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Avoiding those ‘worst case scenario’ thoughts - lockdown lessons learned during my ME/CFS recovery

I'm a Wellness Life Coach who has gained a particular reputation for helping those with Fibromyalgia/ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I’m also experienced in helping people to manage their anxiety levels, and positively tackle life’s challenges. Whether you have a pre-existing medical condition or not, if you'd like my help and guidance at this time, please get in touch.

In my two most recent blogs, I’ve shared some of the ways that I dealt with being anxious and housebound during my period of long-term ill health. These coping skills have stood me in good stead ever since, and never more so than during the current Covid-19 lockdown.

In this article I want to talk about how important it is to stop your mind ‘going there’ with the worst case scenario thoughts that it’s so easy to dwell on and deepen. The advice I give in this article really does go hand in hand with my tackling anxiety blog - so please make sure you click through and read that too.

In that tackling anxiety blog, I explained that it can be very damaging to your mental and physical health if you let your fears and concerns come to the surface regularly. I also explained that having the occasional pang of worry is absolutely normal, but if that pang turns into long-term negativity, it can cause physical issues such as raised blood pressure, reduced immune responses and impaired gut health.

But it’s not just about the amount of time you spend worrying it’s the strength and depth of those thoughts too. And once your worries start to build it’s so easy to veer off the reality path and start imagining all sorts of disastrous scenarios that really aren’t based on much fact at all. And then we’re back to another vicious circle of worry leading to disastrous thoughts, leading to more worry, and then even more disastrous thoughts.

In this blog I’m going to give you a very simple trick to snap out of that sort of negative cycle quickly and easily.

It’s a trick I learned during the early months of my health issues, when I was really struggling to come to terms with my diagnosis of ME/CFS and my reduced quality of life. As I’ve explained in previous articles, one of the most upsetting things about a diagnosis like this is the fact that nobody can or will give you any sort of indication as to how long it will last. Or, indeed, whether you’ll recover at all. You can see how it becomes very easy to start thinking some very worrying thoughts. I’m not going to give any examples here, as I’d like to avoid triggering or reinforcing any negative feelings that my readers or clients may already be experiencing. Let’s just say it can get quite bleak.

But let’s look at this rationally - thinking these absolute worst-case scenario thoughts doesn’t actually help anything, does it? Sure, I’m no fan of sticking your head in the sand either, but there’s a difference between being worried about a known factual situation and panicking about things that are far from reality!

So how can you stop your mind ‘going there’? Well my tip this time really is very simple - you need to physically stop yourself! And here’s how:

· If you feel your thoughts are heading down that panicky worst-case slope, catch yourself and clearly think the word “NO!” or “STOP!”.

· Even better, if it’s convenient to do so (i.e. there’s nobody else around) actually say the word out loud - forcibly and meaningfully.

· And even better than that, I used to raise my hand in a firm palm-out gesture, sort of like a traffic-cop would do to stop traffic, while firmly saying the word “stop!” to myself

· While you’re at it, why not visualise the word too - perhaps like a white and red ‘Stop’ sign used to control traffic.

It sounds simple, and it is. But it works! It very clearly taps into some of your primary senses and by saying, hearing, seeing and physically gesturing the word NO or STOP your brain really can’t do anything else but pay attention and do what it’s being told.

The key is you have to remember to do it. You have to catch yourself when you start to have those extreme thoughts, and “Stop!” yourself as quickly as possible. A great cue for this is noticing when you have that horrible ‘dread’ feeling in your stomach. This is a physical cue that your mind isn’t happy. If you notice that feeling, tune into your current thoughts and identify if it’s something useful to keep prodding away at, or if you’re going too far down that over-thinking rabbit hole. And if it’s the latter, tell yourself to “STOP!” straight away.

The great thing about this tip is that it works immediately! There’s no delayed reaction, or days of building up to a result. If you do it purposefully enough, it will work there and then.

As I said at the start of this article, this tip goes hand in hand with my suggestion of using ‘re-framing’ to manage anxiety, covered my previous blog. Re-framing is a very effective way to calm your mind for a sustained period of time. But occasionally something could happen to trigger a strong emotion again, and if that does happen please remember to use this “STOP!” trick to halt it in its tracks.

Sometimes the simplest of tips are the best ones.

Stay safe,

Pamela


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