WHAT, ME WORRY?
This is the explanation and advice I give to just about every patient I have seen complaining of anxiety.
Remember that when you feel anxious, that anxious thoughts will come to you and create more anxiety. It’s an automatic Feeling-Thought cycle, and unfortunately, it’s just how the mind works. Whatever emotion you are feeling at that time, your mind will create thoughts that are completely consistent with that emotion, and those fearful thoughts will appear even more real when your mind and body are experiencing that fear and alarm. In essence, the feeling gives rise to the thought and also gives it the sense that it is real, which is a powerful double whammy! This contrasts with the truth, which is that your anxious thoughts only became real the instant you believed them. Anxious thoughts are only a mind created prediction and projection of the future. Anxious thoughts are always future based, they are never about what is happening now.
So, if anxious thoughts are all future based “what ifs?” and anxiety is just anxious thoughts, why does it hurt? Well, anxiety doesn’t hurt. Anxiety, the way I look at it, is just anxious thoughts, and thoughts can only hurt you if you believe them. I know this sounds flippant, but realize that I have suffered deeply by believing my anxious, future based thoughts, and I’ve found a way out. I have been worried sick many, many times and it is important you understand that you are not sick, you just have an exaggerated protective reflex. At some level part of you believes that worry is protective, and that keeps you trapped. Worry, is anxiety, is anxious thoughts, and the trap is that you believe the thoughts that you “think” are protecting you. But they are doing just the opposite.
Anxiety is not a disease, it is just worry, and worry is just an exaggerated protective reflex. Human beings have a bias towards fear as this helped us survive when we could be a meal for a predator. In our history, it was crucial to constantly monitor the environment for potential threats, and those threats were almost always physical and external. It is a stark contrast that the threats we face today, are mental and internal. It’s hard to imagine a cave man worried about if he looked fat in his deerskin, or if he should get his prostate checked, just as we have a hard time fearing being eaten by a tiger if we live in Detroit.
In we anxious folks, that hyper-vigilance, the constant scanning for threats, can suck the life out of life. It’s important to remember that the mind is just trying to protect you by warning you of a possible danger ahead, but the “what if” thoughts often become a habit in an attempt to protect ourselves. However, its equally important to remember your thoughts are only reflections of how you are feeling at that time you have those thoughts. The thoughts are always projections from your painful (usually childhood) experience. The anxious thoughts are rarely, if ever, true reflections of what is actually happening NOW. You don’t have to believe them. I love the T-shirt that says, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think!”
Anxiety, at its core, is just your ego trying to protect you by “warning” you. But crazily, (is crazily even a word?) in trying to protect you from fearful things it gives you fearful thoughts. As your mind has a difficult time differentiating what is just a thought and what is happening, your thoughts can hurt when you believe them! As you become weakened by the constant alarming thoughts, your mind struggles to control its environment by, guess what? Giving you more anxious thoughts! This creates a devastating cycle of fearful thoughts > more fear > more fearful thoughts. These are only thoughts, and they only have the meaning that you give them. If you don’t give them any meaning they won’t have any power over you. You can say to yourself “this is just a thought and it only has the meaning that I decide to give it”. Saying “this only has the meaning I give it” can be a mantra. If you do accept the thought and give it a scary meaning it will gain strength. If you become SEPARATE from it and you are able to see it is only a thought – then you can give yourself the empowering choice to decide whether or not you want to give it access to emotion or not. If you do give the thought credibility and access to emotion it will get stronger, but if you don’t give it access to emotion – by just seeing thoughts as a desperate attempt at controlling the future as a by-product of your anxious mind, “brain droppings”, if you will, – it starves without emotional energy, then weakens and fades away. Anxious thoughts need emotion to hurt, and the only way to add emotion is to add belief.
As the emotional energy of the thoughts drops without the power of belief, the whole alarm – anxious thoughts cycle is broken. Granted, this is easier said than done, but with practice you will get much better at SEEING your anxious thoughts, and not BEING your anxious thoughts. This non-judgmental awareness, seeing your thoughts in the NOW, and allowing yourself the luxury of observing those thoughts and not reflexively stepping off the cliff of belief, can be a powerful ally when your mind seems to be working against you.