As a parent we often find ourselves in stressful situations. In a matter of seconds, relative peace can turn into a cacophony of chaos and reckless abandon. A happily playing child can turn into a raging bull. Two loving brothers can in seconds become kung fu fighting wrestling ninjas. And the beautiful dinner you had slaved over can be ruined in minutes, as you become carried away trying to work out exactly what the 10 year olds maths question is actually asking. Or maybe you are so engrossed in writing your latest blog post that all of a sudden the house around you starts siphoning out of control.
When studying Cognitive Behavioural Therapy one of the tools we used in our many role plays as Counsellor, was to ask the question
“what’s the worst thing that can happen?”
It was a question that is useful for those that suffer high levels of stress and anxiety but also for those that find themselves in circumstances where they feel overwhelmed or agitated by any situation they feel is spiralling out of their control.
This has now become one of the major tools I use on a regular basis to help keep stress levels manageable and to prevent this feeling of being overwhelmed.
By asking oneself this simple question it gives us a chance to:
– slow down
– take a breath or 2 or 10
– take stock of the situation
– predict the outcome more realistically
– continue on with a plan to cope with or combat the possible outcomes
For example, when in the car on the way to a practise or appointment and we come across a traffic jam, I catch every traffic light or I have just underestimated the journey, I may begin to feel agitated, cursing other drivers and blaming all manner of things for the blemish on my record of punctuality. Now when I feel this happening I try to regain control by asking myself this simple question:
What’s the worst that can happen?
By doing so we can soon realise that more than likely the world won’t fall apart. Maybe we will be 5 minutes late to the doctor’s appointment. Maybe the receptionist will be grumpy with me. Maybe they will put a patient in front of me. More than likely I will sit in the waiting room for 30 minutes anyway. Tomorrow it will be forgotten about, so lets not let it ruin today. If there is something really bad that can happen, then I ask myself what is the probability of this happening? If the probability of it happening is highly likely (usually its not) then I ask myself how have I coped in the past, is there any reason why I wouldn’t cope again or at least make a valid attempt. If the worst thing that can happen is highly unlikely, then I ask myself, ‘what is most likely to happen instead?’
Basically what it then comes down to is ‘Is this worth it?’ Is it worth the stress, the anger or the yelling, and am I therefore overreacting to the situation or underestimating my ability to cope?
So when you feel yourself starting to get hot and sweaty, raising your voice, or generally getting agitated and angry, try to remember to ask yourself these questions:
- Whats the worst that can happen?
- What will be the consequences of the worst thing happening?
- How have I coped in the past? What can I do to cope better this time?
- What is more likely to happen?
- Is it therefore worth the stress?
Do you think there are situations where you could use this strategy? Do you sometimes find yourself overreacting to the same things, or underestimating your ability to cope?