Sometimes I get thoughts that won’t let me go, usually of the anxiety nature. They play in a loop and I compulsively go over the details or my plan or the inevitable catastrophe or rejection I’m going to face in the future. Thinking about it feels like a form of control, I suppose, over things I can’t control either at the present moment or ever. It’s a way to self soothe. An unhealthy way that makes me feel sick. Does that ever happen to you?
I’ve come along way in how I respond whenever I realize I have a nagging thought on my hands. Below are four approaches I’ve found to help. I may have shared some of these in the past, but I have new people reading who might like to give them a try as well:
ONE: Mark as unread
Visualize your mind as an email inbox. That nagging thought is an email marked with a red flag as urgent by your boss. When you hurriedly open it, you realize the information shared or task requested by your boss, while important, really isn’t all that urgent. Your boss just wants you to think it is because they’re worried you won’t make the deadline or don’t understand you have other more urgent things to do. Mark the email as unread so you won’t forget to return to it (like the next morning or when you are in a place where you can actually do something about the problem) and move on with your day.
I used to think about work stuff a lot whenever I was at home. I would go over what I needed to do and try to problem-solve issues I was too far away to effectively solve anyway. It wasn’t good for my mental health. Whenever something would pop into my head, I started using this visual and marking the email as unread as a way of acknowledging the thought was important but didn’t need to be attended to at the moment.
TWO: Don’t feed the stray
Imagine there is a stray animal outside your door. Refuse to feed it. There is a reason your parents wouldn’t let you leave food out for every cat or dog that every showed up in your yard. If you feed it, it will come back. It will make its home with you. And that’s a whole new commitment you might not have the time or resources for. That’s how it is with nagging thoughts as well. It might seem like if you think about it just one more time, you’ll feed better, but you won’t. It will want to be replayed without end. It will cost you time and mental energy. The sooner you turn the thought away, the easier it will leave and the more of that time and mental energy you will have to spare.
THREE: Sit yourself down
Envision a version of yourself which embodies your anxiety. Invite them inside and sit them down. Calmly question them about the nagging thought. Why is this important to you? What are you afraid is going to happen? What would make it better? Gather some insight about why this thought it holding on so you can think of solutions or find an affirmation that speaks to you. Separating ourselves in our minds from our anxiety and personifying it can give us a sense it is something we can overcome rather than something that is happening to us. The change in perspective can allow us to see things we weren’t looking for.
FOUR: A little logic
I’m not suggesting we try to rationalize our way into believing the worry we have won’t come to be. That’s just not, usually, true. Because the fact is, something bad might happen to a loved one. You might be rejected. Accidents happens. Violence occurs. People can be mean. Try letting yourself accept it might happen…but also that it probably won’t. At the same time, remind yourself if you keep thinking about it, you’re only traumatizing yourself. If the bad thing doesn’t happen, you’ve lived a nightmare for no reason. If the bad thing does indeed happen, you’ve not needlessly lived the nightmare twice. Wouldn’t once be enough?It might happen, but it probably won’t. There is no point in living the nightmare twice.
I used to do presentations for the office I worked at, and I would get panicked leading up to each of them. I was scared someone in the audience would bring a gun and start shooting. Once I stopped trying to make myself believe that couldn’t possible happen and let myself sit with the truth it could, even though it was extremely unlikely, I was able to look inside myself and decide it was worth the risk.
FIVE: Worst case scenario
Let yourself go there. What is the worst thing that could happen? AND what would you do if it did happen? Just knowing you have a plan can be far more effective in moving on than trying to convince yourself you don’t need one.
Best of luck!
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