Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Anxious thoughts happen to all of us at various times in our lives. Sometimes we are able to dismiss an anxious thought or see it objectively without believing them or getting caught up in them, but other times it can be much easier said than done. I know personally how challenging it can be to calm anxious thoughts in my own life as well as in my work. As a clinical therapist and coach, I work every day with people with anxiety and high stress. One of the most important messages that can help put those thoughts into perspective is to remember: Just because I think it, does not make it true.
Often, when we get caught up in our anxious thoughts, we are not able to separate ourselves from the thought itself. We believe that because we are thinking it that it must be true. The reality is, we think a lot of things that are not true or helpful.
If I asked you to close your eyes right now and imagine yourself as a professional basketball player. Picture yourself out on the court, dribbling the ball and making a three point shot. Can you play out a scenario where you score the winning basket for your team? Now open your eyes.
Are you really a professional basketball player? No? But you thought you were? Why isn’t it true?
Being able to recognize that our anxious thoughts are often as unrealistic as thinking that we are professional basketball players can be a first step toward calming anxious thoughts.
Ask yourself what is the evidence supporting the anxious thought being true? What is the evidence that it is not true?
Next, ask yourself if something is the thought is probable vs possible. When a bad event or fear is “possible” we mistake it for being “probable.” That distinction is important to recognize. Lots of scenarios are possible, but not probable. Can you more realistically identify how probable your anxious thought really is?
Looking at our thoughts without getting caught in them can take practice. Mindful breathing is a great way to start. A simple exercise I use is to close my eyes, take a deep breath through my nose and then blow the breath out through my mouth as I picture myself blowing out an imaginary candle. Repeat at least 10 times.
Practicing mindful breathing a little bit each day can help you observe your thoughts as they come up without pushing the thoughts away or trying to hold on to or grasping the thoughts. By focusing on breathing you can learn how to just observe them as they come up without getting caught up in them. Start slow with simple practices you can do right on your phone with some of my favorite mindfulness apps like calm, headspace or insight timer.