In my last post I talked about the different ways to take care of your mental health during this pandemic. One of the points I mentioned was the importance of staying present during this time. This is a time of serious unknowns: we have no idea how long this will go on for or the repercussions. Because everything is so unclear, it's important to stay present and recognize when your mind is jumping too far ahead.
When talking about staying present, a common question can be, how do I plan ahead if I'm just focusing on today? There are problems and issues that we need to plan for. Even if they are not directly affecting us today, they will be soon and we need a plan. However, this is not how our brains work. Our brains will focus constantly and incessantly on an issue. And they will begin to focus on problems that may never occur or are highly unlikely to occur. Our brains are built for survival, so they will latch on to any problem that they believe will be a danger to us, whether that is physical or emotional danger. Because we are in a pandemic, our brains are on high alert. They are going to be running wild, thinking about all kind of crazy scenarios. We can't blame our minds; they're just trying to protect us. Try to recognize when this is occurring as a way to step back and not be owned by the thoughts.
"What if" thoughts are particular culprits for jumping ahead. A "what if" thought is any thought that starts with "what if" and jumps ahead to a possibility. Like, what if I lose my job? Or what if this goes on for several months? You might think, but isn't that good? I'm planning ahead! The issue with "what if" thoughts is that they focus on problems that are either unlikely to occur or are out of our control.
Here is a practice for ways to distinguish anxious thoughts from actual problems you need to plan for:
Try not to get frustrated at yourself if you are struggling and your mind keeps going back to these problems. This is a high stress time and it's normal to feel on edge. Be patient and kind to yourself; we all need some of that right now.