What To “Do” with Your Scariest ThoughtsI got up to change the baby’s diaper last night and when I came back to bed, something seemed off about my husband. He seemed to be sleeping unusually still. I couldn’t hear or see him breathing.

My mind immediately raced to what life would be like if he were dead.

Part of me was pretty sure he wasn’t. That part said “He’s been especially tired lately so he’s just sleeping more soundly than usual.”

Meanwhile, another part of my mind created some horror story scenarios.

What if I reached over to touch him and he didn’t wake up? What would I do with my two year old while the paramedics were trying to resuscitate him? Could I keep it together to not traumatize our kids any more than necessary?

I had a flash of clarity about how much I take our life together for granted.  I was suddenly, 100% positive that I wanted our life to be exactly as it was. A flood of gratitude ensued, dimmed by a flood of terror that it could all end in an instant.

A minute later, the dog snored loudly and hubby flipped over. Alive!

I share this story because everyone’s imagination spins horror stories from time to time.

The story itself is irrelevant. The nature of the horror, the frequency of the story, the emotion it stirs…all irrelevant.

The only thing that matters is what you do with it.

I was awake when this was all going on last night, but I could have just as easily been asleep.  It could have just as easily been a dream. Dream or thought…what’s the difference, really? He’s alive. Either way, the awful outcome I dreamed up was a figment of my imagination.

So here’s what I recommend doing with it the horror stories your mind might spin: nothing.

Humans typically aren’t fans of doing nothing. Here are a few of the things we tend to do with thoughts like these:

1. We replay them over and over throughout the day

This requires effort. The nature of thought is such that it floats in, floats out. To return this thought to the front of your mind often requires finding it and dragging it back. Or lavishing it with so much attention when it floats in that it never wants to leave.

2. We take the thoughts as signs

“It’s a sign” is just another thought (and even if my thought was a sign, then what?). This was just a thought, like a nightmare is just a nightmare. Nothing changed in the world of form.

3. Assume action is required

I could have demanded that my husband have his blood pressure checked and start eating more green vegetables. If you believe thought is meaningful and requires action, those steps make sense. But if you get that thought doesn’t require action any more than a nightmare does, what’s the point?

Instead of any of the above, I chose to view those worst case scenario moments as evidence that I am human, remind myself of the nature of thought, and do nothing.

That exact fear might come back. It may not. I have no idea. I might have the same nightmare tonight that I had last night or I may never have it again. Your guess is as good as mine.

When I get that thoughts aren’t real…

And when I get that that nature of thought is that it floats in and it floats out…

There’s simply nothing to “do”.

With all my love,

 

 

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Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson, Ph.D.Psychologist. Master Certified Coach and author. You can connect with Amy at www.DrAmyJohnson.com

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6 Comments

  • Amy

    7, November 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Mich,
    I couldn’t agree with you more about giving into the emotion being the way through. That’s exactly what I refer to here…doing “nothing” means just allowing what is, to be. Quite the opposite of forcing gratitude or trying to “do” something with the negative thoughts and emotions. Just allowing and noticing how they process and pass all on their own when we allow them to.
    Since so many on East Coast are living a worst case scenario, and they are alive and breathing and able to LIVE through it, perhaps this idea is at the perfect time?
    Thank you for your comment!

  • Lassie

    7, November 2012 at 8:50 am

    THIS is the story of my life. I wake up every day flooded with terror.

  • Letty Sison

    6, November 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing I know most of us experience once in a while.
    I just substitute “HEART FOCUSED BREATHING” and I reverse to a positive feeling/thinking attitude in 30 seconds!

  • Mich

    6, November 2012 at 3:56 pm

    While I agree with the premise, the timing of this post seems insensitive to me. With so many folks on the East Coast really living their worst nightmare, this is just trivial. In addition, I too lived through the nightmare of losing my husband to cancer. While staying positive and living with gratitude certainly helped us manage the toughest of times, giving in to the emotion and working through the grief is the only way to move forward.

  • Megan Clouse

    6, November 2012 at 3:00 pm

    What timing! I have been struggling with this very topic for months – stressing over my thoughts. Thank you!

  • Amy S.

    6, November 2012 at 1:41 pm

    THanks for this post!! I have been workin’ horror stories ever since my son was born 11 years ago!!!!

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