In trying times, the “What if?” potential can be overwhelming. We don’t always know how things will end up, and the worry of having a loss of control can cause sleepless nights, relationship strain and ill health.
Is thinking positive enough?
Although optimistic thinking has been shown in research to be beneficial to living a happy and healthy life, sometimes “thinking positive” is not enough. Worry and Anxiety have purpose; to alert your nervous system that danger may be nearby. Ignoring anxiety is rarely the answer to make it go away.
Meet the angry tiger
Allow me to paint you a picture : Tom and Jemima are our characters. Tom tells Jemima that an angry, hungry tiger is running toward her. Jemima says “Don’t be silly, there’s no need to worry about a very large, salivating, teeth baring tiger running at 4okm p/hour toward us…” Would it be enough to calm Tom’s sense of worry? Of course not.
When anxiety shows up, you are Jemima and your nervous system is Tom. Ignoring Tom doesn’t make the tiger go away. In fact, it makes the fear larger, because now Tom (aka your nervous system) has to worry about the tiger AND the fact that Jemima is not doing anything to acknowledge the tiger….
Notice and Acknowledge
The first step in dealing with worry is to NOT put it aside. Remember, your nervous system is sending a message, in the form of anxious sensation, that something’s not right. Ignoring the message will only prolong the sense of fear, and may even increase it.
One strategy I’ve found useful with clients is to set aside some time to make a list of worries and concerns. If anxiety follows you wherever you go, you can be a smarter Jemima and acknowledge the tiger.
This video, from the 4o Day Planner Challenge, hosted at Institute for Self Crafting, discusses the strategy of making a Worry List. Some of the video makes more sense in the context of the series it came from, but the essence of the Worry List, and defending Procrastination are both valid to the discussion of tools for anxiety.
Question your automatic response
Our physiology is linked to an amazing high-speed computer that makes fast processing decisions based on things that have happened before.
Once your nervous system has made a decision, in Tom’s case that the tiger was coming and very dangerous, it is difficult to break away from the response without challenge.
What Tom didn’t know, but Jemima did, was that there was a 4 inch plexi glass protective barrier between them and the running beast (aka some other information).
Thoughtwork as a tool for anxiety
In this renewed picture, Jemima (you) was able to give Tom (your nervous system) more information and relieve the fear of the tiger (down regulate the flight or fight response).
Jemima had new information that she could provide to Tom BUT it would be no use without first acknowledging Tom’s worry.
Thoughtwork is the name therapists use for the strategy of challenging the thoughts a person is having, whether it is realistic or not. For our characters and the tiger, Tom was seemingly reacting to a valid concern, but once Jemima interrupts Tom’s story of danger (thoughtwork), they can both relax in knowing that they are safe.
Questions for Thoughtwork
Challenging your thoughts require you to acknowledge them, then question the stories that are running your show (aka, getting more info about the tiger and the plexi glass).
Some questions that may be useful include :
- What are you worried about?
- How likely is it that your worry will come true?
- Where’s the evidence?
- What information could you be missing?
- If your worry comes true, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
- If your worry comes true, what’s the best thing that could happen?
- If your worry comes true, what’s most likely to happen?
- Is this rational (based on logic) or irrational (not logical)?
- What are the chances that you’ll be okay? Tomorrow? In a week? In a month? In a year?
When the tiger bangs on the window : Breathe
After you’ve come to acknowledge your anxiety, and you’ve got a sense of what’s true and what’s not, the tiger could still be on the other side of the glass. Whenever you turn around, it could still be there, and your nervous system may require some reminders to know that the danger is not really real.
If you’ve already labelled and listed your worries, now when they show up again through the day, acknowledge them with a cycle of 3-in-6-out breathing.
It takes challenging the current paradigm to break that cycle. Ignoring Tom’s message wouldn’t be enough, because Tom needed reinforcement to know that actually, they really were safe.
It’s okay to seek help
Sometimes, even when we know the tiger is behind the glass, the fear may still continue to overwhelm us. Each of us have our own unique experiences and events that contribute to responses, based on the past, the present and a perceived future.
We can be so stuck in our own story that we may need help to get the most out of Thoughtwork. Having a third party with a different perspective can be very useful to find new clarity. A therapist can take that role.
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The article Tools for Anxiety was published by Hollie, for Braidwood Holistic Therapies.
Feel free to share this article with your friends, by using the url : https://braidwoodholistic.com.au/anxiety/.
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