“What if they don’t like me? What if I do my best and it’s not good enough? What if I put myself out there and get hurt?” “What if you’re reading this right now and thinking I don’t ask these questions? See? Anxiety can happen to anyone. Even yours truly. And that’s because at the heart of anxiety is fear, which is a very natural emotion. In fact, our nervous systems are hard wired for fear and designed to detect and respond to both real and imagined danger. And when I say “imagined” I don’t mean that your fear isn’t valid. I mean that often anxiety is rooted in the future events that haven’t happened yet.
Because we’re programmed to survive at all costs, anxiety also serves an important protective function. And protecting ourselves is a good thing, right? Of course! Unless it leads to chronic worrying and overthinking, which doesn't feel very good. So, when we open the “what if” door in our mind it's safe to say a “case of the what ifs”and a tendency to overthink isn't far behind.
What a case of the “what ifs” feels like
If you’ve ever been stuck in the “what if” loop you may experience some or all of the following sensations in your body:
· Blurry vision
· Stomach pain
· A tight sensation in your throat
· Tingling in your feet and hands
· Difficulty concentrating
· Difficulty listening to others
· Feeling easily irritated
· Crying easily
· Wanting to isolate yourself from others
· Feeling more tired than usual
Everyone’s body reacts differently to anxiety and stress so this list is by no means comprehensive. You may actually notice other signs your body is in a fear loop. It’s a good idea to track these when you’re in a calmer space, which you can do in so many ways including starting a journaling practice.
How to soothe yourself when the “what ifs” happen
Give yourself extra special attention and love
Sometimes we need to step away from whatever we’re doing to give ourselves care and kindness. This can mean going to a quiet space where we can focus on our internal experience. When you find yourself in a fear loop, I want you find a quiet place where you feel safe. Once you’ve done that, I want you to Wrap, Tap, Breathe like so:
Wrap your arms around your upper body so that you are in fact hugging yourself.
Tap your shoulders while counting slowly. You can do this for as long as you need.
Take deep breaths making sure to breathe slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.
Get into the present- notice 3 things
When anxiety takes us away from the present moment we may feel disconnected from the here and now. One way to reconnect, is to focus on three things in our immediate environment. Here's how you do that:
1. Look around you and pick three things you see. I like to find objects in a room. But you can focus on anything: your wall, a spot on the carpet, the ceiling. Truly, you get to pick.
2. Now I want you to focus on the color, texture, and anything you notice about this object. Try not to judge your observations and if your thoughts carry you away remember to breathe. We want to always maintain a gentle curiosity with ourselves.
3. You can also use your other senses to get grounded in the here and now. Try picking three sounds you hear outside. See if you can identify what they are. And allow your attention to rest on the awareness of the sounds as well as your breath as you once again breathe slowly and intentionally.
Music can also be another way wonderful sound to listen to and you may find you have a particular song that helps you feel tied to the present moment.
4. You may also select three objects and hold them in your hands. Some people keep play dough on hand or fidget toys, but you can really pick anything. When you hold the object in your hand, see if you can focus on the way it feels, the texture, temperature, the way your hand feels holding it. And again, breathe slowly and intentionally.
Remember we're all in this together
If you're staring down a case of the "What ifs" just remember you're not alone. Besides all of the self-care strategies I've listed above, I hope you'll feel safe enough reaching out to loved ones and trusted friends. Anxiety and over thinking can feel world ending at times, but help is usually only a call away.