Although by now some normality is returning to our daily lives, most of us still feel tense and uncertain. We don’t know what will happen now – will things keep getting better or will a second wave of infections lead to more restrictions? Will I or my friends and family get sick? And what might the long-term consequences be?
Thoughts cause stress
There are situations in which a physical stress response is triggered by something happening in front of us. If we see a car hurtling towards us, our heart rate increases and we move ourselves out of the way. But thoughts can cause stress responses too. Sometimes the thoughts are about something in the past that won’t stop bothering us, but often they are thoughts about an uncertain – and potentially threatening – future.
How we often react
If we notice that we are worried about the future, we often make the mistake of trying to replace worrying thoughts with positive ones. But in most cases that doesn’t work, because these positive thoughts immediately call up our “inner critic”. Put another way, as soon as we start to say something nice to ourselves, our mind responds with a contradiction. And we get caught up in a chaotic web of thoughts.
What actually helps
However much we might wish to have different thoughts, we are stuck with the ones that are there. It’s a bit like the weather: you can wish for sunshine when it’s raining, but the rain will keep going until it stops. This doesn’t mean that you have to like having worrying thoughts about the future. But you can just leave them there and not pursue them. This works best if you can see them as something impersonal – just as rain comes and goes, you can let your thoughts come and go, too.
For more tips and advice on dealing with worries about the future, have a look at the article “I feel stressed and I don’t know why – what can I do?”