Definition: the tendency to think in worst-case scenarios with constant anxiety; continual catastrophic thinking
Yes, we’ve all done it: we feel a little sick, we Google our symptoms, and five minutes later, we have cancer. I call it WebMD syndrome, the tendency to attach our thoughts and emotions to the worst-case scenario.
It’s rooted in fear, and it is a human survival mechanism. But most of the time, it is only helpful in contributing to our worry and anxiety.
Consider these scenarios:
You don’t get an email response within an hour = that person hates you, or you said something wrong in your email or the assignment you submitted sucked.
You friend is late for dinner = he is in the hospital because he got in a car accident.
Your partner says “we need to talk” = the relationship is over.
Your partner doesn’t answer the phone = something happened to them.
Your partner comes home late = he’s cheating on me.
Your boss says he needs to have a meeting with you tomorrow = you’re fired.
You plan a vacation/wedding/party = it’s going to be ruined because of the weather or someone will be obnoxious or the hotel will be bad or you’ll be mugged.
You’re happy with someone = something is going to happen to take him/her away from you.
It is not abnormal to have a negative thought and see it spiral out of control into a bad and sometimes catastrophic situation, but the irony is that these worries cripple your life more than your imagined worst case scenarios. The anxiety can overcome you and your productivity. In these moments, take some time to think through the worst-case scenarios without judgment. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the real worst-case scenario and what are the chances of that scenario occurring?
- What emotions am I feeling behind these worries?
- What am I grateful for now?
- What is actually in my control?
- Where is the proof that this is going to happen?
- Are these thoughts helpful?
Living with gratitude, knowing what is in and out of your control, and understanding the true roots of your worries and fears are all things that can help you move past WebMD syndrome.
None of us can change the patterns of our thoughts overnight, but through a consistent practice of self-reflection and an inquisitive mindset about the true causes of fears, we’ll begin to see the small joys that were concealed behind our worries.