Pressing Pause Podcast episode 52 Dealing with the ‘What if something bad happens?’ thought
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers, brought to you by The Calm Mind Club where overthinkers can find calm, confidence and community.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I share ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to worry less and enjoy life more.
Hello and welcome to episode 52. This is the first of our new style episodes where I answer questions posed by you, lovely overthinking listeners. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about I explain more in the previous episode 51 so have a listen to that. Essentially in this and future episodes the focus will be on a question you have asked me to help you with.
Whatever your struggle with overthinking is I want to hear your questions so send them to me at email@example.com or message me on Instagram where I’m @gabrielletreanor. You can find the links in the show notes too at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
So, today’s question is from Milly and it is ‘What if something bad happens? I what if about a lot of things but this is the toughest one for me’.
First of all let me say that you are absolutely not alone in your what if-ing, Milly, they may be two of the most used words by overthinkers and the worry of what if something bad happens is a really common one. I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of people listening to this nodding along in agreement. So thank you for sending in this question, it’s a great one to look at.
When we have a thought like this the feelings we have with it can be horrible, the churning stomach, sweating, tight chest, fast, shallow breathing, all of which make us feel more scared. Our feelings are matching the imagined event but right now it’s just a thought, all we’re having is a thought.
Trying to ignore the thought or the feelings, or fighting with them, beating ourselves up for thinking or feeling this way doesn’t help. It piles on shame and makes us feel worse. As long as you push the thought away and distract yourself without dealing with the worry you’re continuing to give the thought power and it will continue to resurface and bother you.
Looking this thought in the face starts to take the power out of it. It’s no longer a looming, shadowy figure towering over you, you’re confronting it by shining a light on it. Which feels super scary, I know! Your instinct is to run away from a frightening thought not shine a light and look it in the face!
However, if you don’t deal with this worry it won’t go away. It just won’t, believe me, I know. So, recognise you’ve had this scary thought, notice what’s going on in your body and stay with it. Being kind to yourself all the time. This thought and these feelings won’t last forever and they can’t harm you, you’re okay.
Now, there are several ways of dealing with this worry of what if something bad happens. First of all you can challenge it. Just how likely is it to happen? Yes, it could happen, lots of things could happen including you winning the lottery, but how likely is it that this bad thing you’re imagining could happen? Has it happened before? What circumstances are needed, who and what are needed for it to happen? Just because it is possible that this thing could happen doesn’t mean it’s likely to.
What is within your control to minimise the likelihood of it happening? Is there practical action you can take? There’s a good chance that one of the reasons this is a worry for you is because it’s out of your control. It may involve people or events that you don’t have control over and that’s feeding your fear. So if you’ve done whatever you can how is continuing to go over and over what you can’t control serving you? How is it helping you? If there’s nothing more you can do then thinking and thinking and thinking isn’t going to magically change that.
You can come up with a plan for how you would deal with the situation if the bad thing happened. Think about what you’d do, who you could call on for support and assistance. Thinking about the practical action steps you would take if your fear came true can help you feel better able to cope. You may not be able to control whether or not the imagined bad thing happens but you do have a say in how you respond to it. So focus on what you could do.
Look back over your past experiences. The sad truth is that bad things do happen so it’s likely that already in your life you’ve experienced challenges, heartbreak, even tragedy. How did you deal with difficult times in the past? Remember how you felt at the time, perhaps you thought you’d never be able to cope and yet, you did. Because here you are. What can you learn from how you’ve deal with upset and challenges in the past to help you in the future?
So you’ve acknowledged this worrying thought and looked it in the face. You’ve challenged it and looked for evidence of how likely it is to happen. You’ve thought about what you are in control of and what you can practically do to minimise the chances of it happening. You’ve come up with a plan for how you would deal with it and who’d help you. You’ve remembered how you deal with difficulties in the past and that you made it through.
So what else can you do? Anything? If there’s nothing more you can think of to do than continuing to stay with this thought, to continue going over and over and over it is getting you nowhere but more stressed. And how is that helping you? What are you gaining from staying with this worry?
The uncomfortable truth is that bad things do happen. I really wish they didn’t and I really wish they never will. But, they do. There are some things we can do to minimise their likelihood but there’s a lot of life that we can’t control. Which is a horrible thought, I know, but it’s one we have to acknowledge. We can’t predict the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen and there are no guarantees that life is going to be a breeze. But we do have a choice. After working through the worry, as I’ve just described, we can choose to continue spinning in this thought or we can choose to move on from it.
Now if you went straight from what if something bad happens to busying yourself with something else and pushing away that thought, you’d simply be distracting yourself. You haven’t dealt with the thought which means it’s not going away and will continue to haunt you. But when you have faced up to it as we’ve just been through, and there’s nothing more to be gained from continuing to stay with the thought, then it makes sense to focus on something else. What that is is up to you.
Some people find it helpful to change their environment by going into a different room or to do something physical to drain off the adrenaline that’s pumping through them so go for a walk or a run. It may be as simple as turning on the radio, reading a book, or focusing on a conversation with a work colleague. You’ve given your worry plenty of attention, there’s nothing more to gain from doing so which means it’s time to focus your attention on something else.
The thought will pop up again, big what ifs don’t get resolved straight away, sadly, so every time it reappears you can remind yourself of the process you’ve been through. You’re telling the thought that it’s not in charge, you are, and you’ve dealt with it.
Remember, you’ve been on this planet for a while. Your life hasn’t been a total breeze, no-one’s is, and you’ve had to deal with tough stuff before. If, and remember we’re dealing with ‘what if’ not ‘when’ here, if the bad thing happens you will deal with it. You will be okay. You may not have experienced whatever this thing is before but you’ve deal with upset and challenges before and you coped. You have a 100% success rate at life.
And above all else this what if is a guess, it’s an imagined possibility, it’s a could happen, which means it may never happen. So what you’re spending your valuable time, energy and brain space on may never ever come to be. So the last question I’ll leave you to ponder is this: what if this bad thing doesn’t happen?
Thank you, Milly, for this absolute zinger of a question, I hope you and everyone listening have found my thoughts on it helpful. I have been a champion what if-er throughout my life and through a lot of practice I’m much better at dealing with the what if thoughts than I used to be. They still ping into my head but they don’t overwhelm me any more because I have tools to deal with them.
If you have a question related to your overthinking that you’d like me to answer in an episode, and you can be anonymous if you like, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Instagram where I’m @gabrielletreanor. You can find the links in the show notes too at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast
And if you’re looking for support and guidance to deal with your overthinking, to feel calmer, more confident and able to cope so you can actually enjoy your life as it’s happening rather than being lost in your head, I have spaces for new coaching clients so let’s have a chat, send me an email.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.