“Horrible-izing”. How We Can Scare Ourselves When Stressed

In times of wide-ranging, swift and surprising change, it is easy for many of us to think the worst. As we start to think the worst, it’s easy for us to stress ourselves and to “horrible-ize” at the same time. In other words, to imagine “the worst” in every possible way.

With the rapid arrival and global spread of the Covid -19 virus, both stress and “horrible-izing” have increased significantly. There are many people (and you might be one of them) who have been directly, immediately and personally affected by this situation.

In order to help reduce our stress and reduce our tendency to “horrible-ize”, it can be useful to start by understanding how we “horrible-ize” and what we can do about it.

We can start by recognizing that during this challenging time (which we are all experiencing and sharing), it is important that we support and care for each other. Our ability to care for others is directly related to our ability to, first, support and care for ourselves.

To effectively support and take care of ourselves, it helps to understand that our stress levels are tied to the conversations we are having with ourselves in our head all the time. These conservations happen while we metabolize and digest what is happening around us every day (and is always changing).

These conversations are called “self-talk”.

They are the stories or narratives we are telling ourselves in our heads all the time – especially around the fear and change that can be incorporated into this current global unfolding.

The most important thing to understand about self-talk is that most of us “believe” what we are saying to ourselves in our heads. The trap here is when we don’t realize that many of the things we are saying to ourselves may not be true! That’s how we can easily fall into the trap of “horrible-izing”.

Here is an example of “horrible-izing” self-talk:

“This is catastrophic, and this is the worst thing that could have happened to me at the very worst time. I won’t have a job and I’ll never recover – I’m going to lose everything and end up destitute and living on the street with nothing. We’re all doomed!”

The emotions triggered by this self-talk might include fear, anger, blame, anxiety, despair, frustration, abandonment, and betrayal, to name just a few. It’s not healthy and is certainly not helpful. Most importantly, as noted earlier, there’s only a very small chance that this “horrible-izing” self-talk is actually true.

To put it in perspective, let’s look at what is true today.

Are we living in an uncertain, scary and very challenging time? – YES!

Do we know everything that is going to happen? – NO! (but we don’t always know what is going to happen in life anyway)

Is there an effort on the part of business, governments, organizations, and every level of society to figure out solutions to get through this? – YES!

Will this time pass? – YES!

Will you cope and adapt so that you can get on with your life – YES!

Based on these facts, let’s see what a more rational and realistic conversation with ourselves may sound like now. It might sound like this…

“This is certainly a challenging and scary time that we are all living in and going through. However, everybody (including me and my loved ones) are clearly focused on supporting and caring for each other in a way that is quite astonishing and unprecedented.

Or, it might sound like this….

“Even though I know that anxiety, uncertainty and fear are what a lot of us are experiencing (I certainly have days and moments of this, too), I know that we are going to get through this together and come out of it wiser, more caring, supportive, possibly less judgmental and even stronger as a community, a nation and a people.”

Here’s why this modified “self-talk” helps.

When we speak to ourselves this way, we are no longer a “victim” of the circumstances around us. Instead, we become an observer of the circumstance, recognizing that we are all in this together and that it’s not all doom and gloom.

This broader “objective” perspective allows us to come from a more neutral balanced place. As soon as we stop being a victim, we can see more options, more positives, and more opportunities from this “objective” view. That’s the power of changing our self-talk.

It is so important in challenging times like this that we strive to be gentle, supportive and caring about ourselves so that we can be gentle, supportive and caring to others.

When we step back and have a broader global view, it allows us to support and care for each other better. When you do this for yourself first, it will lead to a healthier you and a healthier outcome for all of those around you.

Please take care of yourself, remembering that this time too will pass.

For another blog about how self-talk can cause stress, please click here