Anxious thoughts are debilitating. They sap your energy, control your actions and wreck your wellbeing. Fear, anxiety and worry are detrimental to your health. They are the cause of stress and stress-related illnesses. Anxiety keeps you locked in to an unending spiral of negativity which eventually leads to depression. Learn to deal with anxious thoughts as soon as you become aware of them.
In a recent post we talked about surrendering control; allowing what is to simply be without attempting to micromanage every aspect of life. But what if you are being held hostage by your own anxious thoughts? How can you possibly let go?
First of all, there is a difference between anxiety thinking, which happens at any time, and the real fear that you feel when in a dangerous situation. Real fear will save your life. The adrenaline pumping, no-thought, fear which forces you to run, fight or take some kind of avoiding action is natural. That isn’t what we’re talking about here. The fearful thinking that causes long-term damage is a habit. It’s also one you can learn to break.
Anxious Thoughts are Habitual
- “I’m worried about him/her/them.”
- “I wake feeling anxious.”
- “I don’t know why I feel so scared all the time.”
- “I keep expecting the worst.”
- “I worry about the future.”
- “What if I lose my job?”
- “Things are all right now but what if it all goes wrong?”
- “We don’t have enough money”
- “I’m stressed all the time.”
- “They judge me.”
- “I’m not good enough.”
- “I wish I could turn the clock back.”
- “I made bad decisions.”
- “What if I make a fool of myself?”
- “I can’t.”
These non-specific thoughts are called General Anxiety Disorder. There’s no real reason for them. Sometimes they are based on past events; more often they are stories that you make up – ‘what ifs’. The worrier takes the current circumstance and builds a worse-case scenario of all the things that could go wrong. This becomes the focus of their thoughts and they are unable to let go or get out of the negative thinking cycle. Anxious thoughts become a habit.
You Can’t Control Anxiety
“Pull yourself together,” you tell yourself. You know you are worried about nothing and you make a determined effort to control your thoughts. The more you try to control them, the more they control you. You begin to worry that you can’t control them therefore there must be something wrong with you. Something else to worry about. You see how it goes?
So you try yoga, meditation, psychotherapy… and they work for a little while. You use techniques to calm your mind and reach for a little peace. But those old habits creep back in. You hardly even notice them until you realize that you are stressed over a minor problem again. You haven’t controlled your thinking so you must be a failure. Or so you think.
Anxiety Thoughts Keep You Separated
Some will share their worries and receive temporary reassurance by doing that. Others keep their thoughts locked inside. This causes separation and difficulty making connections with others. You can’t be yourself when you are being eaten up by worry.
Life isn’t perfect. Difficulties arise: illness, death, debt, accidents, and so on. Life is unpredictable. However bad it is though, there are always positive possibilities to be happy. Worrying about all the bad stuff prevents us seeing the good in the moment.
Let’s say your husband just came home and told you his company is closing. Completely out of the blue, nobody saw it coming. What will you do? There aren’t any jobs around at the moment. Panic sets in. This is a completely normal and understandable reaction. As a little time passes, the non-worrier begins to feel better. There are opportunities – sure you might have to move, or retrain, or set up a business. There are things that can be done. The worrier can’t do that. They are mired in despair, fear and victim-mentality. They can’t see any opportunities. They keep themselves separated from possibilities by their own anxious thoughts.
How to Let Go of Anxious Thoughts
First of all, dismiss the idea that you must control or suppress your thoughts. Way too much hard work. You can also forget all that good advice, such as:
- Distract yourself – this will work sometimes, but as soon as they have the chance, those thought-habits will be back.
- Think positive – probably the most annoying advice ever. Perhaps being told to ‘cheer up’ is worse.
- Get peaceful – how can you get to a state of feeling peaceful if you have all these worries churning around in your mind?
What you have to do is deal with the thoughts one at a time. This is how to do it:
Observe Your Thoughts
Be the observer of the thought. It’s funny isn’t it? You can think a thought but somewhere there is another part of you noticing the thought. Try it. Count to ten in your mind. Visualize or mentally say the numbers. Behind that counting thought, there’s another part ‘watching’ you do it. So when you catch yourself thinking anxiously, be that observer, rather than the thinker.
When you become the observer, you realize that the anxious thought is not you. It’s just a thought that came in. As you observe it, the thought melts away. Let the thoughts come, and easily let them go like clouds dissipating in a blue sky.
As the thought melts away, so does the anxiety attached to it. You have surrendered to your own well-being.
Of course, this is no instant cure-all. It will work in the moment, but your job is to continue to observe and let go, observe and let go. Each time you do this, you become more centered, grounded and sure of yourself. Every time you let go, your anxiety lessens.
You are Not a Bad Person
You are not deficient, or bad, or a hopeless case for being worried or thinking anxious thoughts. You are a human being living a human experience. You have had years of practice at worrying. It’s not going to disappear overnight.
Let the thoughts arise. Notice them and acknowledge them. You can say to yourself, “I acknowledge you, Thought, but I’m busy right now so I’ll give you my attention later.” And let it go. Each time, “I’ll think about that later.” The chatterer in your head, your ego, is satisfied and turns its attention to something else. If it is another worry, rinse and repeat until you reach a state of peace.
You have found your natural resilience and it didn’t take too much effort, did it?