Overthinking, catastrophizing, and just being

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It’s the day after Christmas and my household is relaxing, occasionally wandering over to the fridge for leftovers but otherwise engaging in leisurely unplanned activity.

2018 has been the least stressful holiday season in recent memory, perhaps in my entire adult life. I didn’t host any parties, agonize about where to find a specific gift, or get pulled into the false urgency that so often comes with this time of year.

Still, I did notice something happening to me internally and spent a few days trying to figure out how to deal with it. It isn’t really a Christmas thing either; it’s more of a chronic tendency that is no longer serving me.

Whenever an event appears on my calendar, I make note of the date. So far, so good. In the last week or so, though, things start to escalate. The upcoming event starts to dominate my thoughts even when I’m lying in bed trying to sleep. I can be at work, typing a letter and trying not to think about what route I have to take and when I have to leave to get to place X on time. My thoughts drift on a boundless sea of possibilities, seeking out the very best way to do something or find something. At its worst I’m micro-managing cookie recipes, leaving bags of chocolate chips on the counter in the morning to remind me that Tonight is Cookie Baking Night And Don’t You Dare Forget It.

Fortunately — an odd choice of words, but it’s true — this year, something in me just snapped. I had to stop caring so much about preparations and logistics and outcomes, and let everything just fall where it may for a while. In effect, I told myself:

“Is there anything you can do about this right here, right now? No? Then shaddup.”

It was a lot of work, but I think it was worth it. I practised thought-stopping whenever my mind started fussing about some upcoming problem. I got a lot of practice. Bit by bit I established some emotional distance and some boundaries between the present moment and future commitments. I chose not to accept a couple of party invitations but made the effort to go to events that I really did want to attend.

The next step is to dig down and further reduce the tendency to rehearse everything. It’s of questionable value and it’s mentally exhausting, and getting rid of all those noisy, scary what-ifs is the best present we can give to ourselves.

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