“I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Could you be the author of this quote? I certainly could, but you probably recognized Mark Twain.
This episode came from a question a while ago (before the actual Coronavirus situation) of one of my clients on the tendency we often have to think about the worst case scenarios. What can we do about it? I have a two-fold answer today: addressing it from the mind, and from the body.
These last days, shopping has turned into an interesting experience. Quite everything on my list, nothing fancy, rather basic stuff like eggs, bananas… I couldn’t find. Empty shelves everywhere. Actually: “I tried to do some shopping.” would be more accurate.
I am in Australia right now, but I think panic buying is happening in many many other countries. It started a while ago, and there is actually no need to buy so much.
And just before Australia, I was in Vietnam, neighbors of China. And the atmosphere was quite different. I saw a lot more prevention there, and much less panic. I’m talking a few weeks ago, so it might have changed by now, but the contrast was really big when I arrived in Australia.
A few weeks ago, a client asked me “I keep thinking about the worst scenarios. I can’t live peacefully. How do I stop that?” I had some podcasts recorded already, so interestingly, the first free slot to answer this question is this week, when this topic has become truer and more spread than ever.
Did evolution wire us for catastrophe anxiety or catastrophic thinking?
“Thinking about the worst scenarios” is also called catastrophe anxiety or catastrophic thinking.
Some theories explain this tendency by the fact that to survive as a species, it was always more important to notice the dangers than what was going well. Because if there is danger you should react before it gets you, whereas if you don’t notice how beautiful the sunset is tonight, well, you’re just missing a nice moments, but you will be fine, still be able to have kids and perpetuate the species.
I’m not sure how much I buy into this theory, but human do tend to obsess over what could go wrong much more than what could go amazingly well.
Orient your mind towards what could go well (NOT blind positive thinking!)
And that’s the first thing we can do with it: Instead of what you want to avoid, remember what you DO want.
I will give you a simple practice to calm down the nervous system so you produce different thoughts, but first let’s talk a bit about orienting your mind in a better direction.
Keep your attention on What you DO want and what you can do to make it reality. There will probably be things that have control over, and things that you don’t. Be aware of the latest, but focus on the first ones!
The main problem with catastrophic thinking, is we focus exactly on what we want to avoid, and often on things that are completely beyond our control, like the international economy, decisions that governments will take, etc. And precisely because we have no control over it, we are caught in a loop of “what if”, while staying with a sense of helplessness.
As much as it is important to be aware of these, once we recognize that we have no control over it, then refocusing instead on what we want and what we can actually do, THAT is really helpful. What will happen in the future might be uncertain, however what we do today, we can choose.
The present is the only moment in time that we can influence directly. And our future depends on what we do now. A focused action in the present will get you to the future you want: So what is the best that can happen? What do you want & what are you going to do for it?
Somatic orienting to rewire your nervous system
Ok, so you shifted your attention on what you can do now, but you still find yourself going into catastrophic imagination? Sometimes it feels like “I know, I know it useless to think about this, but it’s happening anyway, like my body is doing it by itself!”
It kind of is, because the stress response happens in the body, and influence your thoughts. So I invite you to a simple exploration to change this response and calm down your nervous system so you produce different thoughts.
I learned this practice of somatic orienting with my teacher Irene Lyon; It comes from Somatic experiencing developed by Peter Levine as a body-oriented approach to healing trauma and stress related issues.
This practice helps to slow down and calm the nervous system.
If your nervous system has been functioning in alert for quite a while, it might feel strange at first, because you are not used to it anymore. So I recommend for the first times you do it, to do it in a comfortable and safe space, at home, when you know you won’t be disturbed. A bit like preparing for a meditation. Once you’ve done it a few times and know the steps, you know when and where to take the practice
It is so easy and simple that you really can do any time that you can give it your full attention. And it can be done in a few minutes, too.
I’m going to present you the steps, and I recorded an extended guided exploration that you can download and take with you to follow. You’ll find the link on this page just below.
Follow the steps to get out of your head and calm stress down
Arrange yourself in a comfortable sited or standing position. And I really mean comfortable; you don’t have to be cross-legged or any kind of meditation posture or anything. Don’t collapse like you would sink into your couch either, but be comfortable.
Start with noticing your breath. Just observe it. Be a kind witness, no need to change anything.
Then bring your attention to your supports: the chair, the ground, whatever you sit on. Feel you buttocks meeting the support, your feet on the ground.
Then expand your awareness further out: observe the external environment around you. Slowly look around, notice what you see: for me as I am recording this podcast, I can see my computer, my desk, some pens, my teapot, and cup, and then my shoes, my bag… Notice what is around you.
Now be aware of the movements you make to observe all of this: your eyes are moving, your head, your neck are moving. Again nothing to change, but observe the quality of these movements as you observe around you.
And further in, notice your body sensations. Some might be uncomfortable, some comfortable and pleasant. Notice them all, and let them free. What is happening in your face, your shoulders, your chest, your arms, your abdomen, your back, your pelvis, your legs… Notice these sensations, and let them be.
So this exploration really is an expansion of awareness, step by step.
And you can notice now, even as we just did a condensed version, that the quality of your presence has shifted.
How would it be to go through your day with this quality of presence?
Resources cited in the conversation
The guided practive: Out of your head, away from stress, into your senses – guided exploration to calm the nervous system
This follow-along guided practice is in the Integrally Alive medicine bag.
You can download it here: Out of your head, away from stress, into your senses – guided exploration to calm the nervous system
Try it and let me know what you discovered. There is a space for that in the medicine bag (private to you), or you can come and comment on any of my post on FB and IG. Or feel free to get in touch with me directly. It’s Ok. I’m quite friendly.
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Stay tuned for the next episode, à bientôt. 😉