Calming Your Thoughts By Barb Fotsch
Have you ever had someone say to you… “Don’t worry! You just need to face your fears?”
Okay. It’s just that simple…..Well, no, not that simple if you suffer from anxiety. Compared to the middle ages, we obviously don’t face the same dangers but oddly enough, the fight, flight or freeze responses are still with us. We all know what anxiety looks or feels like, at least a little bit.
This article is NOT, however, an explanation of a true anxiety disorder but rather a discussion of symptoms we can reduce for better emotional regulation, that is, to be less reactive, less overwhelmed.
Anxiety becomes a threat when our body reacts as if the danger is real. Most of us may agree…..even in the everyday, our mind creates dangers. Some of us do that through:
All or nothing thinking Jumping to conclusions Personalizing
Labeling and mislabeling Mind reading
Worst case scenario
And so on…do you do any of these? Well….not helpful. As a counselor, I talk with so many clients who suffer from their thoughts – not FACTS – just thoughts which can actually become habits. You may have a back story or narrative that suggests a reason for anxiety to present, but most experts believe it is the present that holds the key. There are daily circumstances that upset us, there always will be….may-be not a pandemic, but life is full of complications. So how do we minimize this disruptive energy of anxious thinking and worry. The following
content offers some very basic techniques to turn down the dial of irrational thinking…..yes, irrational, not based on evidence/facts. Many people who worry, imagine the worst case scenario. If that is you, try this exercise. Write down a worry.
Example: I am not good at my job
What’s the best case scenario? I get feedback from the boss that my work is excellent
What’s the worst case? I get fired
What’s likely to happen? I get both compliments and suggestions
The point here is obvious….worst case scenario is unlikely, so counter your thoughts with something more likely to happen.
I can’t go to the party with my hair like this–everyone will notice me. Example: My hair looks messy, but everyone will be too occupied with other
things to notice. Even if they do notice, I doubt they would care. I won’t be able to finish the project by the end of the week.
I can’t face my sister. She’s going to yell at me for forgetting the dessert.
Other simple techniques to try:
Stay in the present
Learn/use mindfulness skills. Be aware of your thoughts & emotions in the moment without judgement. (Kabat-Zin, J. Full Catastrophic Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind. NY:Delacorte)
Use self affirming thoughts
Don’t sit with negative thoughts, they are not helpful. Move on; use self validations
Create a distraction plan
Pay attention to your senses: smell, sight, hearing, taste, touch. This can be done in the moment at home or away from home. The only requirement is awareness
Exercise. Learn effective breath work and relaxation techniques Imagine alternative outcomes to your fears
Remind yourself of prior successes in similar situations
Challenge your thoughts if you overestimate negative outcomes. The thing is…..only YOU can control your thoughts, so this requires effort and investment on your part.
Anxiety symptoms will NOT make you go CRAZY. Symptoms will disappear and they are controllable. The suggestion here is – lean into it. Worries are part of the landscape and we can
get past the tough patches. You Got This!