“If I imagine the worst possible outcome, it won’t happen. (Or I won’t be disappointed if it does happen.)”
“If I hadn’t had that negative thought, I wouldn’t have attracted this bad day.”
“I’m not going to get too excited about this positive news. I might jinx it.”
What you just read are examples of what social scientists call superstitious thinking. Superstitious thinking is based on the belief – or at least hope – that two unrelated events are somehow connected, such as being kind to a stranger and getting a good medical report. If only life was that predictable.
Living with a chronic condition can leave you feeling like life is random. “How am I going to feel today? Are my numbers going to be okay or just awful?” Or, “If I do have a good day, how long can it last?” That’s a lot of uncertainty to sit with. And humans aren’t so good at sitting with uncertainty.
Pretty much everybody does some superstitious thinking from time to time. It’s just part of human nature. And let’s face it, isn’t anything worth a try when you’re facing all of that uncertainty? So indulging in some superstitious thinking can help us feel like there is something we can do to avoid the bad news that could be coming our way.
But superstitious thinking can have consequences that aren’t so helpful. Anticipating the worse may help you feel like you can prevent something really bad from happening, but can also make you feel more anxious while you wait for those test results. Trying to maintain absolute control over every thought that enters your mind is impossible, and only gives you a headache. And not letting yourself be happy when you have something to be happy about – as if your happiness will suddenly be snatched away – is kind of like punishing yourself, not to mention the people in your life who would like to share the good news with you.
Here’s how to counteract superstitious thinking:
Recognize superstitious thinking for what it is. Here’s how it works: Chronic conditions are known to throw a few curveballs. Superstitious thinking is a game our mind plays with us to make us feel like we can avoid those curveballs or make them go away. Even if it means making ourselves more anxious or unhappy.
Stay in the moment. You’re human. Let yourself feel how you feel, sad, scared, happy. Remind yourself that you aren’t in control of the future. In fact, you don’t have to try and control it. Life will unfold as it unfolds.
Get support. When you face a life challenge alone, your mind is more likely to go all over the place trying to figure out what can’t be figured out and trying to solve what isn’t so solvable. Sitting down and talking things over with a friend, and getting an objective viewpoint, can help you keep your perspective.
Take a spiritual approach. Depending on your religious or spiritual background, you probably have all kinds of wisdom that you can draw upon as you face uncertainty around your health. For example, it can be helpful to calm yourself with verses or affirmations. You might want to keep a list for those days when you need a boost. That’s strength for the road ahead!
Acknowledge your own resilience. You’re not helpless, even if it feels that way sometimes. Review your foundation: You’ve got a healthcare team in place. You’ve got people in your life who care about you. You’ve got coping skills. Who needs magic when you’ve built up that strong foundation!
Life is uncertain. Maintain your foundation. Stay optimistic. And count on yourself!