Coping statements can be part of your strategy to manage anxiety. What are coping statements? When you struggle with anxiety you are usually engaging in fearful and/or inaccurate self-talk which tends to increase the anxiety. The purpose of coping statements is to counter this anxious self-talk.
This series provides an explanation of some common coping statements. The best way to use them is to identify the ones that are most calming to you and repeat them over and over when you are anxious sort of like a mantra. Combining a single statement with taking slow breaths can be particularly helpful.
Some people spend a considerable amount of time focused on “what if” types of worries. “What ifs” are different from worries about an actual event. “What ifs” refer to the constant reviewing in your head of possible negative events or outcomes. These thoughts aren't evaluated for probability or importance or solutions, but only serve to maintain a heightened state of anxiety.
A coping statement such as “worries are not reality” can be useful if your worries meet the following conditions:
1) Unlikely. What is the actual probability? Something “could” happen is true for a 10% chance or for a 90% chance but one is a more realistic concern. Worrying about someone breaking into your home and harming your family when you live in a safe neighborhood and have taken proper precautions is a waste of energy because it is unlikely.
However, even with actual events that may reasonably cause concern, some unrealistic “what ifs” may be present. Therefore, it is important with actual events to determine and separate the realistic concern from the possible but improbable negative “what ifs.” For instance, my husband has had numerous surgeries so even though it is possible that he could die from a surgery (as the consent form says) it is not probable so worrying about such an outcome is unrealistic and nonproductive.
Some people like to believe that worrying about something prepares them for the future situation. But worrying about an unlikely event only makes you feel miserable in the present, and then, if the event does occur, you will feel miserable about the event itself. Or the event might not be as bad as you thought it would be so you felt miserable about the possibility of something when you didn't need to.
2) Unimportant. How important is your worry? I realize that most people will say “I wouldn't worry about it if it weren't important!” But determining the importance is about putting the worry into perspective. Is it life and death? Is your life likely to change negatively in a substantial way?
This coping statement is for those who obsessively worry about things that are not that important when viewed with a more dispassionate perspective. So, for instance, worrying about what someone thinks of you because you forgot their name is not very important. No terrible outcome is likely to occur.
In additon, keep in mind that importance is also determined by the first condition of how unlikely something is. If it is unlikely, that would naturally make it unimportant no matter how catastrophic it might be. An airplane crash might be a catastrophic event but it is an extremely rare event which would make the worry an unimportant one.
3) Controllable. Use your worry as an opportunity to determine if you have control over any aspect of the situation that can potentially change the outcome. If you do, take the necessary steps. For instance, since my mother died of breast cancer, I have a higher than average chance of getting breast cancer. However, instead of worrying about it I take the necessary steps to either reduce my chances of getting it or of catching it early enough so that I'm less likely to die from it.
Interestingly, controlling the worry itself can be an effective tool for controlling some situations. Even though worries are not reality, sometimes engaging in unfocused, obsessive worry can create the reality you fear. For instance, some people with anxiety worry about having anxiety. In this type of situation, the worry itself can create anxiety because worry triggers the arousal of the autonomic nervous system which creates the anxiety symptoms. Or, worrying about what others think can cause a person to act differently which, in turn, could cause others to think more negatively about them. Or, worrying about the possibility of an event can cause you to feel helpless and out-of-control which might prevent you from taking action that could prevent the event.
For those who engage in obsessive “what ifs” that are unlikely, unimportant, or controllable, reminding yourself that your worries are not reality by using this coping statement (or a similar one in your own words) in place of the worries can be helpful for reducing anxiety related to worrying.
Also, for greater benefit, use the coping statement in combination with the audio: The Worry Box.