One big thing I have always struggled with anxiety-wise are the “what ifs.” What if I fail this test? What if nobody likes me? What if I embarrass myself? What if….. The list goes on and on. I knew I had to work through this as it was keeping me from doing some pretty important things, such as getting dental work done. My fear of the dentist combined with my constant “what ifs” surrounding the dentist. What if it hurts? What if he’s mean? What if I panic and cry? All of these things combined made me put off dental work causing me pain and yes, further anxiety surrounding the whole situation. I reached out to my therapist for help.
She started by trying to reassure me that the things we worry about don’t even happen 99% of the time. And she was right. I couldn’t even think of more than one example of what I obsessively worried about actually happening. Next she challenged me. She said, “Okay, let’s imagine all of these what ifs come true. What would happen?” The thought sent me into an instant panic. I don’t want to think about these things happening, I want to prepare and keep them from happening. She made me do it anyways.
So she picked a situation regarding the dentist to use. One of my biggest fears about going to the dentist was having a panic attack while I was in the chair. I would be so embarrassed. She said, “Okay now imagine you’re getting your dental work done, and you do, you have a panic attack, what’s going to happen?”
“I will feel embarrassed,” I reply.
“And,” my therapist asks, “how do you think the dentist or hygienist would respond?”
“I don’t know,” I quietly mumble. She says, “Well I doubt they are going to be upset with you. More than likely they will be sympathetic. They will try to make you more comfortable and likely give you a few moments to calm yourself before resuming the procedure. Wouldn’t you agree? What else could happen?” she asks.
“Easy.” she says, “there’s lots of dentists, not a big deal you can always switch. Anything else?”
“What if it hurts so much I can’t take it?”
“How do you think you should handle that situation?” She asks.
“Let them know it hurts a lot.”
“Yes! See, you can handle all of your what-ifs.”
And what do you know, I could. I did go to the dentist. I did cry. I was embarrassed, but I realized I am capable of handling all of these emotions. I also realized my emotions are normal. My dentist was very understanding and said it happens to a a lot of people. He even offered some options to reduce my anxiety next time. If I had voiced my anxiety beforehand I could’ve been given one of these options at this appointment. If only I hadn’t let my embarrassment get in the way.
While I may have more anxiety than some, everyone gets nervous. Everyone cries. Everyone gets embarrassed. Everyone fears pain. It’s an ordinary thing that we are all able to work through. So next time you’re worried and thinking “what if,” finish the thought, play it all the way through, or talk it through with someone you trust. I’m certain you’ll be able to handle more than you think.
Do you get caught up in “what-ifs?” Are there any specific events that cause these to happen? How do you avoid feeling overwhelmed and anxious about worst-case scenarios?