How to Ease Your Mind When Your Thoughts Keep Jumping to the Worst Case Scenario – Danielle Burton

Have you ever had a thought take you down a trail of anxious thinking ending with the worst possible outcome you’re convinced is going to happen? It might start out with wondering if you forgot to blow out a candle while you’re out to dinner with a friend. You may begin to worry and have a hard time focusing on anything else. As your thoughts continue to escalate, all of a sudden you realize you did leave the candle burning, your cat knocked it over, your house has burned down, and you’ve lost everything you own. While that example might have been a personal moment of weakness I’m not so proud of, thoughts like this can happen in a wide variety of circumstances. For instance, a mistake in a job interview turns into never getting hired anywhere, a newly discovered mark on your body becomes cancer, or a friend being late for a lunch date means they’ve gotten into a car accident.

Having a thought that quickly jumps to a worst case scenario is called catastrophizing. Most people have experienced catastrophizing at some point in their life and some people struggle with it on a daily basis. No matter how irrational the thought is, anxiety can be really good at convincing us the scariest, most illogical thing is going to happen. As we continue into the COVID-19 pandemic, your anxiety might even be thriving on the social distancing, constant change, or the virus itself to fuel these catastrophizing thoughts.

When your safety is a concern and there’s a real possibility the worst outcome could happen, it’s absolutely okay to plan and prepare. However, the majority of the time not only does the worst outcome not happen, what does happen is something you can easily recover from. It’s probably not hard to realize these thoughts are unhelpful even if the worst case scenario does happen. They do little to actually prepare us for or prevent the situation we’re scared of. Instead, they cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. Below are some steps to ease your mind when your catastrophizing thoughts aren’t helping you.

Notice and acknowledge when these thoughts are happening. Pay close attention to the situations and emotions related to them. It can be really easy for these thoughts to sneak under the radar until the spiral of anxious thinking has gotten completely out of control. When you notice the thoughts escalating, you can do something about them.

Take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing in through your nose, down to your belly, and out through your mouth can reset your brain in the same way our phones sometimes work better when we restart them.

Get the thoughts outside of yourself. Holding them in is exhausting and can feel like they will only go away when you get proof that the really bad thing won’t or didn’t happen. If you’re having a hard time negotiating logic with your anxiety, a friend or therapist can help you talk it through. Journaling or jotting the thoughts down can also help to get them outside of you.

Focus on what you DO have control over. The worst case scenario is usually something we have little control over which makes it easy to obsess over, but useless to think about. When we know what we can control, we can take action. Find a manageable step to take. Ask a neighbor to blow out your candle, make an appointment with the doctor to get the mark examined, continue to job search and fill out applications, or simply remind yourself you are in control of how you respond to this anxiety.

Lastly, move on to a coping strategy that works best for you. Once you’ve done everything in your control, there’s no use in continuing to ruminate. It’s important at this time to do something that provides you peace and occupies your mind. Some examples include doing a physical activity, listening to music, spending some time outside, watching your favorite movie, calling a friend, finding a creative outlet, making a gratitude list, playing with a pet, reading a book, or spending time with family.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself during this really confusing time. It’s okay to be struggling right now. You’re allowed to feel anxious. Life is full of really tough situations and it is so important to give yourself grace when you are doing the best you can do.

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