Episode 18: Down the Rabbit Hole
I’m Hannah Coles, LDS Life Coach and host of the Confidence Catalyst Podcast – episode 18: Down the Rabbit hole and catastrophizing
We’ve all been there. We think one little irrational thought and concern quickly erupts into a giant mountain of a problem and then we worry, stress, and create panic within us. This is catastrophizing my friends, and it isn’t pretty. Learn why this habit of thinking IS harmful to you and how you can stop feeling like you’re falling and spiraling down the rabbit hole of the unknown.
Summer Time, late nights, and a Rabbit Hole
Hey welcome back my friends. Hope you had a fantastic week and that you’re enjoying your summer. I absolutely love our summer breaks and late nights. One of our favorite summer activities is backyard movie nights. We have a large screen and outdoor movie projector and we wait until it’s dark and munch on popcorn and watch a family movie together. So fun.
One we really like as family is Alice in Wonderland, the original Disney cartoon version is the best and mostly because it’s all nonsense. She falls down the rabbit hole and everything is just crazy town right? Hence where we tend to coin the phrase, falling down the rabbit hole or spiraling down. All these terms basically sum what I want to talk about today which is confidence and catastrophizing.
These two are kind of at the opposite ends of the spectrum meaning if you had a scale of confidence where one side is plus positive confidence then the other side is negative catastrophic drama and inner turmoil – it’s letting your insecurities and doubts expand to something outrageous and out of control which is the opposite of confidence and knowing that you can handle what life offers you.
Think about this, have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t sure what was going to happen next but you’re pretty sure it’s all bad? Catastrophizing is basically predicting the worst case, worst possible outcome even though nothing bad has happened yet. It’s all the drama created in our minds about what’s terrible about this and why this is all bad for you.
It’s believing in an irrational, fictional future for yourself. One that hasn’t happened nor most likely WILL happen yet we tend to believe it enough to create drama and inner turmoil for ourselves.
Your body still feels it
So the problem with this is when you entertain these thoughts is that you’re creating a chemical reaction inside of you. If you remember your thoughts create how you feel. Any time you think a thought it creates an emotion for you. Your brain is amazing but it doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and really happening outside and what’s just a story you’re entertaining in your mind.
So when you think a thought, like “Oh my goodnesss I have a weird pain on my side. It feels sharp, what if it’s appendicitis. What if it’s really cancer? I didn’t feel this before. It wasn’t here yesterday.” Then more and more and more the fear becomes pronounced and you start imagining going to the ER, getting surgery, possibly your final hours, who is going to come and speak at your funeral or take care of your family.
And your heart rate is pumping, and your forehead is creased and your tense and feeling all the stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline are all released in your body and you’re just a mess. But nothing happened yet and it might not happen even but in your mind it was real, in your body you experienced the chemical effects as if it did already happen and it feels awful.
Turned out to be nothing
Then come to find out it wasn’t anything and your relieved it wasn’t a big deal but your body experienced a traumatic event just because of the thoughts your believed and indulged in in your mind.
Think about when you tend to catastrophize. When you leave the house and you’re worried that you left the stove on, then you picture the house going up in flames and all your precious heirlooms and pictures all gone, who is going to save your pets, where will you live, what’s going to happen to you?
Or even something different like, I texted her 4 hours ago. Why isn’t she responding? Instead of just thinking she has her phone on silent or a dead battery or she’s busy we tend to jump to thoughts like, she doesn’t like me anymore, she thinks I’m crazy and doesn’t want to respond to me. She’s going to tell her other friends about me and how weird I am and then no one is going to be my friend and I’m going to be alone and friendless all my days.
Guilty of catastrophizing
We’re all a bit crazy and we all travel to looney town occasionally but we need to learn to manage our minds frequently so we can respond rationally and intentionally instead of reacting to every little thing as if it were all going to end in world catastrophe.
A lot of my clients that struggle with anxiety have a habit of catastrophizing. They think about a possible trigger for them, a situation, a person, a type of conversation, a place they’re going to even and in their minds they have this irrational picture of the situation being much worse than it really is or will be – in short they see it as a catastrophe instead of possibility.
Down the Rabbit Hole
So a few things tend to happen when we start traveling down the rabbit hole:
first, we predict the worst possible scenario that could ever happen is going to happen. Second, we think we’re unable to cope with what happens and we won’t be okay, and third, we don’t actually see it all the way through.
A lot of people will tell you to stop right where you’re at and stop spinning. Stop spiraling. Just stop. But I find this counterintuitive. I read once that asking someone to stop and calm down, breath when they’re experiencing a lot of anxiety is like asking someone going 90 miles an hour to suddenly stop. There’s this huge jolt and dramatic shift that isn’t really possible or helpful. Instead what we need to do is gently transfer the energy that’s already present to one that will help you and start regulating your body to come to a gentler, calmer state.
Inquire instead of indulge
So first when you find yourself starting to entertain and envision the worst case scenario instead of indulging in the awfulness of it I want to you inquire more. When you’re indulging your creating more worry, more lack, more uncertainty, more fear. But when you can start questioning instead of telling you gently shift to a healthier state. Start by letting yourself go all the way to the bottom of the rabbit hole.
This doesn’t mean indulge more in the what if’s. This means asking yourself so what? If it does. Why is this really a problem?
See here’s the thing, we don’t often let ourselves get that far. We stop at the worst part or what we think is the worst part. And we catastrophize from there – So you have to let yourself play it all the way to the end.
I love going with the 5 why’s. Which is basically to ask yourself why five times to get to the root of the problem. There’s the surface problem – what we think is the worst but then if you uncover 5 more layers you start seeing that even the worst really isn’t the worst.
One of my clients really struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. She’s such a rock star in her progress and how much she’s been able to grow and feel confident in herself. I’m so proud of her. But for a while there were certain triggers that would set off the catastrophe alarm and for a long time she’d only get to the part in her thoughts and her story where she might faint. She’d feel anxiety, the anxiety would worsen, she’d have a panic attack, and then she’d faint. And that was the extent of the catastrophe – that if that happened that’d be the end of the world.
The worst is that you’ll feel a feeling
But when she dug deeper even if she fainted that’s not the end of the world. She’d most likely have lots of people wanting to help her, to support her, to love her. The worst case that her mind was envisioning was that she’d faint and then she’d make it mean something about her. That maybe it’d be embarrassing. That maybe people would think things about her. That maybe they’d think she was weird or different.
But digging in deeper helped her to see that maybe it’s not such a catastrophe. She’s been able to help so many others find healthy ways to process their anxiety because of the tools she’s learned through coaching and now doesn’t indulge in catastrophic thinking. But you have to get to a space to go all the way through til the end.
Don’t let yourself stop at the perceived worst case. After that ask yourself so what? Ask yourself why? Why is that a problem? Go five layers deep and see what might really happen.
Why are we so afraid?
Why are we so afraid in the first place? Really ask yourself that. Most often it’s not really the end of the world. What we’re really afraid of is what we’ll make it mean about us. It’s not that it didn’t work out and you might lose your home or people won’t like what you have to offer in your work or friendship – it’s that you’ll be mean to yourself – you’ll make it mean that you’re a failure, that you don’t have anything of value to offer, that people don’t really love you. We’re afraid of feeling those negative emotions.
But the good news is is that you get to decide what you want to think and feel. You can decide that even if you lose your house, even if you have to file for bankruptcy, even if you do have to ask for help, or look to a new social circle that you won’t ever call yourself a failure or that you’re not worthy or good enough. You get to decide that you won’t ever tell yourself you’re not worthy of being loved or valued.
Decide ahead of time
If you decide what you want to feel AHEAD of time no matter what happens the fear goes away. There’s nothing really to fear because the worst that can happen is that you’ll feel a feeling because you believed a thought.
We forget how much power we really do have. How much control we have over our lives, our experiences, and our future.
Follow it through to the very end of the rabbit hole.
So just notice and recognize when you find yourself spinning out and catastrophizing. Notice the patterns and habits you tend to have then instead of indulging in worst case scenarios ask yourself questions. So what if that happens? Then what? Why do you think that? What would happen then? Why would that be a problem? Is that a problem?
This way you have a bit of a plan. You’ve looked at all the possible or potential problems and you can come up with strategies to help you solve them all along the way. Confidence comes from knowing and embracing all the parts of you – and being able to trust in yourself and in your abilities.
Trust and confidence
This trust is a huge component to confidence. It’s knowing that you’re not perfect and good news, you don’t have to be to be worthy, loved, accepted, and valued. It’s also knowing that you can figure it out. That you’ve been in tough situations before and you made it though then and you can make it through now.
You don’t have to have the answers. The how – like how will it work out? That comes later. It’s just knowing that no matter what you’re going to be okay. That you can do this and no matter what happens you’ve got your own back. That’s confidence. It’s knowing that you’ve made it through rough patches before and you can get through this too. It might not make it easy or fun but doable.
Asking yourself questions with the backdrop of faith in yourself and in your abilities helps you to walk confidently through any of our mortal challenges. When you do this, when you steer your energy towards what you can do and how it’s really not a problem takes away or greatly lessens the pain and panic that was once present.
Is it really a problem?
Remember, nothing is a problem until you make it a problem and why would you want to do that? Why not just think, I’ve got this. It’s totally fine.
We can use the future to help us create the present we want now. We can look to the future and decide what kind of feelings we want to feel. We can decide ahead of time what we want to think about ourselves, about others. We can choose and make a deliberate choice to never think certain things about ourselves. You can deliberately and consciously choose never to think that you’re not lovable again. You never have to think that. You never have to think you’re not good enough.
That’s the power of agency and choice. You get to choose what you want to think and believe and why not choose kindness and love for yourself and others?
When my daughter was having surgery on her ankle last year I had a lot of people worried for me and for her. Aren’t you worried they’d ask and I say no. It wasn’t going to serve me to worry while she was in there. Catastrophizing wasn’t going to help her and it was just going to exhaust me so instead I just chose to believe that it’s all going to work out. Then I was calm and had a clear head when and if the doctor needed to talk to me.
So remember the steps, recognize when you start spinning. Instead of telling yourself to stop it or calm down – ask questions. Make yourself go all the way through to the end. Then exercise confidence that no matter what you can get through this. You always have before and you will now too. It might not be fun but you can do this. Then just choose what you want to deliberately think.
Too often we fear things that don’t need to be feared.
Follow these steps – the more you inquire the more detailed of a plan of action you create. You’ll know the ins and outs and you can be prepared for them instead of intimidated by them. The more you look at it with the backdrop of faith in your abilities to overcome the less you’ll need to fear.
Sometimes things aren’t really a big deal at all. They only become a big deal if you make it a big deal and do you want that? You can change catastrophe to possibility. One with lots of options and hope.
The more you practice this the less you have to fear and it gives you courage to take action and try new things, talk to new people, and spend your energy in a healthier more serving way.
okay, have a fantastic week and I’ll talk to you next time!
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