Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do you suffer from anxiety?

Stop over thinking things!

Ever have one of those days where you wake up feeling fine and before you know it you're a tense-shouldered ball of stress? This may feel like the result of a phone call, rear ending someone, a comment from a friend or enemy, or some other various external force, but in reality is the result of your reaction to said external force, which no one but you can claim responsibility for. I believe things like this can be traced back to one thought... often times a "What if...?" As a recovering chronic over-thinker, let me tell you that there is hope for those of you suffering this inconvenient and mentally debilitating ailment.

First of all, every thought is a choice, a window of opportunity if you will. Most people simply have a thought, that leads to another thought, that leads to another thought, and so on. They end up somewhere down the negativity river, drowning in stress, either wondering how this happened or automatically attributing their problems to "who they are". What a lot of people overlook or never bother to realize is that our ways of thinking are there because we've spent so much time ingraining them habitually without even realizing it. They end up getting stuck on a negative thought and seeing everything through a lens of self hate or irritability. Often times this has little to do with "who we are" at our core, since we are all in a constant state of change at any given moment, and more to do with habit. The beauty of this is that we can undo these harmful mind-habits and form new ones. Your mind has been trained a certain way. If this way is unsatisfactory, re-train it! Blaming something you don't like about yourself on "the way you are" is a cop out. It's pure laziness.

The trick to worrying less or becoming a less angry person or what have you, is not contingent upon getting rid of those thoughts, but learning to have them, acknowledge them, and decide not to let the thoughts consume you. The first time you do this will be extremely empowering, and you'll see how much of your stress has been completely pointless and preventable. Compare your obnoxious, negative thought (be it a craving, a self depreciating mantra, judgment, etc) to a kid throwing a temper tantrum when he doesn't get his way. Do you bend to the will of the child every time? Do you get angry and snap at the child every time? No. But you also can't pretend he isn't there. What you want to do is acknowledge the child's concern and watch him.

Maybe whatever situation you're stressing over at the moment feels worthy of stress to you. You may be thinking to yourself, "I have a valid reason to feel this way! Why should I stop?"
Maybe you do have a valid reason to feel the way you do, but unfortunately, that is completely irrelevant unless you plan to testify about your situation in a court of law. This isn't about whether or not you feel justified in your concerns, this is about deciding to deal with them in a healthy way, while hurting yourself as little as possible.

Maybe you need to figure something out and it's weighing on your mind heavily until you do. That's all well and good, but many of us seem to have a tough time finding the cut off point for "figuring something out". We either make a split decision, and spend a lot of time worrying over whether it was the correct one, or we're slow to decide but agonize over the variety of choices.

I find that if I'm doubtful about which choice to go with, I select the one that can be reversed most easily. That way, I have a chance to test the waters and can amend my decision if necessary. Some people look down on those who change their minds often, as if being mature enough to admit you made a mistake is a bad thing.  Think about it, would you rather be consistent regardless of new information you acquire proving your previous theory wrong, or advance along with your knowledge, and know you're making the right choices for yourself? Don't let those proverbial and arbitrary "rules" get you down. YOU decide what you think and do.

It's hard not to over think the variety of options we're sometimes faced with, and though it's very difficult, one of the best guidelines I have discovered is that stepping away and coming back later will give you a fresh perspective, and more often than not, a gut feeling to work with. Our intuition is correct a lot of the time, but nothing squashes that killer insight faster than being overly analytic. The best secret I've discovered to getting rid of anxiety is simply choosing to realize that most things don't need to be analyzed, and if I choose to analyze them anyway, I'm only torturing myself.

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