Worries, ruminating and negative thoughts- what do you do about them?
Find it hard to control your thoughts, worries and anxiety? Do they take over your life? Do they consume you? Can’t understand why you have them or what to do about them? Do you want to master your emotions? Here’s some advice…..
Worrying is the one symptom with anxiety that can bother people the most – they do not understand how they can have such thoughts that seem so scary and come with such impact. I have heard people say they fear the beginning of O.C.D or that they have awful thoughts about those closest to them, feel that they are ‘going mad’ and that they cannot control these disturbing thoughts or master their emotions, they seem to come without them even thinking them. Well these do have an explanation and these worrying, disturbing thoughts really are just an off-shoot of anxiety.
The reason you seem to have your attention on yourself all day and it feels like there are many thoughts running through your mind is twofold.
1. It is all the confusion about how you feel.
Your mind spends all day looking for answers and trying to find a way out of this hell. Some people may even stay up all night, reflecting on the whole day and trying to figure everything out.
Eventually, thinking just becomes automatic, it becomes a habit. All day, every day, these thoughts seem to enter your head before you even think them. Look at it this way, when people meditate, they stop thinking for hours on end, until it becomes a habit and they can go all day without a worrying thought, which is why they feel so refreshed. Not you, your thoughts just carry on and on and when your mind is tired, like it is now, it grabs hold of every thought pulling them in and making them stick.
2. Why are some thoughts so bad?
When you are in an anxious state, emotions seem to be tenfold, everything magnifies and a little problem becomes massive. Something that you could dismiss when you were healthy, can stick around all day.
Anxiety is really just adrenaline that needs an outlet and this includes manifesting itself into scary, irrational, strange thoughts, they are not important and should just be seen for what they are, anxiety just playing its tricks. Anxious thoughts are totally normal when suffering with anxiety. People ask me. ‘Why do I have all these anxious, scary thoughts?, ‘Because you have anxiety’ is always my answer. It’s a simple response to a simple question.
These are just some of the scary thoughts on anxiety that I have come across. I call them the ‘what if’s!’
- What if no one can cure me?
- What if it’s not anxiety, but a different mental problem?
- What if my old self is lost forever?
- What if there is something else wrong with me, brain tumour etc?
- What if I lose control?
- What if I can’t breathe?
- What if I have to live like this for the rest of my life?
- What if this feeling never goes away?
- What if it’s just me that feels like this?
- What if I’ll never be able to enjoy the things I used to?
- What if I have an attack and pass out?
- What if I cannot be the person I used to be?
You may have said one or two of the above to yourself or recognize a fear you have. Well, I did too; it was always ‘yes, but what if?’ Well, all of these ‘what ifs?’ usually amount to nothing. They prove to be just an overactive mind playing its tricks on you. Thoughts seem to come uninvited and always seem to hold such force when we are anxious. Also, a lack of understanding of anxiety can bring these fears. Like me, you may have gone for a long time without anyone explaining to you why you feel like you do and you may not even have been told that it is anxiety.
Can you see why these fears can build up in people? A lack of understanding of their condition, coupled with the habit of always thinking the worst compounds their fears. Add this to a tired mind that has lost a lot of its resilience, and you have a whole host of ‘what ifs?’.
Some people worry to the extent that they believe everything they feel is life threatening. A headache becomes a brain tumor, a stomach ache can become cancer and so on, and no matter how many times their doctor tells them there is nothing wrong with them, they are never quite convinced.
If this is you, then realize these thoughts are just figments of your imagination, mainly created by your anxious state. Everything becomes magnified when we are anxious. In order to master your emotions, let these thoughts go, don’t react to them and see them as just that, thoughts that carry no weight whatsoever, no matter how loud they shout.
When we try too hard to do ANYTHING, it seems to slip further from grasp. This includes to ridding oneself of unwanted thoughts. The more you “try” to push them away, the longer they linger and the stronger their impact. When we welcome and give room to unwanted thoughts, they lose their significance and quickly diminish. When you impose a false sense of importance upon a thought, it will often appear more serious than it deserves.
So how do we deal with ruminating thoughts and worry?
Your 7 step anti-worry system
- What can I control here?
Think of your life as having 2 circles:
- Circle of influence- contains the things you can do something about
- Circle of concern- full of the things that bother you that you can’t directly influence
We can waste a lot of time and thought bouncing around in the circle of concern. It tends to increase our anxiety levels. Train yourself to take action about the things within your circle of influence. Let go of the things in your circle of concern. This will massively increase your ability to stay centered.
Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by life or you face a particular challenge, draw out these circles and write in them the things that are on your mind. See where each challenge, worry or concern belongs.
- Do what you can about whatever is in your influence
- Accept those things you can’t have an effect on and leave them behind.
The key point is to be in charge of what you decide can be done.
- Take action!
Now you have worked out using the circle of control exercise where you need to focus your mind and energy it is time to take action on ONLY those things in your circle of control.
Ask yourself this simple question: “What can I do here now? Where is the opportunity here?”
Taking action is the mantra that will keep you moving
In any situation where you have a choice or where life is throwing you a curve ball, if you learn to ask yourself; “what is it I can do here?” it opens up the possibility of action. There is nearly always something you can do. Anything more than nothing is something.
See life as it is in that moment, not the disaster your brain is making it out to be nor how you’d like it to be, then take action.
‘It is what it is’ remember!
Now what is the best you can make out of it? Where is the opportunity, what are your choices, what can you do here now?
- Implement the 5-step worry guide to challenge your worries
- What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
- Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
- What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen? If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
- Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
- What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
- Work the problem guide for any stressful situation to help manage your thoughts and worries
If a situation is stressing you, use the following to guide you:
- Write down all the fears you have about what might happen
- Go through each fear and prepare a plan for what you could do if they came true
- Scale the likelihood of each thing happening 1-10
- Go through each one and work out the actions that would reduce the score you have given
- Write down all the possible positives that could arise from this situation
- Go through each one and prepare a plan that would make those positives more likely to happen
- Create some small behaviours you could do each day that, by following them, would most likely lead to the outcome/s you’d like the most
- Change “What if…?” worries to “How can I…?” worries
To be able to manage your worries, you need to understand exactly what they are. Try keeping a worry diary for a week or so. Write down each worry when it occurs – just a sentence to describe it will do. Then later, try and see how many of your worries are “What if…?” type questions. As we mentioned earlier, “What if..?” worries are not helpful. You can try to turn these worries into “How can I…? worries, which is more likely to lead you on to practical solutions.
E.g. you could turn a “What if I forget what to say in my interview?” worry into “How can I prepare myself to remember what I need to say in my interview?”
- Write down your worries in a journal
If an anxious thought or worry comes into your head during the day, make a brief note of it and then continue about your day. Remind yourself that you’ll have time to think about it later, so there’s no need to worry about it right now. Also, writing down your thoughts-on a pad or on your phone or computer-is much harder work than simply thinking them, so your worries are more likely to lose their power. This is especially effective at night when some of us find it hard to switch off or when we are finally alone with our thoughts they tend to go off racing, ruminating and creating anxiety.
- Stay present
Worrying is when we find ourselves focusing on the future and what our brain is making up and predicting, NOT what is true. It is often the case that the majority of our worries and anxiety do not turn into anything at all! What we need to do is bring ourselves back into the present when this happens and refocus on the here and now.
Use the 5-1 sense quick exercise:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can smell
- 2 things you can feel
- 1 thing you can taste
Don’t ever tell yourself that you must not think these thoughts. Let all thoughts come; do not run away from any of them; see them for what they are, just thoughts, exaggerated because of the way you feel. They can do you no harm and they mean nothing. They won’t be around when you recover, so pay them no respect. The best way to alleviate these intrusive thoughts is to allow them their space by NOT trying to force them out.
Why not try following a negative/scary thought through and ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Then ask yourself if it is really going to happen? Is this thought rational in any way? If you do this, you may find an answer to a thought you have been so frightened off, so that next time these thoughts enter your head, deep down inside there will be a part of you that can see them for what they really are and let them go.
I often get asked ‘How do I stop thinking a certain way’, my answer is DON’T try, if it’s not important whether your thoughts are scary or not, why try to stop them, give them their space, this is the way to lose them. Fighting thoughts and trying to rid yourself of them is the wrong approach and a battle you will lose for sure, again you are fighting something that is totally normal in the circumstances. Don’t think you are going crazy or try and fight or change the way you think.
Need some help mastering your anxiety, worry and negative thoughts? Email me at [email protected]