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Why Do I Always Think The Worst

by Kristin Beck

Why Do I Always Think The Worst

“When you think about it, we humans are really terrible at predicting what’s going to happen next. We’re not great at seeing into the future, and we have no idea how many other people will make their way through life at exactly the same time as us.
We can only look back on our own lives with hindsight, which means we often believe we know what would have happened if certain events hadn’t occurred. For example, take the death or suicide of someone close to you. You might think “”I wouldn’t have been so stressed”” if your friend died from an illness rather than cancer, but there were probably hundreds — perhaps thousands — of other people who’d also experienced similar upsets during their lifetime. And while some of them chose to end their lives too, others made it out alive.
In fact, even when things go wrong for us, we tend to assume we could have done better. This is called catastrophisation, and psychologists say it happens automatically, without any conscious thought process involved. In his book Catastrophe: Risk and Reality, author Nassir Ghaemi writes that “”our brains are wired to catastrophise””. He explains this by saying, “”the brain evolved to avoid danger; it does this by creating negative expectations, then making bad outcomes seem more likely.”” So, instead of looking at something like a traffic accident and thinking “”Wow! That was scary””, we’ll instead imagine the worst possible outcome.
If you’ve ever driven down the highway after dark, you’ll know what he means. Your mind starts running all kinds of wild thoughts, especially if there are road signs indicating an upcoming speed trap (such as police cars). It’s easy to become convinced that you should slow down, since you can never predict where those traps will appear. And once you’ve started doing this, you won’t stop until you’ve pulled over completely.
This isn’t just limited to driving either. It applies to everything from buying a new house to getting married. Why do we always think the worst? Well, according to Dr. John Mayer, professor of psychology at Columbia University, one reason is that our minds are naturally programmed to focus on threats.
Dr. Mayer says this happens because we live in a world full of predators. Our ancestors lived in small groups, where the biggest threat came from fellow group members. They needed to cooperate in order to survive, and therefore developed strong bonds between each other — which meant they felt safe enough to trust each other. But today, most of us have thrown away that sense of safety.
He gives the following examples of what happens when we feel threatened:
* If we’re walking alone at night, we keep glancing around in fear of being attacked, even though we rarely find anyone lurking nearby. However, if we walk down a busy street near midday, we feel much safer.
* When we’re shopping in stores, we don’t usually buy anything unless the sales assistant approaches us first. Even if they try to pressure us into a sale, we’ll resist that temptation. But if a stranger tries to talk to us while we sit online reading a website, we suddenly get very uncomfortable and quickly click out.
* Whenever we watch TV news reports about terrorist attacks, we worry about being killed ourselves. Yet we barely react when we hear about natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. People living in affected areas aren’t scared, because they’ve already survived worse.
One solution is to reduce the amount of information you consume about these issues. According to Dr. Mayer, the best way to combat this is to use good old-fashioned common sense. Don’t pay attention to the media, and stay informed by watching educational videos and articles.
Another approach is to build up immunity to fear by repeating positive experiences over and over again. If you’re afraid of public speaking, practise giving presentations in front of friends and family. Or maybe you hate flying, in which case you need to practice taking flights regularly. By repeatedly facing your fears head-on, you’re gradually able to overcome them.
So why do we always think the worst? Because our minds are designed to help us survive, and sometimes our survival instincts kick in when we shouldn’t. Like the person sitting in a car staring anxiously at a roadside sign warning of a speeding ticket.
But what makes me curious is whether the above advice works for everyone. Some people claim that they do the exact opposite. They eat well-balanced meals, exercise, and read informative websites and books. And yet they still struggle with anxiety and depression.
What’s going on here? Are people lying about how difficult it is to cope with everyday stressors? Or is there another explanation? One possibility is that we all have different personality types.
You see, there are two main types of personalities: extroverts and introverts. Extroverts generally thrive on social interaction, whereas introverts prefer spending time alone. Introverts tend to suffer from anxiety disorders, depression, panic attacks, and phobias.
According to psychotherapist David Richo, there are four distinct forms of inner dialogue. These include:
1) Anxious Inner Voice – This is the voice inside your head that constantly criticises you and worries about the future. It tells you that you don’t deserve happiness, and that nothing will come your way.
2) Self-Sabotaging Inner Voice – This is the voice inside your head that criticises you but acts against your wishes anyway. It sabotages your efforts to achieve goals, and doesn’t let you give yourself credit for successes achieved.
3) Critical Inner Voice – This is the voice inside your head that praises you but behaves in unhelpful ways. Instead of encouraging self-love and support, it undermines you with criticisms.
4) Unconditional Love – This is the voice inside your head that supports you unconditionally, believes in you, and loves you regardless of how you behave.
The type of inner voice you have determines the kind of behaviour you exhibit towards yourself. If you listen to the anxious voice in your head, you’ll feel anxious, nervous, and worried. But if you listen to the critical voice, you’ll feel overwhelmed with shame and guilt.
It sounds strange, because we typically spend most of our day listening to voices that urge us to procrastinate, overeat, drink alcohol, and engage in destructive behaviours. Why bother paying attention to these voices?
Because they’re telling us what we already know deep down inside. For example, we know we’re lazy and unmotivated. So we tell ourselves lies such as “”I’m too tired/busy/unimportant,”” and thus convince ourselves that we deserve less success.
There are plenty of studies showing that introverts have higher levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure. Dopamine is released whenever we receive positive feedback from others, which helps motivate us to continue behaving in a supportive manner. This is why introverts respond favourably to compliments.
Extroverts, however, have lower levels of dopamine. They need external validation in order to feel happy and motivated. This is why extroverts enjoy receiving praise from others, but often sabotage their chances of success by doubting themselves.
For instance, if a boss offers a promotion, an extrovert might reject it out of hand, simply because she feels unworthy. She knows her abilities aren’t up to par, so she assumes the position must be undeserving of her skill set.
On the flip side, introverts accept promotions because they feel confident in their skills. They realise that they deserve the opportunity, and therefore feel justified in accepting it.
To summarise, introverts are highly sensitive to criticism, whereas extroverts are highly insensitive to criticism. If you notice yourself falling victim to the critical voice, it may be useful to consider whether you’re responding to the voice of your dominant personality type.
And finally, if you think that you’re suffering from clinical depression, please consult a doctor. There are lots of alternative treatments available nowadays, including medication, counselling, hypnotherapy, and meditation.”

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