Many times anxiety can build when we start thinking of the worst possible outcomes. We want comfort in certainty that we can handle whatever comes our way, so we start to entertain the “What if’s” in anticipation. Before we know it, these rippling thoughts flood us and we are swiftly led down a current of overwhelm before anything has truly happened.
“What if?” questions begin to rapidly fire and plague the mind:
…You learn your company lost a product line and you start to quickly think, “What if I l get laid off from my job?”
…You’re all ready to go on a romantic vacation with your husband and you conjure, “What if our child gets sick while we’re away?”
…. You hear a siren and you reach for your phone to text your loved one in dread, “What if he’s been in a car accident?”
Instead of responding and taking action based on reality, we catapult into catastrophic thoughts and react. Not only does the “What if?” thought have a way of robbing us of the present moment, it can also pump our bodies with unwanted hormones placing demands on the sympathetic nervous system. Anxiety can even build into a full-blown panic attack by the spiraling thoughts we are feeding our minds.
Catastrophic thoughts can come quickly to those with:
* Hypersensitive systems
* Emphatic sensitivity acutely aware of others (“empaths”)
* Hypervigilant conditioning (flight-fight-freeze-flee states) from surviving trauma
* Hyper-alert media sensitivity to current events
* Careers prone to high degrees of stress &/or violence
One way to calm down the sympathetic nervous system is to calm your mind. Instead of auto-playing “What if” scenarios, try rehearsing “What is” moments “What is” is based on the reality of being present to the here and now. Using your five senses to guide your thoughts gently back can quickly turn the nose dive of anxious thoughts back up and out of a downward tail spin.
Stop for a moment the next time you hear yourself saying “What if?” and trade your “if” in for an “is”:
“What is it I’m seeing right now?”
“What is it I’m smelling right now?”
“What is it I’m feeling right now?”
“What is it I’m tasting right now?”
“What is it I’m hearing right now?”
Look out your window.
Do you see the blue sky with robust clouds at sunset gently twirling in shades of pink and orange drifting onto the horizon?
Do you smell the fresh cut grass and notice the buds beginning to blossom in shades of pink with lace petals?
Do you feel the cool breeze gently brush against your face?
Listen to the children outside playing chase.
Do you hear them laughing and squealing with delight?
Have a cup of mint and lavender tea.
Do you smell the spearmint as the tealeaves turn the water a light shade of green? How does it taste? Can you feel the warmth from the cup in the palm of your hands?
When you rehearse “What is” all of a sudden you feel yourself breathe and exhale deeper, sense your heart beating a little slower, and notice an upturned grin. You feel yourself calming down—almost as though everything will be okay, because in this moment, it is.
If you find that you need help coping with anxiety, trauma or depression and would like to learn more ways for managing stress, please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation at 610.329.1684 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.