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Many apologies to you, my faithful readers – I have been away from the blog for two solid weeks due to a bad flu bug and a lot work. I’m back – thanks for your patience –

SO – let’s say you’re afraid, anxious, depressed, scared. You’re sick of it, and you just want it to STOP. You don’t want to worry and obsess over your fears any more, and you don’t want your fears to keep limiting your life.

One of the essential skills in that work, as I’ve been discussing for the last few blog posts, is converting the crises in your thinking BACK into the problems they actually are. This is precisely what I mean when I say that you have to “unpack” your fears. Until you get straight in your thinking what you’ve turned into a monster in your thinking you’re still going to scare yourself with that monster.

So let’s discuss some of the problems we turn into crises. To have that discussion most effectively let’s do a little review –

Let’s Cover Those Definitions One More Time…

Remember the discussion in this blog about the difference between a crisis and a problem? Simple – a crisis is something that can hurt or kill you RIGHT NOW if you don’t do something IMMEDIATELY to get out of harm’s way.

Not a complicated definition, and the precise reason we evolved that amazing mechanism called Flight or Fight. Get moving or get injured/dead – that’s what happens in the natural world in the face of danger.

A problem is NOT a crisis. It is a challenge or set of challenges that need to be thought through, worked on and eventually worked through. It almost always can’t be solved right this minute, at least not the important problems.

It will often take some brain sweat, some time, some research, some experimenting and some dead ends before you sort it out. It can’t hurt you or kill you right now, or in fact anytime soon.

Let’s take this idea for a test drive. Here’s are some of the common “what if?” problems we turn into crises:

What If I Lose My Job?

I’m pretty sure it is safe to say that millions of people in the U.S. alone can identify with this fear. It seems like the recession is slowly repairing itself, but a LOT of us are still very afraid that we could lose our jobs. Even the suggestion in conversation, or hearing about downsized companies on the news, can be enough to get us worked up/afraid/scared.

So which of these two things is losing a job? Crisis or problem? You already know the answer: it’s a problem. Maybe more accurately it is a series of problems. IF we lose a job (or like many of us, we think we see job loss on the horizon) we can’t die the same day we lose the job. We can’t even claim injury. 🙂

We CAN say that we get lost in the Indefinite Negative Futures that we conjure in our minds. We start to “go to the end” – when the money runs out, when we lose our house or apartment because we can’t pay the rent, when we have no friends or family left who can or will help us, when we can’t find ANY work ANYWHERE – etc.

That’s just our brains doing what they do best when there is REAL danger. The mission here is to help us figure out escape routes – project possible outcomes – deal with the danger quickly.

Except there IS no danger. Yeah, we need to start looking for work. Yeah, we might have to take a job we don’t like, at least for a while. Having said that we HAVE to get clear that our Flight or Fight thinking is taking us to the VERY end of the various scenarios in our head – not to mention the absolute worst-case scenarios.

We get so freaked out by those worst-case scenarios, those Indefinite Negative Futures, that we begin treating them as if they were real – as if we were facing a crisis, rather than a problem. And so our thinking decays, we begin to avoid thinking about it, or worse, begin to obsess over it, worry about it, get panicky about it…

When what we NEED to do is start tackling the potential or real problem of losing our job.

What If Someone Gets Mad/Upset/Angry With Me?

There are people in the world who just don’t seem to care if they offend or upset someone. While they can cut a swath through life they at least have one thing going for them – they don’t apparently carry any fear about doing it.

But for some of us this can literally stop us in our tracks. Even the notion that someone might be irritated or annoyed with us, let alone actually upset or even MAD because of something we’ve done (or failed to do) might as well be the end of the world – it can at least feel like that.

I have talked to WAY too many people to not know how much this can stop the show for some of us. We will go to any extreme, suffer through incredible situations, stay in really awful relationships, tolerate behavior that others would be horrified to know we endured, all to avoid making someone else upset.

But IS making someone else upset a crisis, or a problem? The answer is of course that it is a problem. So why do we make it such a big deal?

Because, again, our Flight or Fight thinking takes this particular risk of someone being upset all the way to the end – to the absolute worst-case scenario – the worst possible indefinite Negative Future.

We won’t just upset someone – O no! No, we’ll destroy this relationship, we’ll be unable able to find any new friends or romantic partners, we’ll be alone for the rest of our lives… you recognize some of this conversation, yes?

The bottom-line – we have to develop some skill at recognizing when we turn a problem, or a series of problems, into crises.

That’s Just Two Examples…

There will be more next blog post, when I finish up this third skill we need – converting the crises in our thinking back into problems to solve.

I began talking in my last post about how feelings around fear and anxiety can be pretty unnerving, even terrifying as we experience them.  I also discussed how much those feelings can drive our behavior, even if we’re not aware of it.  Finally, I reviewed the thinking of Albert Ellis, and how he contends that feelings spring from our thinking, conscious or otherwise.

I repeat all of this because these three understandings are crucial to being able to shake free of the tyranny of our feelings.  And isn’t it a kind of tyranny, having your life shut down or restricted because of scary feelings?   It often comes down to exactly that – there is something that frightens us, and we retreat from it because of how that feels.  People can become scared of just about anything –

Clowns.  Classic example.  People who are otherwise completely rational will freeze up, start stuttering, break into tears, leave the room or start shouting incoherently when they are confronted by clowns.  Or how about reptiles?  Sure, there are dangerous reptiles – and most of us never get within 100 miles of them.  Normally lucid folks will go into a panic when a 4-inch Bluebelly shows up on their patio. 

The list is literally endless.  Public speaking, crowds, roller-coasters, planes, rabbits, cats, dogs, night-time, eating in public, dancing, making simple mistakes, asking someone out, you name it, multiple people are afraid of it.  Logic doesn’t have anything to do with why, any more than the actual risk involved in these things.  Sure, you could die in a plane crash – but you’re more likely to get killed in a car crash.  So why are you not terrified of driving to the store?

The Thoughts that Lurk Behind the Feelings

We’re afraid of WHATEVER we’re afraid of because of what we think about it.  Let me repeat that the thoughts that are scaring us don’t have to be conscious.  Not at all.  We are generally unaware of an enormous amount of what is running through our minds at any given moment.  Just try doing 20 minutes of meditation and see just how much chatter (what people who do things like meditation often call “monkey-mind”) runs through your skull.

So we can have feelings lurch out of the blue at us and be caught completely flat-footed.  It has happened to you, hasn’t it?  You were standing there at the taco stand, feeling fine on a weekend day, off work and minding your own business, when suddenly you were sad.  Or maybe you got angry.  Or maybe you felt overwhelmed.  And for the life of you (in that moment) you didn’t know why.  But the why is simple – you had a thought.  Or a series of thoughts.  They zipped through your brain in a matter of moments, and you had feelings in response to those thoughts.

What did you think?  Maybe you remembered that Monday your boss is back from vacation.  Or perhaps you flashed on the taxes you have yet to do.  It might be that you smelled his cologne, that knuckle-head that broke your heart, and you’re back in that ugly break-up.  If it triggers a sense of fear or anxiety then you’re bumping into your Comfort Zone, and that in turn has fired up your Flight or Fight Response to some extent.  And now you’re having feelings that are trying to get you AWAY from this scary thing…

Worse, you are suddenly reacting to those feelings.  You had plans to eat three tacos and gulp a cold beer, but now the day has turned gray, so you head home, sad or mad or overwhelmed.  Or you snap at your wife, who only asked if you wanted hot sauce, because of the rush of feelings in your body.  Or you leave your friends because you “just want to be alone.”  Sure you do – you don’t feel real good right now.  And all of it started with some thinking…

“Fly, You Fools!”  (Lord of the Rings Quote)

You want to be alone, or you snap, or you go home, because the Flight or Fight Response has fired up.  You want to, literally, run away.  That’s what Flight or Fight knows to do when you’re afraid – run first.  We only fight when we HAVE to.  As said a number of times in this blog that just makes good survival sense, from an evolutionary perspective.  As my Dad is fond of saying, “if you won’t leave me alone, I’ll go away and find someone who will.”  That’s the creedo of Flight or Fight.

So we’re in motion, or reacting, and we’re too often only aware of the feelings that are driving our reaction.  Note the word reaction – that’s the key here.   We’re reacting because we FEEL bad, or sad, or overwhelmed. 

But running isn’t solving anything.  It can’t, not in this situation.  When we react to our feelings and step away from what is making us uncomfortable the last thing we’re doing is dealing with our fears/anxieties.  The hard but honest truth is that at some point we MUST turn and face into the thinking that is scaring us, making us afraid – we have to, because it is the only way we’re going to master those fears and get that portion of our life back.

Oh, I Don’t Think So…

Easy to say.  Sometimes, oftentimes, very, very hard to do.  By the time we’ve reached the place where we are reflexively running from our scary feelings (or physical sensations, or both) then we’re usually pretty hammered/freaked out by those feelings and physical sensations.

And of course that isn’t all that is happening.  If we’re worried or anxious or afraid of something that aspect of the Flight or Fight Response I call the Worry Engine starts spinning ugly potential outcomes in our thinking, scaring us even more.  It doesn’t take much of that to have us running for cover!

But that’s exactly what we need to do – stop and challenge that thinking.  The thinking is the source of the problem in the first place.  It is generating the Flight or Fight Response, which is in turn punching out that adrenaline and cortisol, which is the source of those physical sensations and unnerving feelings.  The source of the problem is your thinking, and that’s where you’ll unplug the responses of fear and anxiety. 

This is rarely easy when you first start this work.  The first few times are exhausting and feel like you’re rolling a rock uphill.  You have to contend with the feelings and the physical responses and stand your ground, and all of those things are working to get you to STOP thinking about this and just run away.  You have to focus on what you’re afraid of and unpack it, figure out what you’re telling yourself that is so scary, and turn that back into a problem, instead of treating it like a crisis.  This is what I call the triad of fear mastery – facing into the fear, bracing through the storm of the Flight or Fight Response, and unpacking what is scaring us in the first place.

You Gotta Start Small

The best way (in my experience) to begin this work is to deliberately select a fear or worry that isn’t your  biggest fear or worry, but which you’d still like to knock down.  Any good fighter knows to pick the time and place of the fight, and the same applies to this work.  Make some time – 30 minutes, maybe more, to deal with this practice of triad.  Have some paper and pens ready, or maybe your laptop, so you can do some writing around this.  Some folks like talking to a recorder.  You do what works for you.  The point is you’ll want to have a dialogue with yourself, some way, so you can sort out both your thinking and deal with the responses of your Flight or Fight Response.

Get yourself comfortable, start the egg timer and tackle that fear.  Expect to get squirrely physically and mentally and emotionally.  You’re working to override, literally, the mechanism that evolved to keep you from being eaten by tigers, and it won’t go quietly.  You’ve been telling yourself for a LONG time (most of our fears have been simmering on the back of the stove for a while) that this issue or problem is way too scary to face down, so it usually takes some wrestling to face into this work.  Your Comfort Zone is just obeying your orders! 

You may find you get a little traction on things fairly quickly.  You may find that you can do 10 minutes of this and you need to go iron the cat or wash the sidewalk.  That’s OK.  Be pleased with yourself that you did 10 minutes.  Expect that you’ll have what I’ve called “aftershocks” – emotional and physical reactions from facing Flight or Fight.  That’s OK.  It is just more of the same – your Comfort Zone trying to herd you back to where you’re taught yourself is safety.  Take a break, an hour, a day, and do it again.  Like any skill it takes a little practice, and time, and willingness to do a small learning curve.

What is Safety, and What is Freedom?

And that’s the whole point of this discussion, isn’t it?  We’ve talked ourselves into avoiding or running from a problem, treating it like a crisis, and scaring ourselves away from it.  We FEEL better, or safer, not dealing with this issue, but in fact we’re not safer.  The problem is still there, and until we address it, most of the time, it isn’t going away.  If anything it can only fester, get worse, while we’re fooling ourselves that everything is OK…

No, we don’t have to keep running.  The work is hard.  You won’t unpack and address your fears in a single setting.  And you don’t have to.  Because your feelings can’t hurt you.  And your physical sensations, however scary or worrisome, can’t hurt you.  Flight or Fight can’t hurt you, unless you let it herd you away from dealing with the thing that scares you.

More on practicing the triad of fear mastery next time, when I’ll give you several specific examples of doing triad.   You don’t have to be the prisoner of your fears. However scary this feels, you are stronger, smarter and tougher than your Comfort Zone.  It’s OK if you don’t feel that way right now – it’s still true.

I have been focusing pretty intensely in this blog on the tools/techniques that will effectively begin to pull a person’s focus from reactive thinking and into healthy, proactive movement away from fear.  Today’s post is no exception, but moves in a slight different direction.  I want to talk today about making lucid decisions about the information we’re taking in from the world around us, and assessing that information as more or less useful to you as you move towards the mastery of your fears and anxieties.

In my checkered academic past I spent some serious time studying something called Radical Behaviorism.  Before you assume that means I was learning to build pipe bombs or anything let me clarify what that means.  I was at the University of Nevada, Reno, studying psychology under a guy named Willard Day.  Dr. Day was in turn a student of B.F. Skinner.  Skinner (for those of you who don’t know) was a fervent believer in the power of a person’s environment to influence, even control their behavior.  The bottom line is that Dr. Day was a brilliant, gifted thinker, and he gave me a remarkable gem of knowledge with this simple notion: the environment you live in, including the information you take in and process, has a remarkable degree of influence over how you think and feel.

That may seem blindingly obvious to you, and you’re wondering to yourself “this guy had to go to college to figure this out?”  Well, it is obvious.  Except that most of us are carrying around the notion that somehow we’re this bubble of autonomy, independent thinkers and actors on the stage of our lives, impervious (for the most part) to the thoughts and feelings swirling around us in our daily lives.  We watch the news about the up-and-down economy, we read the paper to find the latest murders and rapes where we live, we watch hours of television about dysfunctional families and endless personal drama on reality shows, we listen to our friends bitch and complain and shout their fears, we hear our parents worry about retirement and pensions and health, we rent DVD’s about serial killers and scary hotels, and then we wonder why we wrestle with hopelessness and anxiety.

So call me crazy, but I’m convinced that if you’re going to take the work of mastering fear and anxiety seriously you need to take (with equal seriousness) stock of what you’re pouring into your skull from the world around you.  I can already hear some people yelling something along the lines of “so what you’re saying is bury your head in the sand?  Act as if the world was this great happy place, and live in a fantasy?”  I’m not encouraging anyone to live in a fantasy.  I am encouraging all of us (whether we’re deep in the grip of anxiety or not) to consider thoughtfully if 30 minutes of Fox News is useful to you RIGHT NOW.  Maybe it’s time to consider what I’ve heard called a “news vacation.” 

Because, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, what Fox News (and CNN, and every other news channel except maybe ESPN) is doing is steadily feeding us a diet of reasons to be afraid of the Indefinite Negative Future.  What if this happens?  What if that happens?  Won’t it be horrible if this happens?  Suppose that happens?  Won’t that be awful and terrible and scary?  And, if you have been reading this blog, you’ll know that the Indefinite Negative Future is just that – in the future.  It hasn’t happened yet.  And every moment any of us spend living in the future is a moment we’re not here in the present, problem-solving, making decisions, working to create the future we’d like to have – nope, we’re giving away energy to fear and anxiety, afraid of what might be.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about the future.  Just the reverse.  We should be.  We should be concerned enough about the future to DO something about it.  And that has to start with climbing off the wheel of Chronic Anxiety and treating problems as if they were problems, not life-and-death crises.  In case it isn’t clear by now it is our fears of the future that wind up shutting down a huge amount of our useful thinking and problem-solving skills, and leave us worrying and anxious and essentially running away from what frightens us.

There’s a great deal of power, peace and strength that comes from moving out of the future and into the present.  Sure, I’m free to sit and watch the news and get angry about a huge range of topics.  Yes, we’re in the middle of a recession (or at the end of one, or the beginning of the next one, or coming into a depression – depends on what news channel you’re watching.)  Lots of people have suffered and are suffering.  Yes, people are losing jobs and finding it hard to make ends meet.  Here’s a question – what is your fear and worry DOING for you, or for anyone else?  How does your 2-hour diatribe at the dinner table about how stupid the government is, or how bad things could really get, doing for anyone, including you?

It is insidiously tempting to sit and worry.  Worrying FEELS like we’re doing something.  And the news (TV, talk radio, weekly news magazines, CNN.com, etc.) is a great source of things to worry about.  It seems some days that the sole focus of the news is to get us to worrying about the BIG issues.  But in fact we’re not doing a damn thing (pardon my French.)  We’re just worrying – burning energy and time and little else.  Doing, on the other hand, gets things done.  And what can YOU do about the recession?  Well, in the first place, you should be taking care of yourself in this recession.  You need to think through what you’ll do to keep money coming in, securing a job, or going back to school, or taking some money from your retirement account to tide you over while you change careers, or whatever makes sense to you.  (No bank robbing though – it may relieve some short-term anxiety, but guns and jails are really scary too.)   Then you can focus on helping the people around you.  Then you can think lucidly about who to vote for, and where you might do some good volunteering, or whatever you think are effective next steps.  But worrying doesn’t do any of this.  It just sits and frets over what might happen… endlessly.

Will the world burn to the ground if you don’t watch the news this morning?  This evening?  What horrible thing will happen if you skip the news for a week?  What would your thinking and feelings be like if you did that?  What if you gave that energy away to a 30-minute walk?  Or read something inspiring and motivating?  What if you called a friend and talked through your next steps to get you out of that recession stuff, instead of burning 30 minutes bitching about how awful things are?  How would that change your thinking?  How much more effective, how much more energetic, how much calmer would you be if you gave this a try?

Don’t take my word for any of this.  Take a test drive for yourself.  Consider what news, what TV, what internet sources are firing up the Worry Engine in you, and consider taking a break from those for a while.  They’ll be there if you feel the need to check in with them.  They are not going anywhere!  You take a vacation from work, don’t you?  And you sometimes take an evening for yourself, away from your family or Significant Other, don’t you?  Why not try a news vacation?

I took this for a test drive back in the winter of 2008-2009.  The stock market had just tanked, the news experts were sounding warnings of imminent disaster and economic collapse, and I had lost close to $40,000 of business in the consulting work I do in weeks.  I became pretty worried (as you might imagine.)   I had taxes to pay, bills to clean up, work to find and no clear way of doing it.  I spent some serious time being seriously worried – frightened is a better way to describe it.  Close to 2 months in fact.  And what did that do for me.  NOTHING.  Not a dang thing.  I burned the months of December and January of that winter, made a hash of the Christmas Holiday, was mad, sad and grumpy, and it didn’t do a thing for me.  And I realized that part of the problem was my watching CNN, and reading The Economist, and watching the daily fluctuations of the Dow Jones.  So I took a break, just stepped away from the habit of soaking up the daily news, for 30 days.  And it was nothing short of remarkable how much it impacted my thinking and feelings.  (Yes, I know – I’m the guy who studied this stuff in college.  Sometimes you have to take the class over again, right?)  I haven’t given up on the news or anything.  I still check in once or twice a week, sometimes less, to make sure I haven’t missed something really important.  So far I haven’t.  And my thinking is much more focused on what I can DO, the practical things that I can apply myself to, and much less focused on all the things I can’t control, but could give away lots more lifespan worrying about.

Is it time for a news holiday for you?  Take the week off!  You’ve earned it!  The world really will keep spinning around the sun without you to worry about it for a little while.  And it can be a very, very effective way of moving out of the future (that place full of hypothetical fears and disasters) and into the present (that place of effective work, clear thinking and useful problem-solving.)

If you’ve been reading this blog one thing should be fairly clear by now: most (if not all) of our Comfort Zone fears stem from one simple source – our tendency to extrapolate the future based on negative or fearful assumptions, then start acting as if that hypothetical future was already true.  The Worry Engine (the Flight or Fight response to project possible dangers and ways to avoid those dangers, when faced with real, physical, right-on dangers) starts the litany of possible disasters/failures, and off we go, living as if we KNEW the future. 

And of course it isn’t like we project mildly uncomfortable futures.  No – we project things spiraling into darkness.  The economy is bad, so we start worrying about losing our job.  Which will of course mean we will lose our house.  Which will mean of course that we’ll wind up living on the street and eating from garbage cans.  We’re having a hard time in our relationship, so we begin to worry that things will always be bad in this relationship, until the other person walks away, and then we’ll be alone forever… you know the litany.

This wouldn’t matter as much if the result of these projected fears was something other than us slowing down, then freezing into immobility – or running as fast as we can in the opposite direction.  In either case the one thing we are not doing is treating this problem (difficult economy, rocky relationship) AS a problem – nope, we’re treating it like a crisis.  Except of course that the crisis is only a crisis in the future – not here in the present.  And as long as we’re in the future, worrying and panicking about what might be, we are generating all the responses of the Comfort Zone – physical (nausea, sweats, racing heart, you name it), emotional (anxiety, fear, anger, you name it) and mental (confusion, difficulty focusing, racing thoughts, you name it.)  And we all know how useful all of THAT can be…

Given this issue one of the most useful things we can do is move our thinking out of the future and back into the present.  When we’re in the present moment, caught up in whatever is in front of us, working to make life work for ourselves, it is much harder to spin up into the worry and anxiety that obsessing over the future creates in us.  Let me be very clear here: it is slow-going at the start of this practicing living in the present moment.  Most of us have become VERY skillful at leaping quickly from this present problem to a future disaster.  Often we’ve begun the process and are well into it before we’re even conscious (especially at the start of this rethinking our response) of the jump.  It will be slow-going at the start.  But that’s exactly what it takes – practice.  Practice unplugging the habit, the reflex, of projecting out what might be, and instead practicing being where we are – that’s what this needs.  

And of course our Comfort Zone is going to push back on us VERY hard.  We’ve trained it up, after all, to warn us if we are approaching danger (ready for the irony?) and not living in the future feels scary/risky/dangerous to us.  Isn’t ignoring the future and living only in the present a short-sighted, even stupid way to manage life?  Sure – if you’re not working to make the future better than your concerns about it then yes, that’s crazy talk.  But living in the present moment doesn’t mean you’re not attending to the future.  It means you’re not LIVING in the worry about the future you’re busy conjuring.  It means you’ve put your focus back on what is actually real, here and now, and working to create the kind of future you want. 

What can make this even harder is that it can feel like you’re doing something when you’re worrying.  It FEELS like you’re doing something.  We know better, intellectually, but that doesn’t change how it can feel.  The acid test is, when does worrying result in useful outcomes?  As opposed to working to change things, or improve things?

The key to this yet again is turning a problem we’ve turned into a crisis BACK into a problem.  When it is a problem, when we’re even partly free of the Flight or Fight response and the resulting turmoil that creates in us, then we have a much better chance of resolving things in ways that work well for us.  Pulling ourselves out of the hypothetical future and back into the real and living present is key to powering down crisis mode into problem-solving mode.  At the core of that practice is refusing, even if only for a little while, to conjure the future in our thinking.  It is practicing, even if only for a little while, to insist on being where we are, and dealing with it as it presents itself, while thinking through how we can improve things or take them in a direction we’d like to go.

As for techniques on how to be in the present moment, well, that’s a whole other blog post (the next one, in fact.)  But to get you started here are some ideas:   Take a walk.  Take a shower.  Prepare a meal.  Call someone and refuse to talk about the future.  Go for a drive.   Put on some music and dance around the room (probably alone is best, but by all means invite the neighbors if you’re cool with that.)    Whatever you decide to do, practice really being present for the activity and the experience you’re doing.  You can really do anything that requires you focusing on the moment you’re in.  So many of us are longing for a better future, a future that’s something we look forward to.  And that’s only possible if WE commit to working towards that, by working here in the now…

Don’t take my word for any of this!  So much of freeing ourselves from the tyranny of fear and anxiety is climbing out of our heads and involving ourselves in our life in an active way, a present-moment way.  More on living here in the now in my next post.

I’ve received some great feedback on my blog so far – my thanks to everyone who has had things to say either here or by email.  It is pretty great to hear that people are getting traction from the idea that turning problems into crisis is NOT the way to solve problems!  I’ve got a LOT more to say about this… (see my last post about the details of this notion.)

Because it has become my conviction that once a person shifts into crisis mode to deal with a problem they begin a process I’m calling the Chronic Anxiety Cycle.  Or, as my friend Dale calls it, Perpetual Flight.  This process begins from one of the elements of the natural Flight or Fight Response we have to deal with crisis.  When we perceive danger, real or imagined, part of that response is to comb our memories (VERY quickly) for relevant information we have from past experience in dealing with this crisis.  I’m looking at a tiger, for example, so my brain rapidly sorts past tiger experiences to get the best approach to running or fighting.  Great tool in that context, no question!  In addition we rapidly generate scenarios with what we know in order to escape the tiger – we essentially start asking ourselves “what if?” questions.  Again, highly useful in the advent of a crisis…

But when you do this with a problem (something that can’t be solved, most likely, right in the moment, and it will take some time and work to resolve) then this trying to recall earlier dangers becomes a liability.  I call it the Negative Thinking Mechanism, or the “Worry Engine.”  We begin to start thinking “what if”, and the slant is always towards the negative – what happens if this bad thing occurs?  What are the expected outcomes?  We very rarely start projecting sunny and hopeful outcomes – we instead extrapolate negative outcomes.  Makes sense – running into tigers rarely results in happy outcomes.  That makes us more worried, so we do it again, and that increases our worry, so we do it again, etc. 

One of the ironic outcomes of all this projecting is that we step out of the present – we are either reliving previous negative experiences or focused on frightening or unnerving future scenarios.  We are NOT being where we are, right now.  Yet our bodies really only get right now – so regardless of what is upsetting you, your body will continue to generate flight or fight responses – more adrenaline, more preparing to fight or run, more physical and emotional responses designed to gear you up for whatever this danger is.  Only there IS, in this moment, no danger.  There IS a problem or problems to solve, but we are in crisis mode. 

As I said in my last blog post we are not in our most useful problem-solving condition when we are in crisis mode.  Which doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes solve the problem with our crisis response.  Sometimes it works.  And a great deal of the time it doesn’t work.  Whether it works or not the stress on our bodies and minds is much greater than if we don’t approach a problem as a crisis.  And even if we do resolve the problem via crisis mode we almost certainly haven’t accessed our best information, resources, or thinking to do so. 

And, of course, many times the problem continues to grow and get larger (in our thinking), so we worry some more about the problem and the scenarios we are creating around potential outcomes.  If we keep it up long enough we move on further into the Chronic Anxiety Cycle, which in turn takes more energy and increases the drain on our brains and bodies.  If we don’t disrupt this cycle here we begin to set ourselves up for long-term anxiety (i.e., chronic anxiety) and the resulting problems that creates for us.  More about that in the next couple of weeks.  In my next posting I will give you some examples from my own and other people’s experiences around this crisis-problem discussion, and what happens when we start feeding the Worry Engine.

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