Ok so here’s the thing––I’m a worrier. If anyone knows my mother, you know I come by this honestly. I am pretty good at not voicing my doom and gloom, the whole world is burning, hell has frozen over and now the pigs are flying worries. But I have yet discovered how to stop the thoughts.
I am sure everyone can relate to the what-ifs. What if my phone falls down the elevator shaft right when the power goes out and I am stuck on the 11th floor with no escape? What if I somehow get catapulted into space without a spacesuit, slowly suffocate and die while my body floats in the endless abyss for eternity? What if my brother was right and there is a soul-sucking demon that feeds on you by paralyzing you in the middle of the night while you sleep and, oh my god, that is why I can’t move right now? Oye with the what-ifs already!
Let’s travel back in time. It is literally a jungle out there. Humans could encounter danger around every corner––lions or tigers or bears. Actually, let’s imagine the danger is alligators because alligators are terrifying and my fears often feel like alligators. (Fun, and also horrifying. fact––alligators run very fast but only in a straight line. So if you are ever being chased by one, do what Rickon failed to do in GOT and zig-zag and weave.)
Back to the alligator fear––in caveman times worrying about an alligator waiting just around the river bend (Pocahontas anyone?) would probably save your life.
Giant lizard? Stick. Get stick. Found rock. Rock better. Good fear. Giant lizard bad.
Ok back to the present time––a quick trip I know. While our lives have changed and evolved over many many years, our brains still process our fears and worries as alligators. No matter how horrible the lady at the DMV is and no matter how fast she can run, she is not an alligator. And, more importantly, you cannot smash her upside the head with a rock––unless you want to spend the night in jail (say hi to Tazer for me).
So our worrying brains are no longer serving us the same way. Instead of protecting us from alligators, they just make our hearts race, palms sweat, and have that oh-god-I’m-going-to-poop-and-throw-up-at-the-same-time feeling. Why fish can grow legs but our brains can’t evolve past worry, I’ll never know. Maybe we aren’t the superior species after all.
I’ll give you this, there are still alligators in the world, but they are not as common as your mind wants you to believe––unless you live in Florida (the one and the only reason I need for never living in Florida). But some are freaking asteroids. No amount of worrying is going to stop that rock from flattening you.
Big rock. Falling. Fire. Big rock on fire. Stick? – SPLAT!
Ok great. Worrying, mostly useless. Thank you for the science/history lesson. Now how do we stop the worry?
You don’t. Worries are thoughts and thoughts come and go. If you try to resist or block your thoughts, they normally pull out the battering ram and come crashing in anyway. For me, it is all about how I see them, how I react to them, and what I do next.
One thing I have tried when the yup-the-vomit-is-coming stage happens is to repeat to myself––If the worst thing can happen then so can the best. If the worst thing can happen then so can the best. I turn it into a mantra. I just keep repeating it until I can stop dry heaving.
Another thing I do is problem-solve. Let me tell you, I can totally nerd out on some problem-solving. It is my jam fo realz.
Ok so my phone falls down the elevator shaft and the electricity goes out. Cool. Ok I’m in an office. Office supplies. Paper clips. Tape. Rubber bands. Ok creat a chain out of paper clips. Use tape to make it extra sticky, maybe a rubber band or two to make a loop? Presto! Phone rescued. Problem solved. I am a genius!
This works great if there is an imaginary problem that can be solved. Soul-sucking demons? I got nothing. Guess I’m screwed. Somethings you’re just not going to come back from. And there is not a damn thing you can do about it. Oh well. Knowing those problems are completely out of my control helps me move past them.
If I am feeling extra motivated when I have one bad what-if, I then tell myself to name two good what-ifs.
What if my house gets broken into? What if I win a million dollars? What if someone brings me ice cream (because ice cream is always a good idea)?
This practice is a work in progress, and it is still not my main go-to. But when I can bring myself to do it, I notice a shift. It might not stop the negative but it does help me see that great things are possible, too.
So what about you? How do you calm the worried mind and tame the what-ifs?