Life-changing steps to overcome stressful and anxious thoughts.
October 25, 2019
Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog on Anxiety, and it has been the most read and discussed post I have written to date. (Link to Anxiety: Let’s Talk About It.) I am thankful you have found it informational and that it has created momentum in raising awareness to those struggling with mental health issues. That was precisely my intention! There was a lot of feedback on the article I linked which presented that a majority of our young people report overwhelming anxiety from time to time. Because of this, I wanted to add more to the topic of Anxiety and share with you a personal story. There is good news on how to take on Anxiety! It does require some rumbling. We want to have the fire within us, yet it needs us to take control and be it’s Master.
In today’s post, I am inviting you to get a glimpse of our family story and to learn the steps Drew; my oldest son uses to overcome his Anxiety. Drew and I had a phenomenal conversation about his Anxiety while hiking in Colorado this past week. Drew has given me his permission to share with you that he had to overcome significant anxiety when he was a Junior at Colorado School of Mines. His engineering program is embedded with pressure and there was a slow build-up of stress that became unbearable, and this is when he learned life-changing tools!
Coping skills to handle life’s difficulties are not taught to prepare young people these days (or any of us for that matter). We are not trained that most of our thoughts are fleeting and we don’t have to believe all of the nonsense that runs through our mind. We live in a society that glorifies immediate gratification and escaping the unpleasant and difficult challenges in our lives, so we look for easy fixes. Some of us may even overdo and try harder to perfect what we feel is lacking in order to avoid the pain of disappointment.
Learning key tools to slow down, take a step back and view our thoughts with an objective point of view will quickly dissolve automatic negative thinking patterns. This is mindfulness in action! Pain and disappointment are part of life and we are meant to experience all of the emotions of being human, yet we often look for ways to avoid the discomfort. When we work through difficult feelings and challenging situations this is how we strengthen our mental and emotional resiliency. Knowing that the tough times won’t last, we develop mental agility and let go of the, “I will never get over this” thinking. Ultimately, fear and panic based expectations lose their power when you understand that what you may be facing now, will not be what you experience tomorrow, next week, or even an hour from now. Have you been kept awake in the night ruminating over a problem, only to have woken up in the morning and somehow it doesn’t seem to be so daunting? Even the pain that we endure through the most devastating experiences will ease with time.
I have found two articles that are great resources for dealing with anxiety. Three Ways to Help your Stressed Out Teenager and a Mindfulness and Meditation Guide for Anxiety. Both are from website Mindful.org, an overall excellent source for enhancing mental and emotional well-being.
Steps for Calming the Anxious Mind
Creating the space, to step back and question the truth of anxious thoughts can halt the progression of a negative thinking pattern.
Anxiety is considered to be excessive energy in the mind that can cause mental and physical symptoms that make it difficult to function. If you are highly symptomatic (see post on anxiety symptoms) it is so important to get out of the head. Use this exercise to ground yourself and diffuse this excessive mental energy by bringing it down into the body.
Use the sensations of the body to bring yourself to the present moment and find ease. Sit in a relaxed manner, ideally on the firm ground or solid chair. Notice what is supporting you from underneath your body. Begin to breathe and notice the inhales and exhales. Hold awareness on your breath, feel the belly rise and fall. Rather than think about the breath, feel and embody the breath. Now bring your awareness to the sensations of the feet, the sensations of the hands, and the sensations of the belly. Spend a few moments noticing one of these aspects of the body that you are finding grounding. This connection to the body will help you to loosen the grip of negative thoughts, so you can gain insight into the underlying cause of worry and anxiety.
These are the steps that Drew uses to take control of his automatic negative thought patterns (ANTs):
Step #1: Name the ANT (Automatic Negative Thought).
Naming the emotion or state will diffuse it. Anxiety, fear, self-doubt, sadness, etc. Or stating that you are aware that you are thinking; “I am worried I can’t handle this,” “I’m not capable of this,” or “I’ll never get this done on time,” are examples of naming the thought. When we choose to avoid addressing what is causing our feelings of distress, it just perpetuates or even escalates the problem. By trusting ourselves to take a look at the thought or emotion and label it will significantly disempower the underlying cause. An important note here, do not ask yourself why you are thinking and feeling this way. Just Name it!
Step #2: Test and Question the Thought.
Is this thought true? What exactly is true about this thought? If you are unsure and this is causing the anxiety, then it means that your thought has been unproven to be true! We are often the creator of our own negative stories, and so very good at believing our own nonsense.
Step #3: What do you want to think?
Drew catches himself in his automatic thoughts and quickly asks himself, “what do I want to think.” He has worked with the responses that make sense to him and has them at the ready. Frontload your response to these automatic thought patterns. Statements such as, “No, I got this.” Or ask yourself, “How can I do this task to my capability?” Stressing the MY, not according to other’s abilities. Other examples; “I tend to work slower yet my results are always strong, ” “Do what you can manage, one step at a time.”
Step #4: Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Because most anxious thoughts are so automatic, these steps need to be used diligently to counter and rewire the brain and reactivity patterns.
When the immediate symptoms of anxiety such as; racing thoughts, overwhelm, and physical tension are under control and you still are having a difficult time taking the action you need to move forward:
Play the opposites – This technique was new to me, yet my son uses this to really rise above the self-critic that may be holding him back. For instance, if you are feeling unmotivated and your automatic thoughts tell you to stay inside and watch Netflix all day, do the opposite! Get out and move your body! Physically moving changes your physiology and will provide you with a dramatic shift in energy and confidence. An example that works for me is that when I feel disconnected from friends or family, rather than feeling sorry for myself, I do the opposite and connect. Calling someone to go for a run or chatting with a friend I haven’t talked with for a while, I immediately feel better. Doing this kind of opposite action pushes you outside of the behavior that shuts you down. It is another form of retraining ineffective reactivity patterns.
These steps help you to Respond rather than React.
We all deserve to live our best life, and sometimes that can take hard work! The self-inquiry process and effort to use these tools are so worth it. We are so proud of Drew for his honesty and courage to share his story. He was so happy to describe these steps to show how impactful and life-changing they have been for him and how they can help others as well!