Anxiety - Taking Back Control Over Worst Case Scenarios:

In a recent blog I wrote about the Rochester Dickens Festival and how Charles Dickens was a master of taking what was around him, such as the people and buildings, and crafting them in his imagination into wonderful tales that are vividly full of life.

Which is a bit like what happens when you have anxiety. You take some piece of what is going around you, such as how you are feeling and the people, places and situations you experience, and you vividly imagine things going in the worst possible way in the future. That might mean running anxious scenarios about embarrassing yourself or failing in some way, scenarios about being anxious and panicky in front of others or any other type of worst case that fills you with dread and anxiety when you think about it happening.

Which shows just how powerful our imagination is, because just by vividly imagining something that may or may not actually happen, you can find your emotions becoming overwhelming, even to the point that you try and avoid stuff completely.

But of course, however strong and 'real' these imagined scenarios are in your mind, they aren't facts at all, simply because they haven't happened yet and may never happen. Anxious worst case scenarios are actually just things we are making up in our minds, based upon our current habits, perceptions and emotions.

And as Mark Twain is credited with saying, 'I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.' He also described how 'worry is like paying a debt you don't owe' - I like that quote a lot.

So how can we take back control over anxiety and diffuse those worst case scenarios?

Anxious Worst Case Scenarios

Keeping with Twain, he is also credited as saying 'Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it'. Again, I like that a lot. We want to do whatever we can to move our thoughts from those anxious worst case scenarios to something else that is more comfortable to think about or the things that we want to focus on (even if that is just coping with whatever is coming up in your life).

anxiety hypnotherapy ely worst case scenarios

Because the more you focus on anxiety filled worst case scenarios, the more powerfully and habitually you will probably find that you can generate them in your imagination. Anxiety is a bit like a river in that, even if you stem the flow in one direction, it will inevitably flow into a different scenario. And the more you imagine those things, the more anxious you feel, and the more anxious you feel, the more you think those thoughts. Anxiety can very easily become a self-perpetuating cycle.

And of course it's worth remembering that, just like Dickens, we are all capable if imagining all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Just because we can imagine something doesn't mean that it is certain to happen, or even likely a lot of the time. And so in order to break that thinking pattern we need to do something with our imagination rather than letting it roll onwards and onwards into those worst possible outcomes.

I've got a few ideas for you here of things you can do yet it also pays dividends to develop and practice ways to calm your feelings down quickly and effectively. By diluting your anxious feelings you will be taking away more and more fuel from the scenarios. You could start by using 7/11 breathing (breathing in for a slow count of 7 and out for a slow count of 11 so that the out breath is longer than the in breath). And there are plenty of hypnosis audios to help you to alleviate anxiety in my hypnosis download area.

So back to interrupting those imagined worst case scenarios and some things you can do...  

1) Dilute It

Usually when you imagine those worst case scenarios you will imagine being in that unpleasant situation as if it was happening right now and seeing what you would see if you were there. Because we respond to our imagination, the more vivid you make the image the more anxiety you will probably feel. So if you are in the habit of imagining being in the scenarios and it is big, bright and colourful then you can start to dilute it. Imagine stepping it out of the image so it is like watching someone who looks like you in the scenarios and then push it away into the distance in your mind so it is like on a tiny tablet screen in the distance, shrink everything down so it is smaller and drain away any colour so it goes black and white. Any or all of these will dilute the impact and so, after a few moments, start to reduce your anxiety. 

It's like the difference between watching a movie at the cinema (big, bright and loud!) and a movie on a small old fashioned black and white portable TV set. The two just don't compare.

If you struggle with this keep persevering and remember, your imagination is just stuff you make up in your mind, here you are just making it up a little differently that's all.

2) Black & White

This one has an element of the first one. Recently I encouraged my kids to watch an old black and white film (it was a Laurel & Hardy one if you must ask!). They lasted about ten minutes before they got fidgety. Why? Because it seemed slow paces, everything happened a lot slower, there were more silent moments and it lacked the vibrancy of a colour programme. You only have to compare it to modern peak time TV shows to notice that these days we like things a bit quicker and louder and real-life like.

So one way to dilute worst case scenarios if you find yourself thinking them is simply to imagine them in black and white in your mind. Again, remember it's all made up stuff anyway so even if you think you can't do this, just imagine you can! Taking away the colour makes it all a lot less impactful. And if you like slow everything right down and go look up the Laurel & Hardy theme music (tbh it should be compulsory for everyone to know it) and hum that while you imagine that old stuff.

3) Rewind And Replay

Here we can take the fact we have been running an anxiety filled scenario and rather than just leaving it as it is, as soon as you possibly can, rewind it at superfast speed right back to the present moment. Instead of getting lost in those future based scenarios simply rewind it all the way back in one or two seconds. Once you've done this spend a moment of too noticing where you are right now, the sights around you and the sounds. You can tune into your breathing and be mindful and present. Remind yourself you were just noticing something that could happen yet right now it hasn't happened at all. Then, run a new movie in your head yet this time make it something that goes well (or at least neutral) or imagine yourself handling whatever comes your way.

4) The Good, the Bad & The Ugly

Ok, ok it's not actually the good ,the bad and the ugly (a fine film), it's the worst, the best and the ok. If you are imagining some sort of anxious worst case then by definition there must be some sort of possible best case - you can't have a worst case without it's opposite (or you would just have a case, I suppose). So if you have been running that worst case, pause then consider the other end of the spectrum and ask yourself what the best case would be for that scenario. Now with both ends of te scale, imagine a scenario that is somewhere in the middle, perhaps neutral or simply ok or average in some way. If you only go with the worst case then it's as if that is the only option but logically you know that is not the case so dilute its impact by coming up with other options, after all, unless you are able to predict the future, each of those cases is equally valid and possible as you consider them right now.

5) Change the Soundtrack

All of the above have been about the visual imagined side of those anxious worst case scenarios. But of course, you can imagine sounds in your imagination too so you can leave the scenario as you imagine it yet in your head imagine it has a soundtrack with it that completely mismatches it. For example,  I've know clients to imagine the Benny Hill theme tune or the Mahna Mahna song. Music can have a very powerful effect on us (ever felt happier from hearing a favourite upbeat song?) so use this to your advantage. Better still, actually seek out and play that tune that makes you laugh or that makes those scenarios seem a little silly and play it to yourself while you try and think those old thoughts. If it doesn't help, pick a better song!

Now of course these suggestions aren't exhaustive, it's your imagination (and not reality) so you can actually learn to change any part of it. You could imagine scenarios with everything upside down or everyone wearing pink tutus if that helps alleviate some of the anxiety. They key thing is to do something with those imagined things rather than just accepting them and treating them as if they are facts. 

And as I started with talking about Dickens and his imagination, I thought it would be nice to finish with something he said, "I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape." You can overcome your anxiety and stop thinking those anxious scenarios. And, just as you have found a way to cope with and deal with so much in your life already, so you will find a way to cope with, deal with and come out the other side of your current anxiety. And when you do, you may very well find that you are in better shape - stronger and more courageous - for having done so.

To your success

Dan Regan

Anxiety Hypnotherapy Ely & Newmarket.

Need help to overcome your anxiety? Contact me to book your complimentary consultation.

Still need convincing? Check out what a couple of hundred or so people have said after their hypnotherapy sessions

 

"The most important thing in life is to stop saying 'I wish' and start saying 'I will.' Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities" - Charles Dickens