What if... (insert disaster here)?!?


These are two of the most anxiety-producing words–at least in my head. What if I get fired? What if my best friend is mad at me? What if I make a fool of myself? What if that thing I said to that guy the other night at dinner was so offensive that he now hates me and thinks I’m an idiot? Or even worse–what if I actually am an idiot?

Of course I'm not talking about life-threatening, tragic disasters here, but these others can still take up a lot of brain space. As my most robust inner critic, Anxieta, would tell you, it’s easy to get distracted by that tornado of what-ifs that seems to create a never-ending cycle of questions coming out of our heads. If none of this sounds familiar to you, consider yourself lucky. And maybe feel at least a little sorry for the rest of us.

Focusing on the positive is always a good idea, but that’s not always easy for natural worriers. After all, we were born (or raised) that way. Here are some other strategies to try:

1. Focus on the present moment!

If you are truly focused on the present moment, then overwhelm is not possible. Give yourself permission to simply think about what you are doing right smack in that very moment, even if you have to physically write out a permission slip and keep it in your pocket. Repeating what you are doing (“I am now writing this email" or "I am currrently drinking a cup of coffee”) can be helpful.

2. Imagine the absolute worst!

Although this might sound like crazy talk, once you allow yourself to actually go there, ask yourself how likely it really is. For most of us, we let our imaginations run wild, and there’s often no basis in reality for that worse case scenario. Challenge your assumptions. Besides, if something truly awful does happen, worrying about it ahead of time won’t make it any less awful (thank you to my best friend's therapist for that little tip).

3. Be the student!

Remember that without problems, we would never become great problem solvers. It can be difficult to remember that challenges are actually the best catalysts for growth (if the ship didn’t get wrecked, we would never build a bigger ship), so keep an image or word at the ready to bring you back to this truth. A big ship, perhaps? Too simple? Your old high school chemistry teacher you once had a crush on? A wildly curious cat? Anything that reminds you that you're on a path of learning and discovery will do.

4. Practice Self-love!

Embrace your perfectly imperfect self on a daily basis. Know that you are not defined by your job, your salary, your accomplishments, your relationship status. You can have goals and achievements–ain’t nothin’ wrong with that–but that doesn’t mean you magically turn into a big loser if the dreaded thing after the “what if” happens. That too shall pass, and you will still be you. A mindfulness practice or evidence journal of your greatness (see earlier post!) will remind you of your best self and build resilience to disappointments.

5. Return to your life purpose!

The more time we spend turning inward and remembering what we are all about, the more we can let go of what will happen. If we are clear on our values, what kinds of people and situations we want in our lives, and who we want to be, we can concentrate on emanating that energy instead of worrying about how it will be received or what will happen. Picture yourself deciding what you want to put out into the world and letting it go. You are releasing all good things from your very own personal positive energy space, and then choosing not to allow the energy of what might happen, how others might react, or what events might occur, to come back at you. Give it a go, and let me know what happens–whatever it is!