Emotions want to run the show. They want to hijack the driver’s seat, grab the wheel, and completely control where we go and how we get there. And that, as most of us know, does not typically work out well.
Now don’t get me wrong, emotions absolutely deserve a VIP seat on the bus, and sometimes, it’s totally cool for them to drive the bus, but only when rational thought is close by and playing co-navigator, offering sound logic and guidance.
For those of us that are fairly anxious, we have to really work to bring rational thought to the table. Remember, fear and anxiety thrive on driving the bus. Our anxiety wants to run wild, dictating every twist and turn, predicting and preparing for the worst. So we have to actively work to infuse logic and rational thought.
One of my favorite strategies for actively bringing rational thought to the table after recognizing an anxious thought is to stop and ask yourself, “What are some other potential explanations for this? Read that question again. “What are some other potential explanations for this?”
Let’s take an example.
Suppose you have a loved one (partner, child, friend, parent, etc.) who is travelling. They assure you that they will touch base when they get settled at their destination. Three hours after they are scheduled to land, you still haven’t heard from them. You begin to worry, considering every worst case scenario in the book, and after just a few minutes, you’ve convinced yourself that they are probably stranded somewhere, near death, with no way to reach out for help. Your anxiety is through the roof, and you likely find yourself consumed with worry and fear about your loved one’s status.
Here is where we have to really dig deep and call on rational thought. Remember, your anxiety won’t want you to call on this logic; it wants to run the show. But if you want to reduce your anxiety, calling on this rational thinking is important.
As of now, your explanation for your loved one’s radio silence is that they are stranded somewhere or kidnapped. And that is one possibility; it is. I won’t deny that. It is a possibility. (A low probability possibility, but still a possibility.) But what are some other potential explanations for their radio silence? Their phone is dead. They want to call you once they are settled at their hotel. They decided to meet friends for dinner and don’t want to be rude and step away. Plans changed and they had to rush into a meeting or activity once they landed. They left their phone on the plane. They forgot to pack a phone charger. They left their phone at the hotel. They know you had a big meeting and didn’t want to bother you. Their phone is low on battery and they are conserving their battery until they are back at their hotel. They are having a great time. They simply forgot to call you.
Suddenly, you went from having one “sure” explanation to having twelve possible explanations. And hopefully, if you pause and are mindful, you will notice a reduction in your anxiety. Your anxiety likely won’t be gone, and that’s ok; anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hopefully though, the anxiety is more realistic and in proportion to the event and stressor at hand.
You went from letting your emotions drive the bus, to having your emotions and rational thought drive together. And that is key in the battle of coping with anxiety and fear.
So this week, as you notice your anxiety and worry, I challenge you to consider potential explanations other than the “sure” explanation you’ve come up with. Try to generate and brainstorm as many potential explanations as possible, infusing logic and rational thought into the wild bus ride that is anxiety.