How to Put a Stop to Catastrophic Thinking
A personal guide to combatting negative thought loops.
For the past few months, I have been travelling around Eastern Europe by car. A few friends and I are doing a road trip around Europe. It’s been an incredible trip, but there are always a few testing moments on such journeys.
One of such moments occurred when we crossed the border from Kosovo into Albania. The actual crossing was easy enough. We got our passports back in no time and we were in the country in less than five minutes.
However, travelling by car adds more complications than flying into a country. As Albania isn’t a part of the European Union (EU), our car wasn’t insured.
This isn’t an issue as we found out from previous border crossings. If you’re not insured to drive in the country, you can buy insurance when you cross the border.
That day though, things proved to be more challenging than we had become accustomed to. When we passed through Montenegro and Kosovo buying insurance had been easy.
It would have been in Albania too if it wasn’t for a few extenuating circumstances. We didn’t have enough money to pay for insurance, and the agent selling it to us didn’t speak much English.
We were left in a difficult situation in what was a test of our character. Did we succumb to feelings of hopelessness, or did we try to manage the situation as best as we could?
Adversity is a part of life whether we like it or not. We will all come across difficult situations from time to time. It’s how we approach them that determines how we live our lives.
When you’re travelling around Europe by car, you need to ensure that you have insurance that lets you drive in those countries. Thankfully, we purchased insurance with a provider that allowed us to drive within all nations of the EU.
There’s a scheme called the International Green Card System, which most European countries are a signatory to, that aims to make it easier for people to drive across borders in Europe and other participating countries.
Unfortunately, out of the countries in Europe that are not a part of the EU, we were only covered for Serbia. That meant whenever we crossed over the border into one of these other countries, we’d need to purchase insurance to ensure we were covered.
For the first two countries we drove into, Montenegro and Kosovo this was fairly straightforward. We drove over the border, paid €15 for insurance that lasted for 15 days and we were on our way. From thinking it would be a painful experience, it turned out to be an easy one.
When it came to driving from Kosovo to Albania, though, it was anything but easy. Instead of being the €15 for 15 days we’d become accustomed to, the price was €49 for 15 days! This was the first problem.
The second problem was that we only had €29 in cash between us, and you couldn’t pay by card. With no nearby ATMs to withdraw from, we were out of options.
When we tried to explain this to the agent selling us the insurance, he didn’t want to know. He turned away from us, waved his hand in disgust, directing us to get out of his office.
We went outside and spoke to a police officer about the situation. He didn’t offer us any solutions and suggested we just drive to the capital, Tirana, a 3-hour drive, and buy insurance there.
One thing he said will remain with me for as long as I live: ‘If you get stopped by the traffic police, you will have a little problem, little problem!’
I don’t know if this guy was a master of understatement, but we would have more than a little problem if we got stopped by the traffic police driving without the correct insurance. A hefty fine would be involved.
It was at this point that I noticed our passports hadn’t been stamped. I asked why, and in a relaxed manner towards official procedures that was becoming a recurring theme on the trip, he declared it wasn’t a problem and that we were in the system.
Well, as long as I was in the system, I thought. But then my mind started going into overdrive. What if I wasn’t in the system? What would happen when I got to the border without a stamp and tried to cross into Greece? What happens if we get stopped on the way to Tirana?
I’m prone to thinking the worst in situations such as this, and this time was no different. We had no choice but to carry on towards Tirana and take our chances. My mind was racing the whole way there. I don’t think I’ve felt so stressed out whilst driving before.
Catastrophic thinking can happen to the best of us, but we shouldn’t jump to serious conclusions before we have had time to assess the whole situation.
Thinking With A Level Head
During the drive to Tirana, I couldn’t relax at all. Passing numerous police cars on our way there didn’t help either. I think we passed more police on that one drive than we had during the rest of the trip.
Whenever a car came up behind us, I began to get nervous, thinking it would be the local police preparing to pull us over. Despite my negative thoughts, we arrived in Tirana without getting stopped by the police.
A wave of relief washed over me as I got out of the car. I’d never felt happier to reach my destination. After a good night’s sleep, my head was in a better place in the morning. I realised that if we were able to buy insurance in Albania, we’d be fine.
I ate breakfast and went to buy the insurance for the car. Once I got into the insurance booth, it was an easy process and within 10 minutes we had insurance for our vehicle.
While I had legitimate concerns about getting stopped while we drove 3 hours without insurance, we fixed the issue without too much difficulty. A few days later, we drove over the Greek border without any trouble either.
All my worrying about what might and might not happen had been pointless. We got around Albania and into Greece with the minimum of fuss.
Where my concerns legitimate? To an extent, they were. But I wasted a lot of time worrying about what might happen and jumping to conclusions instead of taking things as they come.
We were in a difficult situation, but we didn’t have much control over it. Making catastrophic assumptions did me no good. The fact they did not come to fruition confirms it was a waste of my mental energy.
The worst did not come to pass. Nothing bad happened at all. We were just in an uncomfortable situation for a while, one that we managed to navigate without any trouble.
In essence, that’s what life is. No matter how much we want to make our existence comfortable, there will always be uncomfortable moments. If there aren’t, it could be argued we aren’t living at all.
It’s how we navigate these situations that define us. Do we worry about the endless possibilities that could arise? Do we hide from them and try to avoid discomfort as much possible? Or do we face them head-on, well aware of what might happen?
The answers to these questions will determine the quality of the life you lead. Choose wisely.