“Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.“
If you’ve experienced the power of anxiety you understand that it can often paralyze your mind and body. When your thinking gets hijacked by anxious thoughts it can create havoc in your life and quickly destroy inner peace. It’s possible to understand how to cope with an anxious mind but first, you have to get ahead of it. Taking back your thoughts starts with changing your thinking.
The time to learn how to redirect your thoughts isn’t in the midst of an anxious moment. It isn’t when you’re body is reacting to the emotion you’re experiencing. It definitely isn’t when you’ve already taken a negative action toward yourself or another person. The right time to understand the importance of redirecting your thoughts and shifting your focus is before it arises again.
Coping With An Anxious Mind
Coping with an anxious mind is a marathon, not a sprint and the training is extensive. The mental exhaustion caused by the creation of hypothetical scenarios is enough to keep you indecisive and filled with fear. That same amount of energy can be utilized to rewire the mind to focus the attention on the present moment.
As with all change, it begins with awareness of yourself. It requires a practice of separating the components of anxiety, understanding the mind and body connection, and implementing pause to practice responding appropriately to the experience. The separation exercise is what I use and teach my client, to break anxiety into 3 tangible parts: Thoughts, Physical Sensations, and Behaviors.
Each person’s level of anxiety differs from manageable to debilitating, with multiple levels in between. By understanding the cycle of anxiety you can acquire the tools to combat it when it rears its ugly head, no matter how intense it is. It’s essential to separate yourself from anxiety-producing thoughts such as self-doubt, fear, angst, scarcity, etc. The thinking mind is one of the first things to get hijacked when under anxiety’s grip, therefore it’s important to practice noticing when it begins creeping up.
How to Take Action
The trick to communicating positively with your thinking mind is to ask the right questions. If you ask “why do I feel this way?” you’ll typically start spiraling even quicker into whatever negative emotion you’re feeling. However, if you try asking yourself “how can I feel better?” you’ll get a more direct answer leading you away from how you feel and toward where you want to feel.
- What thoughts are you experiencing right now?
- What questions am I willing to do to heal from here?
- How can I feel stronger? Happier? In control? More confident?
Physical sensations in the body are connected to the thoughts you are thinking, emotions you are feeling, or behaviors you are choosing to act on. An example of this anxiety would be heart palpitations, sweaty palms, dry mouth, tight chest, clenched fists, etc. This is the body reacting to warn you of danger or protect you because it perceives your anxiety as life-threatening.
When you zoom out of the severity of the situation, or when you’ve finally calmed down, it seems silly to have jumped to such intense conclusions. But the truth is the mind and body were working together to keep you safe and protected, from yourself.
The solution? Start paying attention to your body like it’s a science experiment through mindful awareness. This exact process helped me combat debilitating anxiety and I believe with some consistent practice, patience, and a smidge of humor you could do the same.
Start by taking notice of how your body is reacting. State it to yourself without judgment, be curious, open, and present at this moment. Avoid words like good, bad, scary, always, never, happy, sad, exciting, nervous, etc. Describe your experience with facts only, not emotion or past experience.
“My heart is beating very fast, interesting.”
“My palms are sweaty, huh.”
“My breath is shallow.”
“My stomach/chest feels tight.”
After each observation, take a few deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Make your exhalation a bit longer than the inhalation to relax the muscles, letting your mind and body know you are taking control now.
Behaviors are decisions you come to after your thoughts have driven you to choose a particular path. However, behaviors under the influence of anxiety are intoxicated with whatever emotion you are feeling.
For instance, if your anxiety is fueled by fear of public speaking, your thoughts will trick you into thinking you are inadequate, and your physical sensations may be a closed throat and trembling body, therefore your behavior will be to never practice public speaking. Because you were under the influence of fear you’ve lost out on the opportunity to rise to the occasion of trying something new.
To be sure you are choosing your behaviors with a wise mind practicing pause is a significant practice. Before you make a choice under the influence of anxiety pause. Run through the ‘thought questions’, check in with your physical sensations, and decide if you’re capable of making a conscious decision right now.
When your thinking mind has been hijacked by anxiety everything has a sense of urgency, time is flying by, and each decision feels as if it needs to be made quickly. More than likely there is plenty of time to take time to sober up your thinking through deep breaths, come back to the present moment, and make a conscious effort to think clearly again.
The thoughts in your thinking mind are influenced by the emotions you have or currently are experiencing. These emotions are what fuel the behaviors and decisions you choose. By practicing the separation exercise each day you can get a better understanding of what your triggers are, how they influence your decisions, and what it will take to take control over your thinking.
Remember, you don’t want to consider your exit strategy when the building is already on fire. Start working on your thoughts and noticing what experiences they lead to before you fall into the tight grips of anxiety.
Dealing with anxiety is in no way an easy feat, and rewiring your thinking process won’t be either. The choice you need to make is, which difficult road will bring you closer to solutions and peace of mind?
Love. Heal. Grow.
Learn how to manage your reactions to stress. Click here to join my free Stress Relief Workshop.