At some point in your life, you will feel the weight of pessimism pressing down upon you. You’ll believe that something bad is about to happen that will change the course of your future for the worse. Maybe you fear you’re about to lose your job, or fail an exam, or you’re not sure you’ll have enough money at the end of the month to meet your financial commitments. Whatever the reason, you’ll have a touch of Worst Case Scenario Syndrome, and won’t be able help letting your imagination run wild, convinced that this will be the ruin of you.
Thankfully, there’s a simple exercise that can help cure your chronic anxiety.
I’ve previously talked about some self-help strategies when it comes to worrying, but here’s a simple exercise that will alleviate some of the symptoms of Worst Case Scenario Syndrome. It helps minimise your fears, makes you feel a lot more in control of the situation, and provides practical solutions should the “worst” actually happen.
First, find yourself 3 sheets of paper. (If you like, you can download and print my handy-dandy worksheet.) At the top of each, write the thing you’re worried about. Next, list the following on each page:
Page 1: Worst possible outcome
Here, note down all the worst things that would happen to you if the thing causing you anxiety suddenly became a reality. If, for example, you’re worried about losing your job, some things you could list here include: falling behind on mortgage repayments, not being able to find another job, having to forego certain luxuries, or having certain utilities cut off.
It’s important to be realistic, though, so don’t think that losing your job means, for instance, that all your family and friends will suddenly abandon you. I know fear can cause you to imagine all sorts of unreasonable things, so it can sometimes help to pretend it’s happening to someone else. What are the worst outcomes a friend is likely to experience?
At the end of this list, you should start to see that, while there may be some adverse effects, the world will still go right on turning and you will go right on living. The things we think in our heads will be catastrophic actually turn out to be just a series of inconveniences on paper.
Page 2: Ways to combat those risks
For each outcome, write a list of all the things you could do right now to minimise the likelihood of that happening, or to limit its impact if it does happen. For example, if you’re worried about falling behind on mortgage repayments, your list could include: starting (or adding to) a savings account, researching any financial options that may be available to you (like interest-only payments for a period of time), cutting out unnecessary expenses, selling some unwanted items, etc.
This will help you realise that you have a lot more control over the situation and outcome than you think. “Worst case scenario” syndrome has the effect of making you feel powerless to stop what’s coming, and that fear can paralyse you into inaction. But knowing that you have options and steps to take in the here and now to prevent the disaster can go a long way to regaining your composure.
Page 3: Getting back on track
If your worst case scenario were to play out, what are all the things you could do to get back on track as quickly as possible? Turning again to our employment example, your list could include: updating and improving your CV, scanning the jobs section of the local paper every day and applying for all relevant positions, asking family and friends to advise you of any openings they hear about, starting a side business, learning a new skill, etc.
It probably won’t be ideal if it happens, but you’ll feel a lot calmer knowing you have a solid action plan in place. You’ll turn away from catastrophic thinking and, instead, be able to make more rational decisions and keep your eyes firmly fixed on the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing you’ll get through whatever life throws at you.
By doing this simple exercise, you’ll quickly realise how “minor” everything is. Not only will you know it’s not the end of the world, but you’ll also have a lengthy list of things you can do to minimise any negative fallout, combat any potential catastrophes, and get yourself back on the right path as quickly as possible. Nothing is insurmountable if you have a good enough action plan. So, when you feel a fall is inevitable, this is just the strategy you need to kick your fears to the curb and face into things with strength, certainty, and self-confidence.
And hey, some of the best life lessons are learned when weathering storms, so keep your wits about you, learn from your experience, and the next hurricane will feel like a stiff breeze.
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