Fred Fickle is driving to work and running late… again. He doesn’t see it as a habitual thing but his supervisor clearly thinks differently. It was just last week that she warned him not to be late again or else there would be “consequences.” It was the expression on her face that came to Fred’s mind as he pulled into the turn lane and stopped behind another commuter. “I can still make it,” he thought. “It’s just a few blocks away from here.” But when the turn lane light turned green, the driver of the car in front of him didn’t turn. In fact, the car didn’t move at all.
“Come on!” Fred said aloud, inching forward. No movement.
Fred tapped on his car horn as he stood on the break. Still nothing.
“Let’s go!” he yelled, leaning fully on the horn. Two things happened next:
- To Fred’s horror, the light turned yellow.
- The other commuter looked up, stepped on the gas and turned – leaving Fred a dozen feet away from the intersection and a fresh red light.
“Son of a….” Fred yelled, striking the steering wheel. “Now I’m going to be late for sure.”
As he sat waiting for the light to turn green again, a flood of thoughts arrived.
“I’m definitely going to be late now! That guy totally screwed me. I’m going to get suspended and that means I get at least one smaller paycheck; probably two. And I’m barely making all my bills now. There’s no way I can take a long weekend now plus, I can’t afford it. What if I lose my job? I had a hard enough time getting this one. And now I’ll have to explain why I got fired. I’ll probably have to settle for making less. I won’t be able to go out or do as much… I could sell some stuff… I should probably cancel my lease and get a smaller place… I’m such a loser.”
We’ve all been there. Each day we interact with situations that affect us negatively – anxiety is sparked and begins to grow. We blame others, doubt ourselves, and question our ability to continue. If left uninterrupted, our fearful thoughts may very well result in poor actions. Let’s return to Fred for moment and ask what’s actually happened? Fred missed an opportunity to turn. That’s it. Everything else that Fred is thinking – getting suspended, losing his job, canceling his vacation, selling his things, getting a smaller apartment – is fiction/fantasy. None of it is actually happening.
Are Not Facts.
Emotional dysregulation – an improper and maladaptive coping mechanism that we all share when dealing with taxing situations – is a leading cause of stress, anxiety and even depression. When we allow our emotions to hijack logical reasoning, our capabilities of dealing with the external world are affected. Alternatively, emotional regulation (inhibiting or controlling emotional responses) prevents the disruption of our natural behaviors (especially goal-driven behaviors). To demonstrate this, let’s look at another example:
Jake is waiting in line to order his morning beverage and muffin from a neighborhood coffee shop. He was in the middle of checking his email when a text from his wife arrived relaying the message that she wouldn’t be able to make it for dinner tonight due to a late scheduled meeting.
“Great,” his self-talk begins. “This was the one night this week we were both available to go out and now she cancels. I was looking forward to trying the new place – everyone keeps recommending it.”
Fingers flying, Jake begins a reply text; hates it; erases it; and begins a new one.
“Now what?” he thinks. “Pick something up for myself? I hate that! So now I’m eating alone again… it’s like I don’t even matter. I guess I’m supposed to cancel the reservation… so I’m the one who looks like a flake.”
He erases the reply text and begins again when a finger tap on the shoulder jolts him back into awareness. The barista is standing a few feet away behind the counter, just staring at Jake.
“They’re calling you, man,” says a voice from the line.
“Just give me a second!” Jake all but yells aloud.
What’s actually going on here? We’ll take a look at it in the next post. In the meantime, remember that the goal here is to separate what’s happening from what isn’t and ultimately to lead a more open, less stressed state of mind. Can you spot any opportunities for Jake to break the anxiety?
Stay Tuned! Part Two is coming soon!