“Don’t believe every worried thought you have. Worried thoughts are notoriously inaccurate.”
— Renee Jain
If you’re prone to experiencing anxiety, like me, chances are your mind is your greatest enemy.
When you’re faced with a situation that has the potential to provoke your anxiety, it’s easy to start to imagine the worst or start to self-blame to the extent that the anxiety symptoms become magnified within mere seconds.
If you really want to manage your anxiety, you must be quick in catching your own self-destructive thoughts, as well as adept in transforming these negative thoughts into more positive, facilitative ones.
How to Deal with Unhelpful Thoughts
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is a school of psychotherapy that states that if you want to manage negative thoughts, you have to consciously exert the effort to stop the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. To do this, you need to employ the 3C strategy: cease, calm, change.
Step One: Cease
The first step for managing unhelpful thoughts is to actively, and consciously stop thinking the negative thoughts. The best way that you can stop focusing on the negative thoughts is to find a way to distract yourself.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive; after all, wouldn’t controlling the runaway thoughts be better than not thinking about them at all? The keyword in this question is a runaway. Think about it this way; if an old-fashioned wooden cart is rolling down a hill toward you, it isn’t likely that you’ll stop it by standing in front of it; it will knock you down and keep going, and you’ll be worse for the wear. A more practical example would be to try not to think of a pink elephant. For those with anxiety, that elephant will start to push harder and harder into the mind until it is literally all they can think about. To stop thinking of the pink elephant, you need to try to divert your attention to something else. This distraction will work to derail the power of that overwhelming thought and give you the chance to regain control of your mental processes.
So, the question becomes, how can you distract yourself? A highly recognized technique is to snap a rubber band against your wrist when you start to think unhelpful thoughts. The sharp shock of the rubber band hitting your skin can effectively divert your attention. Another method that you can try is to engage in something physical, like jumping up and down, snapping your fingers in a complicated rhythm, or breaking into song. You might even try shifting your focus to a comical or strange image.
Step Two: Calm
When you can break free of the frantic emotional cycle, your thoughts become your own once again. At this point, the thoughts that you want are calming ones. In previous articles shared on this blog, you
discovered several techniques that you can use to gain instant calm and begin to think more clearly. Basic stress-management skills, include, listening to calming music, breathing exercises, and visualizing being in a peaceful location. If you are religious, you might find that prayer or meditation can help. Let yourself surrender your worries and frustrations, trusting that you will be guided and given strength.
“Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health.”
— Dalai Lama
Step Three: Change
The last step for dealing with unhelpful thoughts is to transform the negative thoughts into positive ones deliberately. This is a process known as reframing, where you actively change the perspective on a situation so that you can see another angle that you might not have thought about before.
For example, if thinking that you might lose your job over a small mistake activates your anxiety, then you can try, instead, to think about all the possible reasons that your employer would want to keep you.
If you think that you are a failure, try thinking about how you have learned from your past mistakes, particularly the times when that learning has led to success. Perhaps you worry that you can’t please everyone all of the time, but can you really think of someone who can?
Understanding Your Feelings
So far, we’ve discussed how thoughts can increase the anxiety that you feel. However, feelings also play a significant role in the degree of your anxiety symptoms and getting in touch with your feelings is as important as getting a handle on your thoughts.
Feelings refer to subjective experiences of emotions, like happiness, anger, sadness, joy, and fondness. There are even more subjective notions like the feeling of being “trapped” or feeling lost. It is difficult to define what a feeling is, and it is perhaps for this reason that so many people tend to ignore their feelings in favor of thoughts or other, more objective observations.
For example, if you ask a group of people how they feel, they’ll often reply with non-feeling descriptions, like “everything will be fine,” or “I think I’m going to be all right.” There is a pronounced tendency to discount and ignore feelings. Many factors can contribute to this phenomenon. A lot of which can be attributed to childhood experiences.
If you were raised to think that “big girls don’t cry,” you may find that your experiences of sadness or loss as an adult are uncomfortable. If you were taught that expressing anger or disapproval in any way, no matter how mild, is inappropriate, leaving you to never learning how to assert your personal preferences or express your anger appropriately.
If at any age, you experienced ridicule for expressing emotion, there is a strong likelihood that you would resist sharing your emotions with anyone in the future.
Realizing Feelings Are Neither Right or Wrong
Feelings are amoral, meaning they are neither right or wrong. They also come without warning; you don’t choose to get upset, you simply become upset. You can’t be blamed for what you feel, for something you don’t rationally control. The only thing that can be judged is how you react to those feelings. It isn’t what you feel, but how you handle those feelings that make the difference.
You can feel outraged over an incident, but expressing that outrage with violence is not appropriate in most situations. Actions made in the heat of the moment are not typically the best course of action that you can take.
Unfortunately, anxiety often overcomes rational thinking. For that reason, it isn’t good to rush into any course of action when you are in the midst of an anxiety attack. What’s even more important is that you remember that you are allowed to feel anything.
You are no more “wrong” to feel anxious than you are to feel angry, happy, or sad. Knowing this might be able to help prevent you from blaming yourself for the anxiety that you suffer from. While the stormy emotion is unpleasant, allowing it to flow through you and waiting it out is often the best way to get rid of it.
Recognizing Your Feelings
One way that you can know what you’re feeling is utilizing a technique known as journaling, where you create a diary of all the emotions that you are experiencing.
Journaling is an excellent way of venting so that you aren’t bothered as much. All you have to do is write out exactly what you are feeling, without editing.
The more authentic your journaling, the more effective the process will be for you.
To get the most out of your journal, you’ll want to read back over what you’ve written periodically. The journal may help you to uncover patterns, see connections between stimuli and emotions, and provide you with more insight into how much control you have gained over your anxiety.
Reading how you were able to overcome previous anxiety attacks, you start to realize that when you are in the grip of a new attack, that things won’t look so bad in a few minutes and that you don’t have to give into the panicked feelings.
The 3C strategy is helping many women like yourself, manage their anxiety by identifying and coping with their feelings. I encourage you to use this technique for yourself and watch the amazing results!
“If we wanted to change the situation, we first had to change ourselves. And to change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”
— Stephen Covey
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