What is it about thoughts, anyway? I mean, they can be so productive, so good. But they can be demons that take us to the very gates of insanity (so we think). Out of nowhere, a Chipur friend delivered wisdom…

One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with recently is that it’s all uncertain. I don’t know what the next minute, hour, day, week, or month will bring. But I can’t let that handicap me; I can’t believe that I’m unable to deal with the future.

It’s always heartening to hear from readers and clients – Chipur friends. Ben contacted me earlier this month, out of nowhere. And what a valuable email! I’m so pleased he’s allowed me to share.

So, let’s get right to it. By the way, if you lean toward germ/chemophobia, this’ll be right up your alley.

Ben opened…

Dear Bill,

…My former college roommate, Kevin, recently posted something on Facebook to which I felt compelled to reply. I’m working my CBT, that’s for sure!

Warm regards,

Here’s Kevin’s post…

…My most recent freak-out concerned indoor air quality. Are there fire retardants in the couch stuffing? What about that stain-blocker they applied to the upholstery? Should the mattress be organic? Should I buy 3 air purifiers, or are they just expensive fans?

Link below to a not-terribly-scientific article, but I was struck by: ‘For all their high-tech wizardry (some claim to be able to eliminate particles 0.3 microns in size and smaller), air purifiers occupy the same category as faith-based wellness products like nutritional supplements.’

Well, Ben rolled-up his sleeves and got to work. His reply was so comprehensive I had to cut here and there, but you’ll get the drift. Take it, Ben…

Ben’s Truth

Ah, yes: the dreaded “indoor air quality” anxiety. I know it well. In fact, a bout with the exact same anxiety was what directed me back into counseling.

As you have no doubt discovered, going down the internet black hole on this topic is strongly ill advised. Every so often, you’ll find a piece of truth and breathe a sigh of relief, but you’ll be back on Dr. Google a few moments later because you’re convinced that if you would just be able to find that one last piece of information, you’d be well-informed enough to make a decision.

It’s a perfect example of confirmation bias: you were completely oblivious to indoor air quality until you read something about it. But now that you know it’s a thing about which to be concerned, you’re worried – terrified – that you’re not doing enough because that’s what educated people do. And you want to gain as much information as possible to support your new hypothesis – your house is trying to kill you.

Here’s my advice…

  1. You don’t need an indoor air purifier because your body really and truly wants to help you. You know what does a great job cleansing your body? Your liver. It’s magic, really.
  2. Remember that the dose makes the poison. If you get some bleach on your index finger, forget to wash it off, and then put your finger near your mouth, you will not die. If you drink a gallon of bleach, that will probably leave a mark. This is my issue with groups like the Environmental Working Group and their ridiculous “sunscreens will kill you” nonsense. It relies on fear and chemophobia to trick people into thinking they’re in danger when, really, they aren’t.
  3. One of the biggest issues with anxiety is once those emotions hijack your brain, it’s not only impossible to think logically, but also to assess risk. When you’re in full “fight-or-flight” mode, it becomes equally likely (1:1) that, for example, that mild discomfort in your chest is a heart attack as it is that it’s gas. In fact, if you were to go visit a doctor at that exact moment, she would put that gas-to-heart-attack risk at, oh, 1:1,000,000 because she is being logical and thinking clearly – because she’s not terrified that she’s going to die.
  4. One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with recently is that it’s all uncertain. I don’t know what the next minute, hour, day, week, or month will bring. But I can’t let that handicap me; I can’t believe that I’m unable to deal with the future. The truth is that I’ve gone through some crazy stuff – major moves, the death of my father, job changes, health concerns, family struggles. But I’ve gotten through them (shouting again) JUST FINE. My advice to my students is always this: if you can gain some perspective and pull back a bit, you’ll realize that you have the inner strength, resolve, and resources to deal with anything life throws at you because you have done so before.
  5. Finally, if you feel the need to go down the Google rabbit hole in situations like this, DON’T. This kind of behavior is called “checking,” and it’s a symptom that those of us who suffer from anxiety and/or OCD believe will help, not harm, us. But here’s the problem: has checking ever made you feel better? No. Has checking ever resulted in something positive happening? No. It is so shockingly difficult to resist the urge to check, but if you can do so a few times you’ll start to see that the link you thought was there between checking and reassurance doesn’t exist. The biggest thing-issue that I overcame (or overcame 95%, at least) was my constant need to check, and it’s changed my life.

Now It’s My Turn

So I guess this is where I’m supposed to chime-in with my two cents worth of insight. But, nah – I think Ben said it all. Just never underestimate the power – good and nasty – of thoughts. And always remember, we have the authority and power to manage them.

Thanks, Ben! Yeah, those Chipur friends. Oh, wanna’ meet him? Here ya’ go.

Hey, how ’bout some Chipur titles that’ll come in handy?

“My God, I can’t be thinking these things!” Relax, they’re intrusive thoughts

Stop Depression and Anxiety | 15 Styles of Distorted Thinking

Wanna’ get better? I’ll teach you! Cognitive restructuring

Heck, take a look at all of the Chipur titles!

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