As I was getting ready to leave for vacation, this article appeared in my feed: Why You Should Always Take a Photo of Your Stove Before You Go on Vacation. In referencing a lifehacker tip, it tells people that taking pictures of your stove will give you peace of mind later when you wonder whether or not you’d left the stove on.
I dismissed the article, but within 24 hours of getting back to the office, 2 clients mentioned seeing it. They were glad they hadn’t seen this type of advice when they were struggling or early in treatment for their obsessive compulsive disorder.
Taking pictures of anything before going on vacation is a terrible idea for many reasons. Even if you feel you “can control it,” I advise against it for 5 key reasons.
1. You create a harmful association.
When you take pictures of these things, you’re creating a mental association that says in order to relax, you need to check your picture to make sure the oven is off. But what if you start to wonder about the toaster, burners, flat iron, curling iron, blow dryer, refrigerator, or treadmill? Are you going to take pictures of these items too?
2. You teach your brain to attach to other worries.
Since brains learn by association, your brain may then attach to other worries. Did you lock your front door? Back door? Side door? Are you going to take pictures of those? What about the windows? At home? At the office? And on and on and on.
When we engage with the worry, we feed that worry, be it by looking at a photo, actually checking or mentally checking by replaying the memory.
3. Certainty is a feeling, not a fact.
Thinking a photo will give you a guarantee that nothing bad will happen while you’re gone is treating certainty like a fact. It’s not. It’s a feeling. The more we become comfortable with discomfort and honor life’s inherent uncertainty, the less likely we are to be triggered by it.
4. You may make travel “stickier” for worry.
Martin Seif Ph.D. ABPP and Sally Winston Psy.D. coined the phrase “sticky” in reference to thoughts that feel so urgent and important (even when they’re not) that they don’t go away.
Because travel is stressful, at least on some level, for nearly everyone, you may feel more anxious and notice more worry thoughts. This doesn’t mean, however, those thoughts are true, but they may be more intense, frequent and last longer if you’re jacked up.
You may be more vulnerable to believing those anxious feelings about the stove not being off are “signs” that you didn’t actually turn it off. Consulting the picture becomes essential.
Oh, and more than likely, you have more one picture because you can’t trust just one angle. I’ve had clients with literally thousands of pictures in their “vacation folder,” and, even then, it didn’t feel enough when they were really anxious.
5. You won’t be able to “just try it.”
If you’re actually taking pictures, you probably struggle with excessive worry or maybe an anxiety disorder. Getting help in learning how to accept the uncertainty and enjoy your vacation is a much better plan. There’s a larger anxiety process happening for you.
While learning how to act with uncertainty sounds impossible, especially if you’re already engaging in rituals designed to give you that elusive guarantee, it’s not. Cognitive behavior therapy can teach it to you.
Contingency living is what I call it when we need X before we can do Y. It’s needing a picture before you can travel. Learning to stop worrying and start living is a much better way to go. Let me know if I can help you.