Photo by Daniel Burka on Unsplash
Have you ever wondered why your reactions seem reflexive and instinctual even when they are unnecessary? We often respond automatically when no eminent danger is on the horizon. When our natural survival mechanism and our fight or flight reaction occur without true cause, more problems are created. Obviously, when danger appears, our body's reaction is to protect itself from harm which creates an instinctive response. The problem arises when we face a less than life or death danger or threat, but we react as if it were. What's worse is that we often anticipate a bad outcome or situation prior to anything real occurring. Sometimes a person's occupation requires them to have a certain level of vigilance and awareness to be prepared or to thwart bad situations from occurring. They are therefore rewarded and reinforced for thinking about worst case scenarios so they can prevent something terrible from happening. Although this mechanism can be positive with certain types of jobs, it can be detrimental if we assume this approach in every aspect of life. Occasionally our physical reaction to stress is created by our mental processing which can catastrophize or over magnify a situation.
Why do some of us anticipate bad outcomes in life? Maybe we've been through a lot of negative experiences and events so we assume the worst. Or maybe we fear being caught off guard or surprised by something bad so we anticipate it in order to avoid being unprepared. We may worry and ruminate about bad things because we fear losing control or not being able to take charge of the outcome. Others tend to be cynical and pessimistic about the future and prefer to have no expectations at all. Our obsessive thinking can build a situation up in our head that in reality may not be as bad. Some of us think through every possible permutation so that we can be better prepared and avoid a disaster. Again, most of the time we are worrying about things that will never happen or things we have absolutely no control over anyway. While our fight-flight mechanism enabled our species to survive and multiply, it can have detrimental effects. So how do we change our reactions?
We can create a daily list of things we worry about and set aside 10-15 minutes a day to worry for that block of time. During our worry time we can write two columns, control and no control, placing each worry in one of the two columns. We can problem solve the things we can control and let go of the no control list, giving them to God if you are a believer. Another strategy is to reframe our thoughts so they are more rational and realistic and use thought stopping to halt the runaway destructive thoughts. We can also generate a list of possible positive outcomes instead always assuming the worst. It can be helpful to identify our multitude of resources and coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations. Engage in exercise and physical activity to deal with stress. Lastly, rely on your faith, family, and friends to provide a reality check to your fight or flight instinctive responses.