"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Backtracking Thoughts and Emotions to Stop Your Anxiety

Image of Waves Breaking with text: Feelings are much like waves, you can't stop them from coming but you can choose which ones to surf.Do you struggle to stop feelings of anxiety?

Are you aware of the thoughts in your head before you go into an anxious state?

To be able to change or stop my feelings of anxiety, I realised I needed to find out what thoughts were triggering them. And to do that I needed to become conscious of what I was thinking moments before I became anxious - not easy with how quickly anxiety can take hold.

Whenever I found myself feeling uncomfortable or bad, I would stop in the midst of it and ask myself what was causing this feeling: Was it a situation? A conversation? Internal dialogue about something in my mind?

“A lot of pain we are dealing with are really only thoughts.”

Often the thoughts I had in my head were reflecting something that had already happened, so I had to recall what event, situation or conversation they were relating to, or where I had felt the same discomfort or bad feelings. This is called ‘back tracking’.

Once I had found what it related to, I would then think about what was happening in the present to reflect it: Why did this feel the same? What was it that was similar or familiar?

And then to break the connection, I needed to ‘update’ and change the thought/emotion. I would do this by asking myself: ‘Is what happened then, the same as what is happening now?’ ‘Is this a repeat of the same situation?’

In most instances it was not the same situation at all. The people were different, their responses were different, what actually happened was different. So I was able to ‘update’ or change my perspective on it by telling myself that it was NOT the same, and repeating this to myself several times.

“We see things not as they are, but as we are. Our perception is shaped by our previous experience.” - Dennis Kimbro

This enabled me to change how I reacted; I didn’t need to react as I had in the past, because it was a new situation. Whatever I feared then couldn’t happen or repeat now, because the present moment contained different people, different situation, and a different conversation. I was in the present, not the past, and it wasn’t the same. I was reassuring myself.

Each time that we do this we interrupt the cycle of thoughts; we break the pattern, and start forming a new habit.

I even went so far as to actually call my mother once, to ask her whether she was safe now, whether she was okay. I knew in my conscious rational mind that she was, but it was strange, I needed to do it; I needed to hear her say she was, if only to settle those thoughts and feelings. And it worked, because it gave me a new reference point to return to, something else I could use to reassure myself that everything was different and had changed now.

A great deal of anxiety or stressful thinking is maintained by the internal dialogue we use. The way we speak to ourselves in our minds.

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.” Tony Robbins

Besides the panicked thoughts of ‘I can’t stop this feeling’ ‘I am losing my mind’, ‘I’m going to die!’, which fuelled my anxiety attacks, I found I also undertook what I called ‘negative scenarios’, which are imagined conversations with people who had upset me.

I would imagine expressing my true feelings, venting all my anger and hurt in these scenarios. But I would also imagine a response too, turn them into arguments in my head, which would perpetuate the negative feeling.

Internal dialogue and negative thinking can be a constant battle, and they can lead to other destructive emotions besides anxiety, like jealousy, guilt and anger. But there are ways to break those too - although they take a bit more work.

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