I have a pain in my chest and suddenly start worrying that this could be a heart attack.
My son is a few minutes late from his football and I begin to fear that he has been abducted.
My boss gives me an odd look in the canteen and I start to wonder if I am about to be made redundant.
Many of us have been there: relatively harmless thoughts or experiences set in motion a chain reaction of possibilities which lead to a state of terror.
It’s called catastrophising and can appear humorous when we hear others speaking of it – ‘It’s never going to happen!’ we say.
But it isn’t funny when we join in with it, when we know the terror and feel the fear.
This catastrophic process can pretend wisdom, of course: ‘Forewarned is forearmed,’ as the old proverb goes.
But the truth is, to be forewarned 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 response 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 when they return, as they will, you can decide not to get on again.
Stay on the platform. Watch them arrive…and watch them leave.
They are not going anywhere you want to go.