My super power is combining two awesome thinking errors into one glorious anxiety-inducing situation: catastrophizing and fortune-telling.
Catastrophizing: thinking things are worse than they are.
Fortune Telling: predicting doom and gloom.
Once, when I was very new to therapy, I sat in a therapy group where the counselor talked to us about “thinking errors.” One such thinking error is “fortune telling” — basically predicting doom and gloom when you have no reason to dwell on such bad things occurring.
As he described the uselessness of fortune telling—funneling all of your energy and thoughts into planning, in great detail, just how tremendously badly things could go and letting those thoughts brew anxiety and sadness inside your mind and body—I scowled and folded my arms.
The counselor picked up on that and asked what I was thinking…
“But I’m a mother. I have a responsibility to my children to consider what could happen in the future and how it could impact them. So I can protect them.”
I figured this would stump him.
Because how on Earth do you argue with that? I’m pretty sure the official job description for “Mom” is fortune telling and catastrophizing.
His wise and helpful response was this:
“You’re right, you do have a responsibility to have a plan. Think of it like this; you sit down with your family and discuss what you will do in case of a fire. You decide to meet across the street by the tree. Now you have a plan in case of a fire. But you shouldn’t lay in bed awake every night waiting for your house to burn down. Make a plan and move on.”
I think of that advice all the time. Really. ALL THE TIME.
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Because even with the help of therapy, and a stack of really fantastic (heavily highlighted) books, I still worry. A lot.
But now, I know how to either identify my worrying as useless busy work (which is just a distraction from seeking gratitude and joy), or to funnel it into some productive problem solving. Either way, I’m able to move on.
MAKE A PLAN AND LET IT GO.
But maybe that feels like tempting fate? If I actually allow myself to truly walk through what I would do if the big scary thing happens, maybe the universe will take it as a sign to make that bad thing happen?!
Like, the Universe, or your higher power of choice is going bring you up in the Monday morning meeting:
“Well it looks like Erin has mapped out her own personal worst case scenario. Let’s go ahead and make that happen for her. I mean, she’s put in so much work. It would be a shame to waste it.”
THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS.
Worrying aimlessly is useless. If you’re going to worry, make it count. Worry with a purpose! Set a timer for 15 minutes. Worry, formulate your plan, and tuck it away in case you ever need it.
I bet you’ll never need it.
And you’ll sleep better.
Post Script: If you are in a situation that is hard and scary—your metaphorical house is actually burning down—please reach out and talk to your friends and family. Let the people that love you, support and help you.