Your Best Life: It’s literally the worst ... or is it?

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A lot of our stress and overwhelm comes from thinking about worst-case scenarios.

You know, our fear-driven amygdala is always piping in with “What ifs?” – and they’re never good. The result is that you end up on a mental hamster wheel of stress and fear. It’s likely you would do almost anything for those thoughts to go away. So, what’s the answer? Does it take physical action like distraction, food, or laughter yoga?

Or mental ones, like mental toughness or positive thinking? While those all have their place, there’s a better way to help this worst-case-scenario-itis. This might sound nuts, but I’m about to suggest you do more thinking about the worst.  To be specific, not so much doing more but doing it better.

Our typical response is to fly 0-60 mph at the first sense of nerves, whether triggered internally or from an external event. But notice what really happens. In my mind, I get an instant flash of the worst-case scenario (getting fired, lost, or yelled at….). Then I let my emotions roll with that image, making a nice stress stew that hits a rolling boil until I get exhausted or distracted by something else.  I spend a lot of energy trying to “put out the fire,” however I can at that moment, and if I can’t do anything, even more spinning my wheels, fretting.

Did you notice what I didn’t do there? Address the issue. You might think, yes you did, you sent that email or hit the gym or took some action to prevent the bad thing happening.

But the issue is not the big bad thing. The issue is that my day was hijacked by a fear that was not reality-based. Most of the time, that fear is not close to coming true right now, yet you spend hours and days of anxiety, high blood pressure and lost hours of sleep worrying. Also, having not being resolved, your brain brings it up at the next opportunity.

It can be helpful instead of ignoring or fighting this terrible scenario to lean into it. Really jump in there, examine it. Ask yourself “Is it true?” (Note if you are in an anxiety spiral already you may answer “Of course!” so be ready to ignore that answer – unless you are being chased.)  The important thing is pausing to shine a light on your thoughts, not letting the panic train take you on a ride.

Then, play it out.  If you get fired, what will happen? Do your best to think about realistic options you may have, from savings to housing, support and skills.  Will you still have a place to live? Can you drive a cab or check out retail or do you have some work from home gig skills?  Keep asking “And then what?”

If you can only come up with more terrible scenarios, pause and it do some calming techniques before trying again.

At some point, the fire goes out of the fear. There are usually mitigating circumstances, opportunities you haven’t thought about, and often the real-life translation of the worst-case-scenario isn’t as bad as the fear it brought up.

It reminds me of recommendations to write down your To-dos or issues that are concerning you before sleep – maybe it gives the subconscious a similar sense of closure. By playing the nightmarish idea to its logical conclusion, and looking at real steps you can take, it caps that fear.

It’s possible losing that job will free you up for another career. In time, maybe you won’t even remember why you were so worried about it. People often look back on some of the biggest changes in their lives as expansive turning points that opened new avenues. But whatever happens, by mentally “resolving” these phantasmic fears, your daily experience will be soooo much better.