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Dealing with the Anxiety of the Apocalypse and Other Unlikely Events

Around the middle of 2011, I started to hear many people talk about the “end of the world”. I would have friends and co-workers ask if I believed that the end of the was going to happen in 2012. I would answer them with my opinion, which is “no”, but viewed this question as a deeper issue. The anxiety that people show when talking about something that there is little to no evidence to support is a surprisingly common affair. This entry will hopefully help people ease their anxiety over possible catastrophic disasters or events, and even anxiety in general.

When talking about anxiety in almost any form, it is important to remember that anxiety is largely about a feeling of not being in control. When you worry or obsess, you are cognitively trying to gain control over something that you don’t have much control over. The problem is that this usually doesn’t increase the overall feeling of control, nor does it end up in easing long-term anxiety. Sometimes it does have an immediate effect on the worry that you are experiencing, but this rarely lasts.

One of the most common ways that people use to try and control their anxiety is to foresee the future. People attempt to predict what will happen because they think that if they can anticipate what is going to happen, they will be better prepared. Preparation is not a problem, but unnecessarily anticipating the worst can create fear and anxiety that could otherwise be avoided. Whether it be a meteor, a war, an underground volcano, or zombies, no amount of preparation could get us ready to handle such a devastating event. Therefore, when worrying about something, I recommend that you ask yourself the following:

  1. If the event were to happen in the future, how would worrying about it now help?
  2. What evidence do you have that the a catastrophic event is going to happen?
  3. What is the difference between cautious, fearful and worried? How do define each of this? Which would you most want to feel?
  4. What is the information that is being presented and how valid is the resource delivering the information?

Whether you think that the apocalypse is about to occur or not, it is important to remember that we have predicted many major events that never occurred. Y2K is a great example of this. Many people were extremely worried that the internal clocks in everything that had a clock were going to suddenly stop. This never happened. According to many sources, we are currently heading towards the so-called apocalypse. Then if we survive that, we are facing the “fiscal cliff.” There is not much strong evidence to show that the end of the world is going to happen, and the fiscal cliff is more of a slope than an actual cliff. So what do we do? Do we live in fear? I suggest an alternative. We pay attention to the headlines and the news, but recognize that the information that is presented is often products being pushed forward for ratings for news stations, magazines, and other programs.

After you gather evidence and review the facts, I recommend that you do the following to move beyond lasting feelings of anxiety:

  1. Try to replace worried thoughts with pleasant ones. Think of something positive, and ask yourself what you like about it. Get as specific as possible, and notice how you feel.
  2. Focus on your breathing. When we get anxious, our breathing becomes shorter and more shallow, which physiologically can feed into making us even more anxious. Focus on taking longer, deeper and more even breaths. Count them and try to focus on them only.
  3. Keep yourself busy with things that you enjoy. There is nothing wrong with distraction as long as you also work to handle the underlying issue.
  4. Focus on what you CAN do. When you are dealing with anxious feelings and thoughts, you will likely notice that many of them are focused on what you can’t control. Remembering that you always have choices, and focusing on these decisions can help empower you at that moment, which may help to alleviate some of the anxiety.

Thinking about the end of the world is intimidating, but living your daily life filled with anxiety about such an event is not likely profitable. The event itself is not that likely to occur, and to accurately predict something of this magnitude is even more unlikely. Therefore, argue with yourself about the validity of your own thinking that such an event may occur. While practicing such a skill, distract yourself to give your mind a break from the worrying. This will help you enjoy the holiday, survive the end of the world, and feel better overall, so that you can enjoy the beginning of 2013 with a new perspective.

Having a problem controlling the worry? Therapy may be able to help. If you find anxiety or worrying are impacting your life or your relationships, contact me to see how I can help.

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