We live in a fast-paced society where anxiety has become as normalized and drinking coffee. If you don’t suffer from it, I’m certain you can name at least 5 people that you know who do.
Anxiety is based on future-thinking where we are constantly scanning the environment for threats and attempting to predict what could happen. This gives the illusion of control and used to be an adaptive trait before it became a sustained state of being for millions of people – think caveman watching out for a saber tooth tiger. In modern day, there are no saber tooth tigers, although we often remain on high alert for perceived threats. Key word: “perceived.”
The interesting thing is that our mind doesn’t know the difference between a thought which depicts a threat and the actual real-life threat. The chemical cascade within our body that occurs is the same. Really BE with that for a moment. Our body does not know the difference between an anxious thought and reality. Pretty mind-blowing, right?
So how do we begin shifting out of this pattern of thinking to create sustainable change?
- Stop and recognize the thought. This is pretty straightforward, simply recognize what is going through your mind. For example: “My client won’t sign the contract and I’ll get fired if I’m late for this meeting.” “My friend must be mad, she hasn’t responded to my text.” “This medical bill will leave me homeless.”
- Challenge the thought.
Begin to think about what interpretation you’re making. Is it based in objective reality? Is the outcome you’re imagining REALLY the most likely thing that will happen? What are other possible interpretations you could make?
We tend to catastrophize, so start pushing back on if what you’re thinking is accurate. Get curious, play detective within your own mind, and then analyze.
- Choose a more appropriate interpretation you can act on.
What’s a more empowering thought you can have in this moment? How would you RATHER think and feel?
By doing something different than your default cascade of worse-case thoughts, you allow yourself to get a different result.
Despite perhaps the initial belief, you can always choose how you show up and respond. And in many situations, choosing how you respond is the only control you have. But is truly the most powerful part of the process.
These were the exact steps I personally used to release over 25 years of anxiety and I am so deeply passionate about the power behind this process. Commit to doing this consistently anytime anxious thoughts arise and in time, you’ll reprogram your mind from fight or flight to calm and settled. Let me know how this goes for you!