“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Do you have a tendency to worry about things that haven’t even happened yet? Like you have the ability to make up a whole scenario in your mind of how something will negatively unfold. The result is not pretty.
Anxiously predicting the future is something we are all guilty of. You know how it is, you have something big coming up or there is something you want to do. You dread it’s arrival, you are nervous, you have convinced yourself you are going to be rubbish, someone will let you down, the world will be watching, you will make a fool of yourself and everyone will laugh.
You have an intense desire to have full control over this situation and stop anything bad from happening.
What we are talking about is relevant to you. Perhaps you worry about a first date? A job interview? A new gym class? Or you may be anticipating your friend cancelling your date or no one turning up to your birthday party. Or all of the above?
The fear you are experiencing will show itself in a variety of emotions; shame, guilt, jealousy, anger, sadness, worry, and the list goes on.
The bottom line is you do not have enough faith in yourself. Not faith that everything will be perfect, but faith that however it goes, you will cope – you will be OK.
There are several strategies used to try and rid yourself from this anxiety – you may avoid the situation all together, you will put every waking hour into preparing for the event and/or you will seek reassurance from anyone around you. You will ask questions you already know the answer to or that have no answer. None of this is good for you, especially if these negative predictions are a regular occurrence.
It is such a shame this is the way we function because fearing your future steals your happiness today.
You are spending so much time overthinking something that hasn’t happened, you are getting yourself into a tizz and you are missing your life right now.
I’m certainly not telling you not to care at all, of course some anxiety and stress is good. It will encourage effort and it can demonstrate the fact you care about what you’re doing.
Too much though, is not good, when it begins to consume your headspace and stand in the way of you doing certain things with your life.
It starts with one trigger. You get invited to an event, someone tells you they may need to cancel next week or you decide to go for a new job. Very quickly you are imagining every ‘what if’ possibility and you begin snowballing.
Here are two things I constantly repeat to clients, you and myself:
We catastrohphise and make things out to be so ridiculously bad. Then on top of that you don’t think you will be able to cope.
It’s now you tell me that something went wrong in the past – that’s why you are so scared now. OK – I get it, this is touching all the painful stuff and you don’t want history to repeat itself.
The thing is, it takes a lot of your energy trying to stop history repeating itself – if you want to be happy today and you want to be able to enjoy your life leading up to the situation – part of you will have to surrender. You can’t change the past.
Anyway, so far in your life you have coped, including said incident in the past. Right?
What I know is you are stronger than you think you are. You coped in the past, you are coping now and you will cope in the future.
When your mind is going into overdrive like this, you need to get some perspective. I don’t mean the kind where you endlessly seek reassurance that everything is going to be ok, only to continue worrying. I mean the kind where you get perspective on the impact this unhelpful thinking is having on your life.
Reminding yourself this situation has not even happened is crucial. Your mind does not know the difference between reality and your imagination. The more you imagine the worst case scenarios, the more your brain thinks it is happening, and so you become more and more anxious.
It can be useful at this stage to focus in on what it is you are predicting. What is it you think will be so bad? Do you have any proof this is going to happen? Are there times you have overcome similar situations in the past?
These fears are based on a fear. A fear of failing, a fear of judgement, a fear of losing something. You cannot hold onto everything in life, you just don’t have that kind of power. Things will not always go the way you want. Sometimes that won’t matter, sometimes that will result in some kind of pain. You can’t escape that.
When you can learn to let life play out, you will experience a new found sense of calm.
You will still have moments of worrying and feeling nervous, but you will remind yourself again of this same conversation and the intensity will reduce again.
One of the most effective ways to overcome your anxious predictions is to experiment and ultimately face your fear.
You need to challenge your false beliefs.
You begin by identifying what you are thinking. What are you are predicting and how bad it is making you feel? If you are new to this, I strongly encourage you to write it down.
Seeing your thoughts on paper helps you gain a deeper perspective and shows how your mind twists things. Further down the line, you will be able carry this out in your head.
Next comes carrying out the activity. Now in some cases, it is something that is out of your control so you have to go through it whether you like it or not (a difficult anniversary) and other times is something you have to choose to do (a driving test).
Once you have faced your fear, you examine what actually happened and check the accuracy of your original thoughts– Did your predictions come true? How bad was it? What went well? Were any of your original predictions irrelevant? Whatever happened, have you coped? Is there a new way to look at this situation now?
You can use this experimental strategy for a variety of anxiety provoking situations, when you do this enough times, you will begin to recognise patterns in your thinking and will start to see pointless thoughts which you will soon be able to let go of quicker than you can right now.
This is a great way to for you to challenge false beliefs and it will remind you how unhelpful it has been spending your life predicting the future. This will result in new healthy thoughts and behaviours.
As you face your fears, you will gain skills to face them again and again…getting bigger as you go.
***Disclaimer: If this too much and not something you can do alone, reach out for help. Behavioural Experiments are a common intervention used for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Get help if you need.***
As always with facing anxiety, these tools require your effort to work. Reading this blog is not enough, you need to take action.
I know, I know, you don’t have the time right now; you will do it later when things have calmed down. The only way you will overcome your anxiety is if you find the time.
The other thing is you will have to feel anxious. You have to throw yourself into a situation you are anxiously predicting which will feel uncomfortable. You don’t have to go for the big stuff, start small.
Like most things, the more you face it – the easier it will become. Anxiety is nothing to be afraid of. If you have anxiety about anxiety, you will benefit from reading my blog ‘Anxiety: Understanding it and Taking Back Control’.
Remember, you are not alone. We all have that inner critic that likes to scare us and try it’s best to keep us stuck. You have to push through that, when you do you will retrain your brain and things will get easier.
Sometimes, in order to be happy right now, you have to deal with things when they come round in real time.
Don’t live life stuck in your comfort zone, it is way too short for that.
Click HERE to join my Facebook Group for support, inspiration and tools on how to love yourself and live a Happier life.
Click HERE to follow me on Instagram and see what I am getting up to and help me spread the happiness message.
Let me know your thoughts and how you are getting on in the comments below.
Carly Ann xx