saw someone walking around looking for the satellite to make sure they weren’t struck, we would have said the person was irrational, at best.
Remember this, reality is usually not anywhere near as bad as our thoughts. Go back and read that sentence again. Anxiety feeds itself on irrational fear. Here are a few questions/steps to get back to rational thinking:
- What do you believe is likely? (Not what is possible)
- If your anxiety is still high, ask someone else’s opinion and answer the question again
- If you gambled, would you bet on this outcome? Why or why not?
- What is a realistic negative outcome?
- What is a realistic positive outcome?
- How would you cope with a bad outcome?
- On a scale of 1 – 10, how difficult would it be to implement your coping strategy?
- If more than 5, can you develop a different one?
Thinking rationally is one part of reducing anxiety. Over the next several days, we’ll be writing more about how to overcome anxiety and have more peace of mind.
What issues or types of problems tend to cause you the most anxiety? Feel free to comment. We would love to hear your thoughts.