It seems like this pandemic has led to a constant need to adapt. First it was adapting to things closing down and now it’s adapting to things opening back up. A very common mental reaction is that of catstrophizing. When the future is unknown, the brain fills in that unknown with the worst case scenarios. A lot of times we don’t even recognize that we are doing this.
For example, your boss is angry or disappointed with you and you start feeling anxious. It may take a bit of digging into your subconscious to recognize that the anxiety the situation is causing you is that you’re imagining you might get fired. But your brain doesn’t stop there, your subconscious is already imagining that you won’t be able to pay the rent and you’ll have to move from the neighborhood you love and you might end of homeless or living with your parents.
When it comes to catastrophizing, it’s important to stop yourself when you recognize you’re anxious about a future that may or may not happen. Remind yourself that you can’t see the future and the things you fear aren’t what are happening right now. Consciously state to yourself the current facts. He isn’t firing me, he’s just angry. And then think of a few reasons that the future might take a more positive route. So, instead of I’ll wind up homeless, go back. They are too understaffed to fire me, I could get another job or roommate to pay the rent, I might even be happier with a new job, etc.
This requires you to agree that you can’t be sure of the future and commit to wrestling your brain into looking at the positive. Yes, you might be wrong, but your negative imaginings could also not only be wrong but have led you through hours or days of anxiety for no reason.
So this week, notice each time you are thinking about the future. It’s ok if your brain comes up with possible problems but force it to also look at why those problems might not occur and the positive future you could be looking forward to.
If you’d like to know more about how you react to difficult situations and get a free recording and tips to empower you to shift the way you feel, take my Free Quiz
Have a great week!
Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.