You have been chosen to talk in front of a very large group of your peers. A few minutes into the presentation you stumble on a word, which makes you anxious, but you recover your momentum. A women crossing in the front of the room where you are speaking trips over the cord attached to your laptop projector….and your presentation goes dark which stops you in your tracks. People scramble to replug the cord which only takes 15 seconds, but in that 15 seconds, you have panicked about the interruption, and your stress level has shot through the roof. You finish your presentation in a fog. Afterward, you believe you will never get a chance to do another talk because you have completely disappointed everybody in the room. If you can’t be taken seriously by your peers because of the incident, it’s going to negatively affect your career. What if your boss wants to fire you because of this? If you’re fired, how will you be able to pay your mortgage? So much swirls in your head. Is it real….or do you magnify situations? Are you manufacturing your own misery?
When we are anxious, everything becomes magnified. Mathew McKay and Peter D. Rogers in their book “The Anger Control Workbook”, state that magnifying a situation is:
“…more that just making a mountain out of a molehill or making things worse than they already are. It’s the tendency to take something bad and really run with it, extrapolating a a bad situation to the worst possible conclusion….In effect, you behave as though your distorted and exaggerated view of the situation were actual fact.”
People who magnify take an emotionally charged situation, and treat the feelings if they were actually facts – cognitively exaggerating the situation. For example, in a situation where a mistake was make at work, a magnifier will feel anxiety, and respond to that anxiety with the conclusion that they will be fired. The anxiety the person feels is real; the cognitively exaggerated outcome is a response to the feeling….but the exaggerated situation is not a fact.
According to wikibooks, “Dialectic Behavioral Therapy/Core-Mindfullness Skills/Non-Judgementally”,
“When emotions rule, feelings are mistaken for facts. “Emotion mind” takes over. Emotional reasoning makes stress worse, depression deeper, anxiety higher, and anger hotter. The antidote is an activated Wise Mind which clarifies what the situation is and considers from where the emotions are coming. When you say you can’t stand it, do you really mean you don’t like it? Ask yourself, “Am I over-reacting and making this situation worse?””
The article also points out,
“Feelings and thoughts are so well blended that we rarely think that the association matters. It does. Feelings influence how you think, and thoughts affect how you feel.”
So is there a difference between somebody who magnifies and somebody who catastrophizes? Yes. A person who magnifies does so at a lesser degree about current situations; a person who catastrophizes dwells not only on the present problem, but also expects and projects future disasters. Think of the difference between Chicken Little who is dealing with an immediate issue, vs. Eeyore who finds issues with everything.
Although the extent of the issues differ, the solutions – although it takes practice – are similar.
- Acknowledge the emotion you feel. (Anxiety, stress, anger…)
- Listen to the story in your head. What are you telling yourself?
- Clarify the situation:
- Is the outcome/story you are telling yourself true or an exaggerated congitive response to the emotion/anxiety you feel?
- Will it impact me in a day, a week, a month?
- Focus on the REAL facts without emotion, evaluating or judging.
For many people who manufacture their own misery, magnifying situations is a learned, practiced response to anger, anxiety, stress. When we let emotions rule a situation, those feelings are mistakenly interpreted as fact. This type of reasoning in turn, flames the original emotion higher, which makes the stress/anxiety worse, which leads to more emotional reasoning.
The cycle of magnifying situations raises our stress levels, drives us nuts, and makes even a normal glitch in our everyday lives an imagined crisis that creates more anxiety. Do YOU magnify situations? Isn’t it time to get off the emotional reasoning roller coaster? Isn’t it time to be happy?