We often imagine situations far worse than they are. In short, we create a mountain out of molehills. Shernaz tells us how to overcome this problem, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Going for a picnic? Travelling abroad to meet your daughter? Oops! There’s a bit of dust on that one table. Is the door locked? Did I switch off the lights? If such questions bug and control your thoughts constantly, your mind can bind your guts into a constrictor knot that would be difficult to unravel. The picnic can turn into a nightmare even before you have finished planning for it because there will be someone or you yourself with the nagging ‘what if’ questions. What if it rains? What if the place is shut down? What if the plane is hijacked or meets with an accident? Oh dear, if someone comes visiting and sees the dust what will they think of me?
Are you a ‘what if’ questioner? These innocuous ‘what if’ questions take on a monstrous existence of their own and can turn into life-altering issues if we let them run away with our thoughts. There are chronic worriers amongst us all. Metaphorically speaking, their over-reactive, histrionic behaviour easily aggravates minor injuries into fatal wounds. This is called ‘catastrophising’ and we have all fallen prey to it sometime or the other in our lives. When we are feeling low, are tired, have been let down by someone or things just don’t seem to work our way, we tend to see our problems through a distorted lens that magnifies them disproportionately to their true nature.
For those who persistently forage in the worry bin of their minds, these ‘what ifs’ become distressful and debilitating. The molehills of their lives take on the magnitude of insurmountable mountains and they feel crushed. But how does this phenomenon take place? Do the molehills have a life of their own and begin to grow like monsters? The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of a molehill is a small pile of dirt that is pushed up by a mole when it digs tunnels underground. We sometimes dig up the dirt from our unconscious self, pile it onto our daily affairs and then we begin to make a mountain out of that little irritant of the day, obstructing our view of reality. At times we inspect the molehill from such close quarters that it begins to take on a humungous dimension and we act like bantam chickens.
It is human tendency to blow issues out of proportion and then look desperately for solutions to surmount those exaggerated problems. Or worse still we just become paralysed with fear. But we are also capable of turning mountains into molehills if we change our attitude and come from a place of hope and positivity. Letting small things bother and irritate us limits our potential. As the title of Richard Carlson’s book says, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff. Anything that will not make a life-changing impact on you or someone else is small stuff. It won’t last long. Some things are so unimportant that they don’t matter ten minutes later. So why should we sweat over them and waste precious time and even more precious energy? When these things overtake our life we do not devote enough of our self, time and resources, to those that really count.
Over-thinking, worrying about the outcome miles ahead of an event or perceiving insult and injury where there are none lead to ruin. We overwork our minds, project calamity into the future and become helpless victims of the thoughts that keep bulldozing us. The need to ensure that all will turn out well, the fear of not being in control is what often drives chronic worriers. I love this couplet though I don’t know its author. I quote it often because it makes one realise the tragicomic situation we put ourselves into by overreacting. It brings us back to sanity.
Don’t make tragedies out of trifles
Don’t shoot butterflies with rifles.
We all know the ‘this-always-happens-to-me’ kind of people who not only overstate but anticipate bad outcomes and create a drama at least in their own minds. Nothing bad ‘always’ happens to one person. There are any number of times when everything has turned out perfectly fine under similar circumstances but they tend to forget those times when it did not happen to them. They over-generalise and always believe that the worst happens to them even if they have had an unfortunate experience for the first time. Examples of exaggeration are rife in Facebook statuses. People are never as happy or as bad off as they show themselves to be.
Professor Emeritus and the author of the best-selling books, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and The Feeling Good Handbook, Dr. David D. Burns MD, enlighten us on how the amplification of our problems can be stress-inducing:
“These are often exaggerations that don’t reflect the truth. And when you make things out to be worse than they really are, it makes the experience that much more stressful and painful.
“For example, if you’re telling someone about something bad that happened to you earlier, and you exaggerate it to make it seem much worse, you are not only “re-living” the stressful experience, but also intensifying your memory of it.
“Next thing you know, you tell the same story to 2-3 more people and a tiny stress that you could’ve just let go of in the moment has now transformed into something much bigger and stronger than it needs to be.”
We often tend to jump to conclusions and make snap judgements about a given situation. We have illusions about our infallible knowledge which is actually half-baked because we do not avail ourselves of all the relevant facts.
One example is a patient who presumes an illness she is a victim of from the investigative tests she has been advised. “The doctor has asked me to get a cardio stress test done. OMG! It means I have a heart problem! Why else would I need this test?” The doctor probably just wants to ensure that you are fit in every way before you take that arduous trek into the mountains. Nothing more, but the patient over-reacts, misreading the situation that leads to stress even before she is on the machine. In this scenario, the patient would do herself a great favour by suspending her thoughts till the report is in her hand.
Our presumptions become absolute and invariable truths in our mind with far-reaching consequences and beyond a degree they become relationship-destroying. We not only misjudge others, we credit them falsely with intentions they did not harbour by projecting our conjectures on them. We do not take the time to think about the situation from another’s perspective. For some, jumping to conclusions becomes a chronic habit and they don’t even realise that analysing a situation cool-headedly would lead to totally different results.
We have read here about three kinds of exaggerated thinking we can avoid. Catastrophising, over-generalising and jumping to conclusions. If we are guilty of any of these it means our thinking is distorted and we need to step back and find out how we can change it. We must learn to identify such faulty thinking and take measures to correct it.
This is sound advice from an unknown source — Imagine being in a room with two TV sets. One is a large screen TV with surround sound. The other is a miniature 1 screen TV. What would you tend to focus on and become absorbed in? Some people make their problems the size of the large screen TV and their personal goals the size of the miniature one. It is important to mentally minimize the problems and the cant’s and maximise the goals and the cans.
Professor of Psychology, Graham C. L. Davey, Ph.D. has published many articles in scientific and professional journals and written or edited 16 books including Psychopathology; Clinical Psychology; Applied Psychology; Complete Psychology; Worrying & Psychological Disorders; and Phobias: A Handbook of Theory, Research & Treatment. An expert in anxiety he has given 10 tips to manage to worry in https://www.psychologytoday.com/ experts/graham-cl-davey-phd
I am listing the points below. For more detailed reading, please go to the link provided above.
- Problem-solve, don’t worry
- Don’t waste time on “What if..?” questions
- Don’t kid yourself that worry is always helpful
- Learn to accept uncertainty
- Always try to lift your mood
- Don’t try to suppress unwanted worries
- Manage the times when you worry
- Change “What if…?” worries to “How can I…?” worries
- How not to lose sleep by worrying
- Stay in the moment
I will leave you with a humorous take by Dolly Parton on this idiom “Plastic surgeons are always making mountains out of molehills.”
So keep smiling and remember not to over-magnify. Playing the victim, amplifying and catastrophising every small incident is toxicity of the mind. Detox by first understanding how you are letting your mind have a harmful sway over your life and then begin to heal yourself with loving kindness, using the tips shared above. Create stress-free moments of peace by reigning in the imagination and seeing the molehill for what it is.
Photos from the Internet
#MountainsOfMolehills #MinimizeYourProblems #AvoidMolehills #DonotOverthink #WhatIfs #FeelHappy #DifferentTurths
To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems “Whispers of the Soul” and another titled “Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds” with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.