If you are anxious, you most likely have been advised not to “blow things out of proportion.” That probably seems easier said than done. CBT teaches you how to stop magnifying the odds of something that you fear will happen. When you magnify, you overestimate the likelihood of something happening, losing track of the difference between possible (which is just about anything) vs. probable vs. likely vs. certain.
Typically you are exaggerating the likelihood or risk of something happening. You might also exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings. The other side of that coin is minimization, wherein you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. Typically, you also will minimize your ability to cope with or withstand your own anxiety. For example:
“I am afraid of being paralyzed by the epidural. My doctor says the risk is “practically zero.” That still means there is some chance.” (Magnification) “On the other hand, I have no tolerance for pain. I practically rush to the ER if I have a papercut. I will never be able to withstand an unmedicated birth.” (Minimization)
In most cases, you will find that there is some evidence to substantiate a potential problem or threat; however, the likelihood, actual degree of risk, or magnitude of the problem is blown out of proportion.While others might agree that some evidence exists, they do not agree with the conclusion you have jumped to. While the problem or threat is possible, it is extremely unlikely. Often the feared outcome requires a chain of events to occur and those events are not occurring. Or, the feared outcome is impossible and cannot occur, or cannot occur in the way you are imagining.
Rather than magnifying:
● Acknowledge the difference between possible vs. probable vs. likely vs. certain.
● Research the real odds?
● Try to imagine what is most likely to happen. What are the likely consequences or outcomes?
● Create a plan to take action. What would you do if the most likely thing occurred?
The final step is to ask yourself: “What could you say that would be more fair or helpful in this situation?” If you follow these steps, you will feel much less anxious and you will be more effective in whatever course of action you take.
Dr. Jill Sullivan is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than fifteen years of specialized training and expertise in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). She is a co-founder of CBT Specialists of Chicago, and creator of Anxiety-Free Pregnancy.