“Don’t worry, be happy” is, as ever, a valuable piece of advice, especially during these extremely radical and turbulent times. Many of us face financial devastation. We all are witness to explosions of hatred and violence across the globe, fueled by greed and fear. We bear witness to acts of domestic terrorism by our own citizens, home-grown zealots wreaking havoc.
It’s just not that easy, these days, to whistle while we work and row our boat gently down the stream. Nevertheless, these are the very things we need to do. A whole lot of whistling and a whole lot of rowing. Gently.
One way to do this is to stop catastrophic thoughts which feed on our insecurities and magnify our worries, such as: “I’m going to lose my job.” I’m going to lose my house.” “I’m going to have to declare bankruptcy.” “I’m going to get cancer and I won’t have health insurance.” “I’m going to be stuck in my dead-end job forever.” “I’m going to be homeless.” “I’m never going to be able to retire.” “I’m never going to sell my novel.” “I’m never going to catch a break.” “I’m going to be living with my parents forever.” “I’m never going to be rich.” “I’m never going to be happy.” “I’m always going to sabotage my relationships.” “I’m never going to get married.” “I’m never going to have childen.” “I’m going to die alone.”
These catastrophic thoughts terrorize us. They flood us with fear. And for what? All the time spent terrorizing ourselves with fear doesn’t make us wiser. It doesn’t make things better.
If anything, catastrophic thinking makes things worse. It contributes to depression, anxiety, irritability, reactivity, impulsivity, low energy, low motivation, impaired attention and concentration, a loss of interest in things we normally like to do, and feelings of demoralization, helplessness and hopelessness.
Catastrophic thinking generates stress which dampens our immune system and our resistance such that we are more susceptible to illness with less capacity to recover and heal.
Over time, chronic catastrophic thinking contributes to our making poor choices that affect our health, our happiness, our relationships and our careers.
All of which is to say: Now is as good a time as any for us to stop catastrophizing. And so we stop dwelling on failure scenarios, regardless of whether they are likely to occur one day or not.
We remember that expression about leaving tomorrow’s anxieties to tomorrow. We tell ourselves that we’ll deal with the catastrophic event in the future, should it happen, that we’re not going to put any energy or angst into it now. We remind ourselves to focus on what’s in front of us today, to keep our eye on the ball.
And so we choose our thoughts carefully, knowing full well that they create our emotional state of mind, regardless of what is happening in our lives and all around us. We reject catastrophic, fear thoughts. We embrace thoughts of self-love, self-acceptance and self-empowerment.
When we find ourselves running a catastrophic “tape loop” over and over again in our head, we remind ourselves that there’s absolutely no point in crying over milk that hasn’t spilled yet.
With right-minded vigilance, practice and perseverance, we can be free of future fears (as well as past pains) and be in the present moment, in the Eternal Now, free to enjoy what is happening, free to be happy, free to be spontaneous, free to make the most of our world and our lives regardless of the obstacles the universe has thrown at us.
Walter E Jacobson, MD