How often do you let your anxiety and fear play the “what if” game with you?
Weekly? Daily? Multiple times a day?
How much of your life do you think you spend worrying about things that are never going to happen? Or even if the things do happen, what did all that preemptive worrying do about it?
If I am telling the truth I have probably spent a month’s worth of my life in what if’s. What I wouldn’t give to have all that time back. The time I missed spending with my husband or playing with my kids. The time I spent jacking up my body with unnecessary adrenaline and pushing my mind into a panic attack.
The thing is, the what if’s are just that. What If’s. They are not a sure thing. They are fears that we let spiral out of control and determine our thoughts and actions.
What if’s are not set in stone. They are not an unmoving eventuality.
What if’s are assumptions, and for most of us with anxiety, these assumptions NEVER even come true. We just worry yourself into wrinkles, gray hair and an over-dependence on coffee.
What if’s are an aspect of anxiety and fear that YOU can control.
You get to decide how you perceive situations. You get to decide how you want to address whatever situation you are in. It is you that pick positive assumptions or negative ones.
The solution to kicking the what if’s to the curb is to simply see the truth. What if’s are a lie that we convince ourselves could become a reality. Stop seeing the lies and start seeing the truth.
Other Peoples What If’s Sound Ridiculous
One of the first ways I learned to recognize the absurdity of my what if’s sounded like was to hear someone elses. When you hear the situations that other people with anxiety make up in their heads you can’t believe them. Some of the things anxious people worry about are absurd.
When you take a step back and realize that your what if’s while different from someones else’s are still just what if’s, you start to see the absurdity in your own.
Let me give you a little background here. My what if’s are generally all medical related. My daughter had a 5-pound cancerous liver tumor removed at 9 months old and then went through six rounds of chemo. So being a bit paranoid about something bad happening to her is pretty normal.
I, however, took it to the extreme. I also started to focus on things being wrong with ME. I was her primary caregiver since my husband works full-time and what in the world would happen to my little girl if I got sick? Or what if I died?
My daughter’s cancer was very rare. So rare that only one other little boy in the US was diagnosed the same year she was. She is still the youngest child that we know of to have been diagnosed with that particular cancer.
All of the sickness I made up in my what if scenarios were super rare as well. For a while, I was obsessed with oral cancer and melanoma. I frequented the dentist office and made emergency appointments with my dermatologist.
I was stressing myself out so much that I started developing real-life stress symptoms. Sore throats and muscles, headaches, body aches, chest pains. All which I translated into various forms of cancer.
I had my husband feeling lumps and bumps, checking my body and mouth several times a day. I spent HOURS each day googling cancer symptoms to see if I could self-diagnose an illness. I’m embarrassed to think of how many urgent care visits I made. The most embarrassing one is where I went in thinking I had breast cancer but it was just a pulled muscle.
These are CRAZY, right? I mean anyone reading this will think I have more problems than you right?
Of course. Because these are MY what if’s. They make sense to ME.
What are your what if’s? If you look at them through the scope of the story I just told you, how rational do your own what if’s really seem? How would the rest of us see YOUR what if’s?
My therapist described it to me this way. We are sitting in her office, which is on an exterior wall, near a parking lot.
She looks at me and says “what if a car goes out of control in the parking lot and comes through this wall?”.
“What if the car hits me and I have to miss work because I am in the hospital? Do I have enough insurance to cover the work that I will miss or my hospital bills? Who will take care of my patients while I am gone? What if I’m not just injured but paralyzed? How will I get myself around anymore? Will I be also to babysit my grandkids by myself if I am paralyzed? What if I die? Does my family know what I want to be done with my body? Do I want an open casket? Will my husband get remarried?”
CRAZY. All those what if’s stemmed from one absurd idea that a car was going to crash through the wall.
And that’s the story that I always use to put my what if’s into perspective. Is this what if situation as ridiculous as someone else car crashing through the wall?
Focus on the Facts Only
The second thing that you must learn about keeping your what-if’s in check is to focus on FACTS ONLY.
What if’s are MADE UP situations. They are not made of truth. They are made of lies we tell ourselves.
If you only allow yourself to focus on the facts of a situation you will give your mind less time to focus on the what ifs.
The facts in the car crashing through the wall scenario? There has never been a car crash through that wall before. There was no injury, paralysis or death for that person to worry about. The fact of the situation was that we were both sitting safely in an office, on a plush leather sofa, in perfect health. Those were the facts.
The fact of my cancer health crises? I had a headache, toothache, jaw pain and neck pain due to grinding my teeth every night. I grind my teeth at night when I am stressed. I had a pulled shoulder muscle because I had a newborn and a toddler that sleep in the bed with me and I slept on my arm wrong. Melanoma is RARE. The FACT of my situation is I am in good health, I take care of myself and I see my doctors as often as I am supposed to. The fact is, I am not on my deathbed, I do not need someone else to care for my children while I am fighting cancer because I don’t actually have cancer!
What are your facts?
Whatever your situation is, lay out all the FACTS of what you know at this moment. That is ALL you need to allow yourself to focus on.
Worry is for later, when and if there is something to worry about.
Worry comes or doesn’t come after that appointment when you have found out what that lump is. Not before you even have the biopsy done. Don’t let worry show up until its time.
What will the What ifs change about the current situation?
The third step in banishing the what if’s is considering how the what if’s will actually change the current situation.
What will worrying about cancer leading up to your biopsy do for that test? Will the what if’s change the results?
What will worrying about paralysis before an epidural do for that procedure? Will the what if’s change the outcome?
What will worrying about your child missing curfew do for you? Will the what if’s change whether or not they walk through the door?
The answer is nothing.
What if’s change absolutely nothing.
My best friend, a neurosurgery nurse is one of my “panic buddies”. I call on her when I am having an anxiety crisis that I can’t work through on my own.
This is a real conversation we have had last year.
Me: “I’ve had this one-sided headache for three days now. I think I have a brain tumor.”
Her: “You don’t have a brain tumor. You have no history and no other symptoms. A headache would most likely not be the 1st sign of a tumor anyways.”
Me: “But its a really weird headache and I’m pretty sure something is terribly wrong. I can’t call my doctor because it’s too late and what will I do if they want to send me for a scan tomorrow or something?”
Her: “You don’t have a brain tumor. But even if you did, you would have to see your doctor, get a referral for a scan, schedule a scan, have it read, sent to your doctor and they would call you back in to give you the results. You are looking at a week or two before you would know for sure.”
“What will worrying about it for that week or two do for you? Will it make your tumor go away? Nope.”
“So don’t worry until you have something to worry about. Or just don’t worry at all because you DO NOT have a brain tumor. You have a headache.”
The what if’s still won’t change the outcome of whatever you are worrying over. They only change you. They change how you think and react. They change how you conduct your life.
Do you really want to let your whole life revolve around lies you have made up? Lies you have told yourself? Lies you yourself give power to?
I don’t. I have wasted way too much time doing that already.
Stop giving power to your fears, to your what if’s.
Stop them in the beginning by recognizing their irrationality. Remember the car crashing through the wall.
Stop them by focusing on the FACTS ONLY. Remember you cannot be paralyzed by a car that has never even driven through the wall.
Keep them in check by reminding yourself that focusing on the what if’s wont change the reality of your situation. Remember that worrying you will be paralyzed by a car crashing through the wall will not stop the car from coming through the wall.
Live your life in rational truth. You choose what you give power to. Don’t let it be your what if’s.