Are you having arguments in your head that never happen?

person sitting imagining arguments
Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

Stop fighting wars

Lots of times, we plan for the worst. That’s not always a bad thing to do, but we can get ahead of ourselves and do something guaranteed to rain anxiety down on our heads: fight imaginary wars.

It’s a bit hard to describe, but hang with me, and let’s see if you have this joy-robbing, anxiety feeding habit.

Often when we have setbacks, when problems crop up, we start imagining the worst that could happen. That’s error number 1.

Error number 2, however, is to imagine conflicts that we think might happen and then try to battle our way out of them. This inevitably leads to anger, frustration, and resentment at a fight that’s solely in our heads!

A joke told that illustrates this odd but common phenomenon: A young man is driving late at night in the country. He hears a loud BANG and notices he’s had a blow-out.

He checks the boot of his car, but while there’s a spare tire there, there’s no jack. The man sighs but sees the light of a farmhouse off in the fields. He starts trudging through the field, mentally kicking himself for not having a jack.

Then he starts imagining an old, grizzled farmer coming to the door of the farmhouse and chastising him for not carrying a spare. Immediately the young man then imagines the farmer slamming the door in his face.

He’s getting angrier and angrier as he then thinks to himself, “what if the farmer should make fun of me before slamming the door in my face? What a jerk!”

The youngster gets to the farmer’s door, pounds on it in a fury, and when the farmer opens the door, the young man screams, “Just keep your bloody jack!” and stalks back to his car.

Far fetched? Not at all! We do this all the time. We make “educated” guesses about the thoughts and intentions of others even before the person in question has even acted.

So how can mindfulness help out here? Let’s look at CBT first to see what we can do.

If you’re feeling upset, out of sorts, or even angered over something that hasn’t happened yet, bring your focus down to the here and now, and let’s see what we can see. Under the “C”, we have thinking and feeling.

What are you thinking about right now?

What are you feeling?

Are you thinking of something that is absolutely going to happen, could happen, or probably won’t happen—but let’s worry about it anyway?

Are you feeling upset, angry, worried, or even—dare we say it? Anxious?

What are our behaviours, and do we remember—behaviours aren’t just the things we deliberately choose or plan to do.

Are we short with our family, friends or co-workers? Are we neglecting tasks as our minds drift over the coming conflict or event that might or might not happen?

Physically, are we a bundle of tightened up muscles, knotted up stomach, grinding teeth or any other of our stress cues?

If we become the observer, take a step back, and actually pay mind to what we’re doing and feeling in the moment, in other words, being mindful, we can get hold of these wars and stop them before they start.

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