On Anxiety Part II: Second Guessing

One of the worst things about anxiety is the incessant second guessing you do on a daily basis. Whether it’s the big things or the small things, there’s always a voice in the back of your head that makes you doubt.

Doubt. A nickname for OCD is the “doubting disease”, which is an apt term for the disorder. It causes you to question your fundamental assumptions about your life, and at its worst you are unable to trust even your own memory. The following is a typical exchange inside the head of an OCD patient:

Did I leave the door unlocked? I think I locked it. Am I sure? I think so. But I still can’t get rid of this nagging feeling that I left it unlocked. Well, maybe I should check. No, I’ve already checked it twice, and it was locked both times. Wait, what if I accidentally unlocked it while making sure it was locked? What if someone breaks in and steals my stuff? Or kills my family? Or burns down my house? Then I would be all alone and I would have nothing. I’d be homeless and probably die of exposure on the streets. You know what, I’ll think I’ll check it one more time and then I’ll feel fine.

To someone without an anxiety disorder, that sounds a bit crazy. And paradoxically, the OCD patient would agree that it is highly unlikely that they would die homeless and alone. But OCD and other anxiety disorders have their own special logic that works on a very narrow level. Is it possible that the door is unlocked? Sure. Is it possible that someone could break in and do all these things? Definitely. Is it even remotely likely? Not at all.

But the fact that there’s even the slightest chance it could happen drives people with anxiety crazy. That’s because part of our brain thinks that Murphy’s Law is the golden rule of the universe: if something can go wrong, it will. So when we think there’s a possibility that bad things can happen, no matter how remote, we feel as anxious as if it was likely to occur.

This is why we are always second guessing. If it feels like someone is going to break into your house, kill your family, and burn it to the ground, then you wrack your brain for a way it could happen. And no matter how many times we tell ourselves how unlikely it is to happen, that feeling of dread remains and you start to doubt everything. Including your sanity.

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