Mastering Panic:
9)  Changing "What if..." to "So What!"

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The last big power source for scary thoughts is the cognitive error called “catastrophizing”. 

“Catastrophizing” is believing that something would be a catastrophe, when, in fact, it would be only an irritation or an inconvenience.  “Catastrophizing” often starts with “What if...”  A very powerful way to challenge this is to respond by saying “So what!”  Then, you can go on to ask yourself “So, what would happen then?”

For example, let’s suppose the scary thought is that, while driving, you could get lost.  

Scary thought:  “What if I got lost?!  If I got lost, that would be a catastrophe!”

Challenging the scary thought:

Q: “So what would happen if you got lost?”
A:  “I wouldn’t be able to find my way home”

Q:  And what would happen if you couldn’t find your way home?
A: “I’d have to ask for help, and someone might see how scared I was”

Q:  “And would that be a catastrophe?”
A:  “Well, no, but it would be very embarrassing.”

Q:  “So, you might feel embarrassed.  Would that be a catastrophe?”
A:  “No.”

Q:  “Would you be able to cope with feeling embarrassed?”
A:  “Yes.”

Q:  “Besides asking for help, how else could you cope with getting lost?”
A:  “Well, I could stop and look at a map that I keep in the glove compartment.  I could simply ask for directions at a gas station or store.  Or, I could re-trace my route.  There are lots of ways.”

Catastrophic thinking is a really fat target for humor.  It’s easy to poke fun at it, or to make it into a ridiculous exaggeration.   Here’s an example:

Scary thought:  “What if I got lost?!  If I got lost, that would be a catastrophe!”

Challenging the scary thought:

Q:  “So what would happen if you got lost?”
A:  “I would only have about 10 or 20 solutions.  I could ask for directions.  I could look at my map.  I could retrace my route.  I could make my own map, starting from a point called “Unknown Territory.”  I could even plant a flag, claiming the “Unknown Territory” for the King of Spain.  I think I could probably figure something out.  My 20 years of schooling and my PhD would come in handy.  Also, that time I played “capture the flag” in junior high school.”


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