Quieting Anxiety Mind – A New Inner Dialogue

Shhhhhhhhhhh…..My mind is quiet now

“Just Chill Out!”

Have you heard this before?  “Just chill out!  Stop worrying! Get a grip!”

For those who have never had debilitating anxiety, these things are easy to say. If it was as easy as they think, the anxiety sufferer would have chilled out long ago. Do you feel me? Feeling misunderstood by those around us simply adds to the discomfort.

Here’s the thing: The mind is made to think. Thinking is the purpose of the mind. You can’t just say “stop” to it and expect that to happen; especially anxiety mind, because anxiety mind thinks VERY fast.

So What Do I Do?

Something I read in the early stages of my recovery (sorry, don’t remember the author) used the analogy of a living room. Imagine your mind is a living room. You don’t like the old furniture. The old furniture, for whatever reasons, is making you unhappy; giving you anxiety. Maybe it reminds you of your ex or something about the color just doesn’t feel right. Someone suggests moving out the old furniture, and you think it is a great idea. You move the old furniture out into the yard.

The living room is now empty. You watch TV sittting on the floor. You take a nap on the floor. You do all of your reading and handiwork on the floor. Sooner or later, what happens?  (Do you see where I am going with this?) YOU WANT SOMETHING TO SIT ON!

So you go outside, and move in the recliner; maybe the love seat, just to have a little something to sit on. Unfortunately, you still have the same feelings about the old furniture. The same furniture causes the same results. So now what?

YOU NEED NEW FURNITURE!

Positive Thought Replacement

Think of “anxiety mind” as a friend who just needs a little direction. You CAN learn replacement thoughts that will take you down a different path; the path to peace and calm. All it takes is a new script.

Please understand that the new script is not something that we will read once and expect it to take root. The new script is a new way of thinking and looking at life, so it takes a lot of repetition and consistency to take hold and become permanent.

Your new script is created by witnessing the exact nature of what anxiety mind is saying and basically turning it around. Here is a basic idea, just to use as an example:

Anxiety mind: I am fat and ugly.                                                                                                                    I will always be this way.                                                                                                      I will never be happy.

New script: I AM willing to begin to love myself the way I am.                                                     I AM capable of making the changes I desire.                                                             I will focus on my strengths.

Notice that the positive replacements I used were realistic and indicate a step forward. Rather than saying “I am skinny and beautiful,” the thoughts I used are about moving in a more positive direction, not something so extreme that the conscious mind rejects it and one becomes overwhelmed because it all seems so impossible.

When the Unexpected Happens

Here is a VERY common cause of anxiety among many, many people. Even though I consider myself 99% recovered from anxiety, sometimes the unexpected turns on the old adrenaline switch, especially if it involves electronics.

This morning was a perfect example: I went online to pay a credit card bill “real quick” before I started my writing (poor choice – not what I call “planning for success”- I know that it works better if I start my writing before muddling my head with anything else).

As fate would have it, I could not seem to log in to my account on my laptop. I tried repeatedly to no avail. I had the right ID and password, but it just got stuck on the “log in” prompt. So……….I decided that I would try it on my phone, which I rarely use for this sort of thing. Enter: adrenaline.

So, I started breathing slowly  from deep in my belly, focusing on the exhale, and said to myself, “I can do this.” More than once. I had to slow my insides down a few times.

Guess what?  I did it. I paid the bill using my phone, and next time that situation comes up, my body won’t get that excited.

What does your anxiety mind say when the unexpected happens? Does it sound anything like this?:

  • This is awful.
  • I can’t deal with this.
  • Great, now my whole day will be crap.
  • Why can’t anything ever go right?                                                                                      (notice that anxiety mind makes a very big deal out of everything)

Here’s an example of a new script:

  • Well, this isn’t what I expected, but it’s OK.
  • I can deal with this.
  • Just a little bump, no big deal.
  • I AM a problem solver and if I need to I will find help with this.

Remember to breathe in slooooooowly from deep in the belly and even more slowly on the exhale (through pursed lips). The breathing practice is what slows the body down so that not only does your mind say that you are safe, but your body is convinced that everything is ok. Drop the shoulders. Bobble the head…………………tell your lower back to relax…………take another breathe. Let it all go……………

New Experiences

Obviously, facing a new experience was also part of my little episode this morning. New experiences can be something as simple as going to a new doctor (wait, did I say simple?), driving in a new city, flying to a different airport, starting a new class of any kind, or entering new “cyber territory” (did I mention that I got extremely wound up the other day when my son was guiding me through getting connected to another streaming source on my TV? I mean, I literally said, “I’m scared.”).

First of all, here’s some news: You aren’t a freak if you are feeling anticipation about a new experience. Many, if not most people will feel a certain level of nervousness (or, we could call it excitement; the physical responses are exactly the same) about going into something completely new.

So, if you are feeling an unusual level of anxiety, you might look at what is going on in your life and ask yourself, “Am I feeling excessively nervous because there is something new happening in my life?”

If the answer is yes, there are ways to calm this “anticipatory anxiety.” It may only be a feeling without any particular anxiety producing thoughts, but there are ways to self-comfort. Remember to talk to yourself as if you are helping your best friend. You might try some of these:

  • I am feeling anxious about this new experience, and it’s okay.
  • It is normal to feel uneasy about new things.
  • I have gone through unknown territory before, and it went just fine.
  • Even if things have turned out tough before, it doesn’t mean that will happen again. The past is not the present.
  • This will most likely be much easier than I am expecting.
  • I am getting better at calming my body.
  • I will breathe and relax
  • I am calm. I am peaceful. I am safe.

Take that breath from deep in your belly. One………………………..two……………….. three…………………….four.  Drop your shoulders and exhale as if through a straw………………..one………. two………………………….three…………………….four……….. five……….(I like to make a soft whistle like the sound of the wind. I find it comforting). Let your head bobble. Take a few more good breaths, counting slowly.  Keep practicing, and it will become easier and easier. Just let go.

When you feel like you’ve done something wrong

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only person who sometimes (maybe lots of times) gets a free floating feeling from seemingly nowhere that I have done something wrong.

Maybe this feeling of guilt is caused by the echos of my upbringing, knowing that I am not following my parents’ religious beliefs or being a straight “A” student of life (whatever that is).

Then again, maybe this strange feeling is caused by generations of ancestors implanting in their DNA that it is just not okay to be a human being, or the collected and unresolved emotional energy of myself and those before me.

More often than not, I have discerned that this feeling is caused by some expectation that I have made of myself and not lived up to it, whether it is with little things or big things.

Regardless of the source of this uneasy feeling, we can learn a new script for changing it. Remember that integrating a new script takes repetition and dedication, and the more you practice, the more effective it is. You can create your own. Always remember to focus on your progress and your strengths as you grasp and develop this new process. And breathe. And let go. Open your hands…

Here are some possible positive thought replacements for generalized uneasy feelings:

  • I know that I am doing my best.
  • I give myself permission to lower these impossible expectations I have of myself and others.
  • I have made mistakes in my life as everyone has, it’s no big deal.
  • My little shortcomings are no big deal.
  • It is okay to stop scolding myself and be kind to me.
  • Guilt serves no purpose, I leave it behind.
  • It is okay to be me.
  • I focus on my strengths and move forward.
  • I feel the rightness of the world and my place in it.
  • I give myself permission to let go and feel peaceful.
  • I am relaxed and safe.
  • All is well.

When learning to redirect your anxiety mind to the new script it may be a good idea to pick just two or three new thoughts to integrate; pick the ones that feel the most applicable and most comfortable to you. Writing them on a sticky note strategically placed (I always got the bright colored ones so they would get my attention) will remind you to reprogram your thinking through the day. Keep in mind that it’s all about easing the pressure, not adding more. Even though some belief systems put pressure on us as if it is a good thing, it is perfectly alright (and more mentally healthy) to make a decision to put less pressure on yourself. We have more control over this than we sometimes might think.

Also of great benefit while learning to take different thought pathways is making a habit of taking some deep belly breaths through the day. Opportunities abound once you start looking for them: standing in line at the store, waiting at a red light, sitting in the dentist’s office, or taking a break at work. The more we practice calming the body using the breath and simple, calming thoughts, the easier it will become; the body will respond from it’s memory of the experience.

Hopefully, this information has given you some little tidbits you can take with you and use to your benefit.

Please feel free to comment on my blog and ask any particular questions about anxiety  you may wish to have addressed in future blogs. I appreciate you reading.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identifying the Sources of YOUR Anxiety

Working With Anxiety at its Source

Everyone’s Anxiety is Different

One of the first things I learned in my recovery from anxiety was how to “track” my anxiety. Even though it is not really easy to think or analyze something when one is having an especially high level of anxiety, the idea is to begin to “witness” exactly what is going on when the anxiety switch gets flipped on.

Knowing what triggers anxiety for some may be extremely easy, but very difficult for others. Everyone’s anxiety is not the same, even though the resulting feelings may be very much alike. In the first anxiety class I taught, two of the women present had, on top of their normal anxieties, experienced car accidents, so their main stressor was very evident. It was about driving; especially on the highway at high speeds.

I was encouraged to keep a notebook with a sentence or two (or more if needed) about each day, citing the moments my anxiety took hold. In my classes, I provided the students with a sheet for each week with the names of the days already printed on them. I found that writing down brief notes each day (and remember if you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up; just continue) not only helped me become more familiar with what was going on in my mind and body, but it enabled me to see where I had made progress as time went on.

Where Were You ?

The first thing to notice when symptoms start increasing is the situation. Where are you? What is happening around you?

A lot of anxiety is situational, and doesn’t always make sense. At the height of my panic days, walking into the grocery store was one of the main things that set me off. I was never able to explain to myself why the grocery store caused this, but I was able to manage and eventually eliminate it.

Being in an elementary school was a big one for me as well. I had two elementary age children at the time, so being in the school was mandatory on occasion. I learned later that young children in groups actually brought about a feeling of overwhelm for me. The anxiety was even worse when my kids transferred to the same elementary school that I had attended as a child. These causes were definitely from emotional memories, and I was able to work them out along the way.

The idea is to simply take note of where you are and what is going on when anxiety hits. If it is everywhere and everything, make note of that.

What were you thinking?

Taking notice of what you were thinking about when the anxiety started is the second part of tracking; herein lie many keys to understanding your personal “anxiety voice.” Anxiety voice is what I call the thoughts we have that actually contribute to turning on the anxiety switch and keep feeding the fearful, uneasy condition.

I learned that most, if not all of my anxiety was the result of my sensitive body  responding to my strong mind, and that the two are inextricably connected. Thus, the way to help my body feel better was to notice what my mind was saying that upset my body, and learn to give it different messages.

It became important to take note of the nature of the thoughts I was thinking. Mainly, they were negativescary, and obsessive thoughts.

Negative thinking?  Me?  I could swallow the idea that I was thinking scary thoughts; I mean, I was taught to worry, and I thought that worrying was what made me a good mother. Obsessive thoughts? Well, that just means thinking the same thought over and over. Yes, I did that. But negative?  Come on!

To be honest, once I started really looking at it, I discovered that I had several different strains of negative thoughts going on; pretty much at all times. I had a good friend at the time who would rant about how negative the people around her were, but I had never really stopped to think about what that meant. When I began to learn what negativity really is, it became obvious that my friend was just as negative as everyone around her.

 

What are negative thoughts?

This is the definition I like the best about negative thinking: Negative thought patterns are repetitive, unproductive thoughts. They serve no real purpose and directly cause negative emotions, and sometimes, physical symptoms.

Some negative thought forms are learned. They may be within a family, and often, within a geographical region. We tend to mimic what we see and hear unless we happen to think for ourselves and refuse to accept the reality of everyone around us.

You might think of the “half-empty/half-full” analogy that is often used. The person who sees the glass as half-full is the optimist and the one who says it is half-empty is the pessimist. Optimism comes more easily to certain personalities, and there are some personalities who lead a somewhat comfortable life being pessimistic. For the sensitive person however, these thoughts and beliefs about the hopelessness of life are a huge cause of depression and anxiety.

Core beliefs that are very skeptical like “nothing good ever really happens, and that’s the way it will always be, good luck with that (sarcasm), or everything that can go wrong will,” are constant, underlying convictions that can keep us stuck in unhappiness, and leave us wondering why we are miserable. For some of us, anxiety even develops because we are constantly expecting something to go wrong. You might even notice that you or someone around you has a “bracing” going on with their body; clenched fists, sitting on the edge of the chair, darting eyes, shoulders raised toward the ears – all postures of someone about to be hit with something.

Self-Effacing THoughts

There are actually many kind of negative thoughts. Once you begin to observe your own thoughts, you will find out exactly  which brand you are having. Self-depracation was a large contributor to my anxiety, which I discovered after I began “witnessing” my anxiety voice:

I was driving down a street one day; it was a minor artery so it was a low-speed street. I was either in a hurry or in my head. Driving along, I noticed that there was a girl wanting to cross the street, basically just as I passed her. It was not a pedestrian lane; it was one of those places where it would have been optional to stop.

As I passed her, I said to myself, “I should have stopped.” AT THAT MOMENT, the anxiety switch turned on, or at least my feeling of uneasiness increased, as this was during a time when I was in low-level anxious all the time. I could feel the presence of the increased anxiety in my stomach.

I realized that I had increased my anxiety by scolding myself about something I had done and my body had responded in kind. BUT, I was also able to put my awareness on the energy in my stomach and willfully breathe it out, saying to myself some positive responses I had learned:

IT’S OKAY.  EVERYBODY MAKES MISTAKES. IT’S NO BIG DEAL.

It was a BIG, BIG deal for me to be able to catch the self-denigrating source of my anxiety and expel it, rather than letting it stay around for further rumination on what I perceived I had done wrong. I learned that it could be done.

Here is a short audio recording you might try to give examples of how to cultivate positive self-talk:

You are More than this Fear

Thinking of the feeling in my body as a clump or ball of energy and understanding that it could easily be breathed out was a huge turning point in my recovery. Another set of three calming self-talk statements  would be these:

I AM NOT THIS FEAR. IT IS POSSIBLE TO CALM MY BODY. I WILL BREATHE THIS OUT.

Remember to breathe from deep in your belly, slooooowly, focusing on the exhale, slooooowly blowing out through pursed lips. Listen to the sound of your exhale and let go of the tension in your body every time you breathe out. Do this repeatedly until you feel something shift. Do it again an hour later if needed. Roll your neck. Let your shoulders drop. Memorize these phrases so that it will become automatic.

I AM CALM. I AM PEACEFUL. I AM SAFE.

 

scary and obsessive thoughts

When anxiety mind starts taking you to a scary place and just won’t stop telling you about all the terrible things that could happen, remember that there is a way out. It is simply a matter of practicing the simple skills of breathing and positive self-talk. The more we practice, the better we get at it, and the quicker and better the body responds.

One of my best practices early into recovery was using sticky notes. I would think of three positive statements to counteract my specific worries and write them on the sticky notes, which I would post in strategic places; the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, or the dashboard of my car. You can put them anywhere that you look frequently during the day.

Just remember that anytime during a time of panic/anxiety can be a crossroads. Think of yourself walking down a road and coming to a fork in the road. I used to say to myself, “I don’t have to do this. I can take a different road. I can choose to enjoy my life instead of letting fear rule me.” I reminded myself that the thoughts I was thinking were serving no purpose, doing no one any good, and that they could be changed.

Some people talked about visualizing a stop sign. I often used the visualization of an off-ramp for the energy to leave my body. You can use whatever ideas and images work for you. Try to play with it and develop a light-heartedness about it. This will help. Anxiety is a very serious (meaning we tend to get too serious) and self-centered condition. Try to laugh and get out of yourself a little.

Laugh, are You Kidding?

As I said, the grocery store was one of my nemeses. My home recovery course gave an example of self-talk for the grocery store. It went like this: “What am I afraid of in the store?  Am I afraid the cans are going to jump of the shelf and attack me?” Visualizing this was meant to be comical, which it was to me, and it did help me laugh a little about my grocery store anxiety.

Another tool I used for the same scenario was singing. I would select a song to sing to myself before I went into the store so I could have a focus besides anticipating anxiety. I didn’t really sing it as a performance, and out loud, but more to myself, like a hum. I still remember the song. For some reason, I picked out, “Hello, Mary Lou, goodbye heart.” Maybe I liked it because it was a happy, jolly song. At any rate, it was the one that first came to mind.

So, I bet some of you might be thinking that you don’t want to be humming a tune because of how people around you might react. Of course. Well, let me tell you something: People don’t notice you nearly as much as you might think. That is another thought that is worth dwelling on. For the most part, people are absorbed in their own worlds, their own activities, and, as far as you know, their own anxieties. Yes, think about that. You may be only one of many people feeling uneasy in any given location.

 

Breathe, Chill, Let Go

Remember that even though it seems complex and insurmountable, anxiety mind can be redirected with practice. You can learn to talk to yourself like you would your best friend. Breath is the key.

Breathe from deep in your belly. Count slowly, one…………………..two…………….. three………………………four, and exhale through pursed lips…………one……….. two. ………………….three………….four………….five……………Drop your shoulders, let your head bobble. Send a mental message to your lower back to relax………………  Let Go of Everything.  It will all work out. You are safe.

(P.S. Remember to do it long enough to see if it works)

I hope that something here has been helpful to you. I do believe that anxiety can be reined in to some degree for anyone, and completely for some. It’s like a lot of things. One need only open the door a little bit to believe and allow, and then it can work.

Cheers!