I know it might seem shocking, but there actually is a good kind of what if thinking. People with anxiety might be audibly scoffing at me right now, rolling their eyes and thinking, “Please, what can be good about constant what if thinking?”
What if thinking is a natural consequence to anxiety. You are constantly battling with your own mind, wondering if you did a good enough job, if people like you, if you’re going to be sick (in the case of fellow emetophobics), or if you’re going to die on the plane you’re traveling on.
And while that method of what if thinking can be exhausting, detrimental and extremely annoying, there is actually a constructive way to have what if thoughts, but they likely won’t come naturally.
So I’m challenging you to start asking yourself: what if these thoughts aren’t true?
Now, I feel like many anxiety sufferers are immediately thinking they know these thoughts aren’t true. They are rooted in anxiety, so they are irrational and likely false. But, when I say to start asking yourself “what if these thoughts aren’t true?” I don’t just mean challenging them with rational thoughts and your normal positive self talk mantra.
I mean actually start questioning in a more positive way:
What if I did do a good enough job on this project, how would I feel?
What if I go out tonight and make a brand new friend?
What if I don’t get sick from going out to eat tonight, and I try a new food that becomes my favorite?
What if I get on this plane and make to my destination without any issues?
It’s strange, because this thought process is actually a hard one to flip. At it’s core, anxiety is a worst case scenario kind of thought process, but the way to start changing that script is to actively start changing how you think.
I like to let the negative what if question roll through my mind, then immediately counter it with, “Yeah, but what if it doesn’t? What would I be missing out on or giving up because of a small chance something bad could happen?”
I’ve always been the kind of person who feels like I have two options: I can either sit around worrying about what could possibly go wrong and miss out on all the things that went right; or I can go out there and experience all the wonderful parts of the world, and only stop when I have reason to do so.
Of course, I would be lying if I said I don’t sometimes adopt a “better safe than sorry” attitude. I think people with anxiety have this idea that if they even remotely doubt their chances at metaphorically surviving a situation, they’ll avoid it and then go “See, I avoided this situation and I was fine, so next time I’ll do the same.”
But, who’s to say that if you had done what you wanted, that the bad thing would have happened? There’s only way true way to find out, and that’s to do it. More times than not, our fears are more bark than bite, and the anticipation leading up to an anxiety producing event is always far worse than what it actually is.
So start challenging your anxieties, flip the negative what if questions to one that make your current situation more desirable. Don’t ever let anxiety be the reason you miss out on something you want to do.
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Lastly, we run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle we are passionately engaged in. It is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.