Life is terrifying. But are we freaking ourselves out more than we need to?

A new item for your big feels backpack: the Sturdy Microscope of Analysis

I bet you already have one. In fact, I bet it’s well-used and near-at-hand.

The Sturdy Microscope of Analysis is what we use to figure out if whatever is going on right now is a good or a bad thing.

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To be real, for us sensitive cats, we tend to calibrate our Microscope a little more precisely than that. More often than not, we use it to ask, ‘Is this something I need to be afraid of?’ And even, ‘Of course this is something to be afraid of you dummy, that’s a given, but where does this sit on a scale of "Uh Oh" to "O SWEET LORD NO"???'

Today we look at how our attempts to calm our fears can make us feel worse, and one thing to try for a different result.

Asking 'do I need to be afraid of this thing?’ often makes you *more* afraid

You know the drill. Your helpful brain offers up a potentially scary thought. ‘I’ve had this cold for two weeks now, what if it’s actually nose cancer?’ Or ‘my skin is definitely getting worse, is *this* what ruins my life?’

Your response to this potential threat is to analyse it. You search your symptoms on Dr Google. You take a good, long, unflattering look in the mirror.

And inevitably, you feel, more afraid.

More information about the scary thing will probably not calm you down

So why do you jump to analysis mode?

Because you think more information is what’s needed. You think, ‘let me look at this situation through the Microscope of Analysis, that way I can tell whether or not it’s something I need to be afraid of.’

Except it never really happens that way does it?

When it’s a problem that has no solution, when it’s a pickle jar like health issues or things about your body you can’t change, there is no point in the analysis at which you go, ‘oh yip, I know what this is now’. You don’t simply label your fear and file it under ‘Definitely something to be afraid of’.

Instead, you investigate further, you analyse deeper and deeper:

‘What if I tried that Korean skincare regime I read about in that newsletter?’

‘What if the reason the Korean skincare regime didn’t work is because the snail mucin I used wasn’t TOP GRADE?’

'What if it *is* working, but it turns out snail mucin gives you nose cancer???'

The Microscope of Analysis does not have a built-in end-point. It just keeps on zooming in.

Analysing your fears will never make you less afraid.

To analyse something *is* to worry about it.

And the real kicker? Often this same process unfolds at a meta level too. You think, ‘why do I worry so goddamn much about stuff that barely seems to bother other people?’ You zoom in on your worry itself. You berate your own brain.

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The annoying thing is: we need the Microscope of Analysis

Here’s the thing though. If you never pulled out the Microscope, if you never analysed your life, you might be fucked. The information we get from worrying is occasionally useful, and there’s no other way to get it.

We don’t want to chuck out our Microscope of Analysis. We may however want to pay a little more attention to how we use it.

Know that analysing your life might make you feel like shit for a little while as you do it, and maybe have an exit strategy for when you’ve zoomed in past the point of no return.

Exit Strategy: what to do when your eye is glued to the Microscope

That thing about the microscope, how you can always zoom in further? It makes it *really* hard to pull your eye away from it - even when you know it’s making you feel like shit.

Here’s one thing I’ve been trying recently, from Sarah Wilson’s remarkable book about anxiety, First We Make The Beast Beautiful.

Wilson says, you can’t just delete your unwanted habits, even once you recognise they’re making you feel bad. Googling the worst-case scenarios for that health issue, ‘just to be prepared’. Or standing in front of the mirror and berating your appearance, ‘just so you’re being honest with yourself’. You can't 'just stop' doing these kind of things.

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Wilson says your best option is to create a new habit, and repeat it enough that it eventually becomes more strongly ingrained than the old habit. And the trick is to pick a new habit that makes you feel safe, rather than one that simply feeds the very fear you’re trying to escape. She says:

“My old habit was thinking I had to check under the bed for something nebulously dangerous (mostly that ankle-grabbing beast)... again and again. Which obviously strengthens that fighty, flighty stuff. My new habit was getting the urge, and resisting it calmly...

I pictured lying in bed and being cool with not checking. I created this picture, over and over, in my mind. After about three weeks of doing this every night, it played out in real life, in bed one night. I went to bed and I lay there. I reproduced the calm of the imagined scenario. I stayed. I stayed. I kept breathing. I was aware of the visceral urge to check. But I stayed. To see what happened. As I waited, I drifted off to sleep. In the morning I grabbed one hand in the other and shook myself in congratulations. My goodness I was proud of myself.”

I particularly love that last bit. Hell yes shake your own hand in congratulations, this stuff is *HARD WORK*! So to those of you out there clocking up overtime in the feelings laboratory, we are sending a hearty and slightly dorky high-five your way.

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And if you are so-inclined, feel free to high-five us back —> hello at big feels dot club

That's all from us for now. 

Analytically Yours,

Graham.