All modern vehicles have a check engine light. A malfunction indicator lamp that flashes a of an engine, alerting the driver of serious troubles like low oil pressure, potential overheating, catalytic converter issues, emissions problems or an imminent breakdown.
This light can be a lifesaver. It can help drivers erase a major problem before it becomes one.
Of course, sometimes the light simply means a loose gas cap. Or a sudden change in humidity. Or a minor sensor problem. Or a couple of hungry mice that got under the hood and chewed on the wires.
These examples are known as false triggers, in which the dashboard mistakenly interprets the car sensor readings as being more severe than they really are. And so, there’s no need for panic. There’s no need to skid onto the shoulder. And there’s no need to spend the whole day at the dealership.
The goal is to be aware of it. Even thankful for it. And instead of slapping a piece of black tape over the light, taking action promptly, thus keeping the issue from potentially escalating down the road.
That’s how I feel about my anxiety. It’s like the check engine light of my psychological engine. And every time it flashes, I remind myself not to panic. Because odds are, there aren’t any serious, systemic issues that need to be triaged immediately.
It’s just an early warning sign. An invitation to notice what my body is trying to tell me. An opportunity to nip the anxiety in the bud, lest it morphs into an actual problem.
You’re not having an existential crisis, you just need more air conditioning.
I’m reminded of the time I got into a fender bender at a stoplight. Nobody was hurt, everybody had insurance, and the cars were mildly dented. No problem, right?
Then I left the country for a month. And by the time I got home, I had forgotten all about my little accident. And every time that check engine light illuminated, it just ignored it and went back to singing car karaoke.
Fast forward to a few months later, I was driving down the highway a hot summer day, when the dashboard suddenly burst into flames. Smoke filled the car. The steering wheel locked. And the engine defaulted into automatic shutdown mode. Not good.
Miraculously, I was able to swerve over to the side of the road in time. I stumbled out of the car in a cloud of smoke and phoned roadside assistance. By the time the tow truck arrived, the smoke had died down and the car was fine. Although the driver was still a bit terrified.
Once we arrived at the body shop, the mechanic told me that the coolant had overheated and damaged the radiator. When I asked him what might have caused it, he asked if the car had been in any accidents in the past few months.
Shit. The fender bender. Coming back to haunt me. Forgot all about it.
And of course, the mechanic scratched his head and asked, but didn’t your check engine light ever come on?
Lesson learned, sometimes the light is a false trigger, and sometimes it really is an early warning sign.
But both signals deserve our attention.
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