As a therapist, I’m always working to find practical, easy-to-use and quick solutions to problems my clients are having. One of the conditions most appropriate to treat with quick techniques is anxiety. While working with my anxiety clients, I’ve found a five-minute technique that works particularly well and begins to show results immediately.
As you’ve already guessed, this is the “Worst-Case Scenario” Strategy. You may have already worked with a variation on this technique; it isn’t necessarily new. But after dealing with a high volume of anxiety clients, I’ve become able to explain it in a series of simple steps. There are only two steps, so if you want to escape the pain of anxiety, you can’t afford not to read on.
First, describe for yourself the worst-case scenario of the situation you fear, i.e. the source of your anxiety. Let’s take social anxiety as an example. If you have social anxiety, you might start feeling faint when you start thinking about being in a room with a lot of people and possibly being laughed at for something that you said.
Let’s set aside how unlikely it is that someone would be so rude as to laugh at you in a public setting. When you have anxiety, it doesn’t matter whether the situation is likely. The anxiety has taken control.
Here’s how you take back that control: Step One is to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
You may freeze up when you hear this question. Or, you might be nonplussed. “Are you kidding me?” You might say to yourself. “I’m always thinking about this! There’s never a time I’m not thinking about the worst that could happen!”
There’s a critical point of difference here. The worst-case scenario might consume your thoughts, but do you ever sit down with those worried thoughts and see them through to completion? Anxiety wins most of the time because it’s like a constant buzz saw in the back of someone’s brain, nagging and whining. It can’t be escaped! But, at the same time, the person's not really paying attention to it. They’re trying, with all their might, to ignore it.
Although it might seem strange right now to pay attention to the thing you’ve been trying to avoid, it’s what you have to do in order to get past it. Take it out of the dark, and into the light. Examine it, and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
This can be a little tricky to define. It might seem like in the social anxiety scenario above, the worst-case scenario would be getting laughed at. For our purposes, that’s NOT the worst-case scenario. The laughter is actually the source of anxiety. The worst-case scenario is the potential result of the feared action.
For the social situation above, the absolute worst-case scenario would be that you are so overcome with shame and hurt from the laughter that you drop dead then and there.
Think I’m being silly? No! The anxiety is a formidable opponent. It holds you in thrall with this idea of a horrible, undefinable evil that will happen to you. Define the evil, and it begins to lose the power, because you see it for what it is.
When you’re defining the worst-case scenario, start with the absolute worst and go up from there. Some lesser (but still significant) fears might be that you start crying, blushing or become unable to speak.
After you’ve come up with some potential challenges, (Step One) there is one more step that is essential. You won’t overcome the anxiety without this step, so please, see it through to completion.
Here’s Step Two: figure out how you will get through the worst-case scenario.
The key word here is you. You are the only one who can defeat the anxiety. Focus on your own unique abilities and strengths. Anxiety tries to won by taking your power away. So think about how you will take that power back.
Using the example again, take a social anxiety sufferer. Imagine the worst-case scenario with that person: getting laughed at for something they said, and subsequently dropping dead. How can they overcome that experience?
Well, after this they’re not going to be worrying anymore, are they?
Please understand me. I'm not trying to be flippant! But I do firmly believe that overcoming anxiety revolves around survival. You have to know that can get through anything. It may be painful, it may have awful consequences, but YOU – powerful YOU – will get through it.
Just for the sake of having a little bit more to work with, let’s go with a slightly less intense worst-case scenario. This time, after being laughed at, the person becomes paralyzed, unable to speak. Embarrassing, certainly. But unmanageable? Definitely not.
What could this person do to get through it? If they’re unable to speak, they can’t really joke back. But they could shrug their shoulders. They could wave the laughter off, and go text a friend for support. They have options. Anxiety doesn’t end their choices. Really, it only expands them.
That’s what we’re looking for here. Options. Not idealisms, not false hope. Real solutions for real people. Try it for yourself. How could you overcome the worst-case scenario?
Anxiety, though painful, gives us an opportunity to grow. We get a chance to see how we can get through difficult things. A chance to let ourselves triumph. Share with me how you’ve triumphed over anxiety or let me help you find your worst-case scenario solution, at firstname.lastname@example.org.