3 steps toward overcoming anxious thoughts

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Do you ever lose yourself in daydreams that feel more like nightmares because they take you to the worst possible outcomes of each imagined situation? For example, you think of your child walking home from school and imagine him or her being hit by a car; you think of your bank account balance becoming lower, and you imagine yourself sleeping homeless on the street; you consider going out to an event with some friends and imagine people pointing and sniggering at you. These are examples of anxious thoughts that pull us into a fear-based version of a potential future. The intensity and frequency of such thoughts can change with the overall level of stress and fear in our lives.

There are several reasons for having such experiences, but the main one is that subconsciously, we are expecting only bad things to come our way. Whether we believe that we don’t deserve something positive or we are in a highly stressful state and are simply expecting “the other shoe to drop,” our expectation is only of something negative. Anticipation of bad things creates an intense state of fight or flight, which is a highly suggestible state. This means that our rational thinking shuts down to such an extent, that we will believe almost anything that is presented (or suggested) to us. And, of course, our brain doesn’t present anything positive to us at that point because we don’t expect positive things to come our way, so we are stuck reviewing only negative potential outcomes, and we begin to believe in them and react to them.

To give you an analogy, imagine that you put on a virtual reality headset to play a game. You happen to be feeling nervous because maybe it is the first time you are trying this game or because you are too anxious to do better than your friends. Whatever the reason, the game is set up to present scenarios to you depending on your vital signs – let’s say, if your heart rate is below a certain number, it will provide you with a positive next step; if it’s above that number, it will provide a negative one. As you put the headset on, you step into a new “reality.” You see yourself in a new place, facing new objects, interacting with new people. It seems real enough, and you allow yourself to accept it and deal with whatever circumstances are presented to you. Of course, because of your elevated heart rate, you immediately begin to encounter sad and scary circumstances, and because you are fully immersed in what you experience, your mind and body fully respond to that experience – your heart rate goes even higher, your chest tightens, your breathing becomes uneven, you may begin to shake or cry or experiencing other feelings and sensations. In other words, you just lost yourself in the negative virtual reality experience that is playing in the headset. What is the best way to stop it? It seems easy – take off the headset.

But what should we do when these thoughts are playing out in our heads without any game devices? Do the same thing. First, become aware of the “virtual reality” show happening in your head. In other words, remind yourself that you are watching a potential world created on the screen of your mind. You are NOT actually living in this world. Awareness is the first step in any transformation. Without awareness, you are simply lost in the virtual reality of your mind. Second, “take the headset off” or interrupt the program. Step out of the reality you were just observing or, put simply, snap out of it. Whatever horrible, sad, no good, terrible visions you were having in your mind, simply stop their flow by bringing your attention to your present real moment. Notice where you are, what you are doing, what you are wearing, the sounds you hear around you, and how your body feels. Ground yourself back into the present moment distinguishing it from what you were experiencing in your mind. And third, remind yourself that your brain is selectively presenting to you only negative outcomes, but you can change that. Select a positive outcome and play it out in your mind. For example, see your child walking through the door with a smile, see yourself making a big deposit into your bank, or see yourself having a wonderful time with your friends. Notice how those experiences feel and allow your mind and your body to respond to them.

Anxiety is treatable. Try these simple steps to interrupt the movies that play in your mind. Become an active creator of your reality and of your state of mind.

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