I have a terrible headache and suddenly start worrying that I have a brain tumour.
My daughter is a few minutes late from school and I begin to fear that she has been abducted.
My boss gives me an odd look and I start to wonder if I am about to be made redundant.
We have all been there – at least, those of us who catastrophise: relatively innocuous thoughts or experiences initiate a chain reaction of possibilities which ultimately lead us to a position of catastrophic terror.
It can appear comical when we hear others speaking of it; but it isn’t funny when we find ourselves in its grip.
This process can pretend wisdom, of course: ‘Forewarned is forearmed,’ as the old proverb goes.
But the truth is, there’s no wisdom here. Forewarning rarely protects us from reality; it simply creates in us an anxious state, in which over-thinking, escalation of fear and low confidence feed off each other.
One helpful move is to think of your mind as a railway station and your thoughts as the trains that stop at your platform.
The first step to recovery is to accept that you cannot stop the trains from arriving and opening their doors to you.
In fact, attempts to do this (suppression, repression or denial) usually lead to even more scary thoughts or disturbed dreams.
But whilst you cannot stop the trains from arriving at your platform, you can decide not to get on board when they open their doors to you.
‘This time, I’m not getting on,’ you say and breathe a big sigh of relief. It’s a choice to be free.
And when they return, as they will, you can decide not to get on again. And again.
Stay on the platform. Watch them arrive…and watch them leave.
They’re not going anywhere you want to go.