We all experience anxiety at one time or the other and we can have an impact upon how long it will last and how intense it will become. There are basically two types of anxiety: normal anxiety and chronic anxiety. Normal anxiety is what we experience when we are hoping for something or waiting for something but do not see the response coming in the way that we desire or as quickly as we hope. I can also be that we are dreading something that is coming in our lives or that we need to do and thinking about it causes us to be stressed and uncomfortable. Chronic anxiety is a state of mind in which we are always worried about something bad happening or dreading some possible negative outcome at all times. This is a constant state of “expecting the worst” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop”.
We have the power to affect both types of anxiety. Often we can completely eliminate normal anxiety by questioning our thoughts and replacing those thoughts which are unreasonable or untrue with the truth. Chronic anxiety is another matter, although we can question our thoughts even with chronic anxiety. Our thought life is very important to the state of our minds. Healthy minds will generally maintain a state of homeostasis or equilibrium, also known as calm balance and when we experience anxiety our goal is to return to homeostasis. We can do that by questioning our thought life. Analysis of our thoughts helps us to identify why we are where we are and how we got there. It can also help us to question erratic or unhealthy thoughts which have lead us there. Maybe our thinking is flawed or it stems from “voices in our head” from the past. Now I am not alluding to hearing voices, but that critic whom we all have that will often sabotage us with negative or anxious thoughts. We have the power and responsibility to ourselves to quiet them.
Chronic anxiety is less affected by questioning our thoughts because often the person with chronic anxiety recognizes that their thoughts are unreasonable and untrue but feels helpless to control them. Medication can be helpful but questioning those thoughts can often be used in conjunction with medication for the most effective treatment. Medication on its own is not as effective as medication and examining our thought lives. Those with chronic anxiety are often also dealing with the voice of a negative critic. That voice is often a parent or authority figure that was critical or disparaging. When we feel anxiety which tells us that we will fail because we are a failure or that things will never work out in our favor because we never have good things happen to us or we never have good luck.
Any time that you find yourself thinking in absolutes or “black and white thinking”, as we counselors like to call it, question the truth in that thought. No one always fails. No one is always incorrect. No one always has “bad luck”. No one always makes bad decisions. No one always comes up short of their goal. No one always gets bad news. Not all men are bad. Not all women are bad. Not all relationships end badly. Not all people are untrustworthy. Not at people are mean or angry or stupid. Life is not always unfair.
“Black and white thinking” is always a problem because it is always untrue and unreasonable. If you find yourself using it often or at all, question where that comes from. When do you remember first feeling and thinking that way? Often you can trace this thinking back to childhood. Not that we are blaming our parents but most of our conditioning began in childhood and unless we recognize the need to change it, we don’t.
Another effective tool in dealing with anxious thought is to stop the thought before you begin “spiraling” or “going down the rabbit trail”. Spiraling when used in conjunction with the thought life, is when you begin with a negative or anxious thought and your imagination is allowed to run wild and take this thought to its worst possible conclusion. I have often referred to this as “going down the rabbit trail” as it is similar to proceeding in a direction without conscience thought as to the path that you are on. When one negative thought leads to another and so on and so on . . . you can find yourself sinking in anxiety over conclusions that will never take place in reality.
We do have the ability and the responsibility to steward our thoughts. We get to decide which thoughts we allow to live in our minds and take up valuable real estate there. We do not have the ability to control the thoughts that drop into our heads but we do get to decide what stays there and how we process it. Mindfulness practice is helpful in this area. Mindfulness with the thought life is just stopping to be mindful of what you are thinking and why without judgment of yourself for thinking the thought. We need to practice mindfulness often but especially if you find yourself feeling anxious.
• Examine the thought and where it came from.
• Decide if it is true and reasonable.
• Decide if it is something that you want to think on.
• Throw out or replace with something more positive.
Your thoughts determine your words, your words determine your actions and your actions determine your life.