Do you ever feel an overwhelming sense of impending doom? A deep feeling of anxiety in the pit of your stomach, but you don’t know why?
Well, according to experts, you might be experiencing foreboding, which is a feeling that something bad will happen, or generalised anxiety.
‘When you walk around with that feeling of constant dread and gloom, it can often feel like you’re getting a premonition or a gut instinct,’ Psychologist Wendy Dignan tells Metro.co.uk.
‘People may say, “I just know that something awful is going to happen” and they start to walk around worrying that an awful thing is going to tap them on the shoulder and sneak up on them.’
This is because, when you’re stressed and anxious, your brain puts you on high alert for danger or possible emergencies.
However, people with this deep sense of dread may then begin to do something called ‘forecasting’ if something good happens to them.
Wendy explains: ‘They get the crystal ball out and start forecasting worst-case scenarios. They start to get a fear of feeling happy because they think it will be followed by something bad.’
This forecasting – otherwise known as catastrophising – is a coping mechanism – but not necessarily a healthy one.
‘Dread is often caused by a fear of not knowing what is coming next,’ says Simone Thomas, Founder of Simone Thomas Wellness.
‘Given that we are living in extremely challenging times with a huge amount of uncertainty hanging over our heads, this can be amplified, and people can feel this way constantly.’
An example of this is the rising cost of living, from energy bills to essential day-to-day expenses.
Simone says this can ‘leave people dreading opening their post, stop them from looking at their bank statements and prevent them from living their lives because they simply dread what’s coming next, and how they will deal with that.’
Why do people feel a deep sense of dread?
Terence Watts, a psychotherapist and creator of BrainWorking Recursive Therapy (BWRT), puts this lingering anxiety down to what’s sometimes referred to as the ‘lizard brain’.
‘That feeling of dread is the result of the early part of the brain… recognising a threat that triggers the escape instinct (known as fight or flight),’ he explains. ‘And when an instinct cannot be discharged, the result is anxiety,’
There doesn’t actually have to be a genuine threat that is causing someone to feel a deep sense of dread, but rather just the potential for one.
Terence adds: ‘They might suffer from many “what if” anxieties, such as “what if I lose my job?” or “what if I can’t pay my bills?”.
‘It may not even be likely, but once they’ve been thought of, they might as well be. This feeling tends to end up as Generalised Anxiety Disorder.’
Mark Vahrmeyer, Psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy, also links regular or easily triggered feelings of dread to heightened anxiety levels.
‘Someone who is highly anxious is generally experiencing the world as a threatening place, and their nervous system is scanning their environment for “evidence” to justify their high levels of anxiety,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Invariably, they will find something either in their immediate environment or through such mediums as the news.’
It’s not just the outside world factoring into things either. Mark says that there is a second reason why some people experience a pervasive sense of dread: self-hate.
He continues: ‘Feelings of self-hate are often completely unconscious to the person who is experiencing dread, and instead, they imagine a world in which they are about to be persecuted either by catastrophic events or by some other person.
‘After all, if we are completely worthless, then something very bad must just be about to happen to us.
‘As a result, ordinary problems or anxieties become enormously amplified and instead of us being able to hold them in context, these events become the catastrophic event that has always been lurking around the corner.’
Tips and advice
So how can we manage this feeling?
Get some perspective
‘Try and move away from what is causing you to feel dread and get a change of scene,’ recommends Mark.
‘Go for a walk, do some exercise, make the bed, take a shower; it doesn’t really matter what you do, but I would suggest doing something both unrelated to the feelings of dread and something that enables you to move your body.’
Once you have calmed your nervous system a little, you can start to think about the real likelihood that the dreaded event is going to be catastrophic.
Then you can start to work through the scenarios troubling you, such as ‘if I don’t get this job, what will actually happen?’ You may find the worst-case scenario isn’t as daunting as you’d imagined.
Talk to someone
‘One of the best ways of stepping outside of ourselves is to talk to a friend,’ says Mark.
‘If you can talk about how you feel and what you imagine might happen, your friend may be able to help you reality test by sharing their perspective with you.
‘When we are able to share how we feel, the intensity of our feelings invariably reduces, we feel calmer, and we gain some perspective.’
Be mindful of the media you consume
‘If it’s general dread about the world at large, stop consuming so much news,’ advises Simone.
‘We are bombarded with doom and gloom 24/7, and this will only cause further dread, worry and anxiety. You might want to catch the headlines on the radio or online, but otherwise, watching the news all day long will not benefit you.’
Simone also recommends considering the social media apps you are using and the accounts you may be following.
She adds: ‘Do they make you laugh and take your mind off things, or do they further add to your dread, maybe fuelling imposter syndrome and envy?
‘It’s important to remember that we only see the highlights people want us to be privy to, so if something or someone is making you feel worse, unfollow, and watch funny videos of dogs instead.’
Make some lifestyle changes
Look at your general lifestyle, as this can impact your mood. By fuelling your body and treating yourself well, you’ll be in the best frame of mind to deal with whatever life throws at you.
Simone recommends getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and exercising.
‘A brisk walk, a run around the park or even a dance-off with your flatmates in the kitchen will shift your energy and help to boost your mood,’ she says.
Write it down
Wendy recommends taking the classic outlet of journalling one step further
‘Capture the “what if” thoughts on a piece of paper and cross-examine them,’ she says. ‘What evidence have you got for the thought, and what evidence have you got against it?
‘Become your own judge and jury.’
Over time, Wendy says that this will develop into a habit and help you build resilience.
If this sense of dread becomes too much, it may be beneficial to see your GP for a referral to talking therapies.
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