Have you ever experienced that caught-off-guard, hit-by-a-bus, all-consuming anxious moment? It is common to most of us. That feeling of sudden worry about an unrelated issue can leave you unable to think about anything else. Perhaps an earlier issue you thought you got a grip of has returned, or a new fear has cropped up. Your heart sinks and you slip into the nauseous world of anxious thoughts and feelings.
Often it is anticipation about the unknown and not the situation that causes anxiety. A challenge at work or confrontation with a friend are difficult events, but its the reliving and attempting to predict the future that really tear you up. How many fictional outcomes and conversations occur in our mind that never materialize? Often entirely different outcomes occur or a decision to leave it alone resolves everything.
I just had one of these moments. Out of nowhere, on a beautiful fall drive, my thoughts and worries had taken hold of me. An earlier stressful situation had been playing on my mind, but I thought I had processed it enough and decided to let it lie; however, when a new bit of stress came up, the old one also came flooding back in with a vengeance. I was getting consumed by various worries.
Then clarity happened and a decision, THIS IS NOT ON! A kind of “physician heal thyself” moment occurred where I asked, "What would I tell my clients or a friend to do?" With a decision to reject the rumination, I thought about what I should do instead. So, a new path was forged.
First, I remembered to breathe while practicing presence and awareness. It felt good!
Then Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques came to mind, which are full on kryptonite for negative cognitions.
What was really going on here?
What were the chances of it going as horrible as I could imagine?
What would happen if it went this horrible route?
Would it matter to who I am or my perception of myself?
What were the pros and cons to continue to think down this line?
What was my worry providing for me?
Asking questions about the reality of the situation helped me establish clarity. My negative thoughts retreated and broke away.
As it happened, an hour or two later I went trampolining. In enjoying this experience with my daughter I could also reflect on how the negative thoughts and worries were gone and instead I was in the moment, carefree and happy. The following day I topped it off with an amusement ride at fall fair. I usually let my husband do the ride thing, but I just knew that I had to do it this time with all I had processed and, again, enjoyed the hysterical, fun (and very spin-y) abandon. Trampolines or the visiting fair may not be available, but in the moment, enjoyable times are.
David Burns, author of best-selling novel Feeling Good, acknowledges that it is not easy, but states that “when you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.” Using these tips can help you redirect when anxious thoughts take hold. For more pervasive struggles with anxiety, it is always important to seek ongoing help and support.
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