Okay, so now you know “What if?” thinking has to go. But how do you make that happen?
The best way to control it, is to stop yourself every time you start to use those two words…and in your mind firmly tell yourself, “No.. I don’t think like that anymore”, and then replace those two words with what I call a Silly Statement.
A Silly Statement is a statement that starts out with the words “That’s silly”, followed by a reason why you could consider your current concern or situation as silly.
Next, you follow that statement up with how you would handle that situation in a strong, calm, positive way even if your feared outcome DID happen. Silly Statements are what I recommend for all of your “What-If?” thoughts, with the exception of heart attack and stroke related “What if’s?”. Click here for my thoughts on those types of “What if?” thoughts.
Yes, “Silly Statement” is a “silly”, very unprofessional, untechnical sounding name – but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be.
The point is to downplay the “seriousness” you are currently feeling and obsessing about. It is my belief that 90% of anxiety is completely ridiculous and the sooner you become comfortable with that idea, the better off you’ll be.
Let me give you some examples:
“What if I go crazy?”
“That’s silly. I am not going to go crazy. And if I did, I would just have to trust that my family or friends would take care of me and get me the appropriate help.”
“What if I forget how to breathe?”
“That’s silly. People can’t forget how to breathe….they even breathe when they are asleep! Besides, even if I did, I would stay calm and I am certain I would find some way to get help for myself. I am smart. I would figure something out.”
“What if I can’t get these thoughts out of my head?”
“That’s silly. Nobody has ever had the same thought stuck in their head forever. I can’t usually keep a thought in my head long enough to remember why I came into a room. I’m certainly not going to be able to keep one sticking forever. And if in some crazy, bizarre, rare occurrence, the thought doesn’t go away, I guess I would just have to get used to it and learn to live my life with that same thought in my head for the rest of my days. It wouldn’t be easy. But I would manage.
“What if I have this rare cancer I just read about on the internet? It says one of the symptoms is a tingling big toe. My big toe has been tingling for a few days. What if I have it?”
“That’s silly. It is a rare cancer that I have no symptoms of except for one tingling toe. It is highly unlikely that I would have that cancer. But I will keep an eye on my toe and if it doesn’t improve, I will call my doctor and discuss it with him then. And if the worst happened and I was diagnosed with this cancer, I would have no choice but to handle it, wouldn’t I? However I refuse to think about that until it becomes a real issue.”
The purpose of the Silly Statements is:
1. To replace the “What If?” thinking with healthier inner dialogue.
2. To downplay your fears and concerns, and train yourself and your brain to handle and think of these irrational fears and concerns in a lighthearted, non dramatic way.
3. To show your brain…and remind yourself…..that you are strong enough to handle ANYTHING that arises, no matter how bad it may be.
You have to be able to trust that you can handle ANYTHING in order to find long-term anxiety recovery success.
Maybe you never had that trust in yourself. Or maybe something happened in your life that caused you to LOSE that trust in yourself. But just as it is possible to build or re-build trust in any other relationship in your life, it is also possible to do this with yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but it WILL happen. But it won’t happen as long as you continue to throw doubts in your own path and constantly tell yourself that you aren’t capable of handling things.
Imagine you have a teenager that you no longer trust because they stole the car one night. You are never going to learn to trust them if you keep demanding to know what they are doing every time they step foot out of their bedroom door. At some point you have to give them a chance to prove they are trustworthy again, by letting go of some of your control and giving them a chance to screw up again.
You are never going to learn to trust yourself if you don’t let go of your control (that is what “what if” thinking basically is) and let your potentially negative situations play out to see how you handle them. If you can do this, I truly think that you might surprise yourself and realize that you are a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Let the situations and circumstances in your life happen and trust that you are smart enough to let those situations tell YOU when you need to react strongly, as opposed to just automatically reacting strongly throughout the whole thing, because of your fear of that something might “get past you” and cause your “demise” or any other catastrophic ending that you are forecasting.
Our brains and minds are pretty smart. They have been around a long time and they know when its time to be concerned. Don’t let your subconscious screw things up with it’s over analyzing and constant need for reassurance.
I promise you that this can work for you, just as well as it worked for me, if you stick with it.
I have done this so many times over the last few years, that my automatic response to pretty much everything is that “I can handle it.”
And I don’t just think it….I believe it. I have always believed it, I suppose. I just learned how to quiet my subconscious down enough to be able to “hear” what I really believe. I was consistent with the process. I put the time in and I didn’t stop telling myself these positive things no matter how sick of it I got. And the pay off was pretty great.
I won’t lie and say that I don’t occasionally have bad days and that the negative responses to my “What if?’s” don’t occasionally creep back in. I am a negative person. Those thoughts and desires to be negative are going to be part of my life forever. But I do the best I can to keep them under control and they no longer get the best of me and start running the show.
It also doesn’t mean that I think that every situation I find myself in will be easy to handle and without fear. I know that some situations I find myself in down the road might be downright horrible and terrifying. I know that I will not get through this life without some major heartaches to come. But I know and automatically believe, that even if it is horrible….even if it is terrifying, I will be able to handle it…no matter the outcome.
Not in a day, not in a week, but over the weeks and the months you WILL notice a difference if you stick to it.
In the beginning you don’t even have to believe what you say. You can just say or think the “Silly Statements” and that is enough. And then over time you will slowly…ever so slowly….. start to believe them and be more sincere.
Just stick with it!
Do not be one of these people who tries it for a day and then says “That’s too hard. I can’t do that.”, because that is just laziness and excuses. Make yourself do this and you WILL see results! If you train yourself to think differently, your brain will slowly start to trust you, just as YOU start learning to trust you, and it will gradually start shutting off all that adrenaline.
Your brain WANTS to trust you.
Your brain does not WANT to be flooding you with a steady stream of adrenaline every second of your life to keep you hyper-aware and out of harms way. But until you prove that you are emotionally strong enough to get through whatever stressful situation you are facing all on your own……that is what it is going to keep doing.
Your brain is like the world’s most over-protective parent. But it doesn’t have the option of standing back to let you see if you can figure things out on your own without its help. For it to do that, it could cost you your life…that is what it was designed to believe. So it is going to make YOU prove YOURSELF before it even thinks of backing off. You prove yourself by learning to talk yourself through your fears and doubts like the mature, capable person that you are.
Now, just as a little P.S. here, I want to tell you that both of my parents died within the last 10 years, when I was in my thirties. My worst fear was realized, other than the death of my kids. My mom and dad are gone. And I may not be a little girl anymore, but I still have that little girl’s heart and it devastated me when I lost each of them. I feel like they abandoned me, and I want my mom and dad back. I miss them so much sometimes that I feel like my stomach will turn inside out. It is a sorrow that is deeper than anything I have ever felt and sometimes it comes over me in waves and I have to go sit in a corner and hug my knees and cry for an hour just to get the pain out.
But you know what? I survived it and I continue to survive it to this day.
My world did not end, and no matter how much it hurts sometimes, I know that I am strong enough to handle it. I believe in myself and my ability to cope. And that is one of the reasons I am so damn grateful for this anxiety disorder. It has been a gift in my life because it forced me to climb out from under my blanket of negativity and lack of confidence and find another side to myself. And I am actually a really strong person.
I am still super sensitive and emotional but I know that is just my shell. My shell is made of marshmallow, but my center, ….my center is bulletproof. It took my anxiety disorder to make me dig deep enough to find that out.
And you know what? Your center is bulletproof too.
Think of all your negative thinking and those “What if?” thoughts as your “Kryptonite”. They are making you weak and preventing you from tapping into all that strength you have! I promise you, promise you, promise you its there.
PsychCentral has a helpful post you may want to check out: 5 Ways to Stop a Worry Filled “What If?” Cycle and if you still need some more help, this is a VERY common issue in both people with and without anxiety disorders, so Google has tons of resources for you to check out with the key words “What If? Thoughts”.