Planning for the Worst
As a therapist, I have lots of conversations about negative thoughts. Ideally, we wouldn’t have negative thoughts because they make us feel bad. Duh, right? In its most simplistic form, addressing negative thinking can sometimes feel like the whole point of talk therapy. It helps to talk through with a somewhat objective person how our negative thoughts may be biased towards black and white thinking, catastrophizing, and fortune telling.
However, planning and protection is a major task of motherhood. Making sure we solve future problems that may arise or keep our families safe involve complex cognitive skills such as shifting attention, prioritization, and memorization. “Mom brain” is an unfair characterization. Of course we feel sapped of our cognitive functioning at work or in adult conversations because our brains are working on overdrive making constant tiny decisions that affect our families in both the short-term and long-term ways.
Planning for the future when it comes to being a parent largely focuses on avoidance of the worst case scenario. We each have our own special version of the worst case scenario tailored to our unique anxieties and triggers. But, in our minds the danger of the worst case scenario feels very real.
I say all this because sometimes telling someone to “think positive” doesn’t help. Especially for parents. There is an important function of planning and problem-solving. Through lots of observing and keeping data on members in our family, we are trying to anticipate needs so that everyone can survive and thrive.
Okay, so obviously there is a problem with planning for the worst all the time. Our moods (i.e. longer-term emotions) are most influenced by the 1) frequency of thoughts and the 2) intensity of emotions (but yes also by sleep, exercise, and drugs).
If you are thinking constantly about the worst case scenario, the more real it starts to feel even though nothing bad has yet to happen. That is why mindfulness exercises help. They interrupt constant cycling of negative thoughts and pull us back to the present where we are not living in the worst case scenario.
If we are planning for the worst, we also want to leave room to plan for the best. This is hope. We need hope to remain resilient, connected, and courageous.