It is not uncommon for people to go through a period of difficulty in their lives, in which they find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings. They habitually ruminate about what could go wrong in their lives and what is currently going wrong in their lives, with no resolution in sight. A common symptom of this vicious cycle is poor sleep, this is because the brain remains active well into the night ruminating over anxious thoughts, preventing the anxious person from getting a good night’s sleep.
In this post I shall detail a three step process on how to bring an end to your anxious thoughts.
The first step is to write down your anxious thoughts on a piece of paper. This might be problematic since if you have multiple anxious thoughts competing for space in your mind. The solution to this is to start with one thought, usually the most pressing one. By writing down the anxious thoughts on paper, it helps you to put things into proper perspective, and removes the factor of becoming easily overwhelmed.
Now that you have your most pressing anxious thoughts on paper, write down the most realistic worst case scenarios for that anxious thought. It is best to limit your worst case scenarios to three. So take for example, in your place of work, your supervisor just announced that the company will be downsizing, and to make matters more worrisome a few of your coworkers have already been laid off. Your primary anxiety maybe your fear of losing your job. While your worst case scenario may by that you will lose your ability to support yourself and perhaps a family. The problem with ruminating over your fear of losing your job along with your ability to support yourself is that it will negatively affect your ability to fall asleep at night. If you fall into a pattern of getting by on less sleep than you are used to, your cognitive abilities and your body’s ability to produce energy will become impaired. Which may lead to your worst fears coming true due to reduced performance on your job.
The second step is to accept this problem as a part of your reality. Fundamentally this is the most challenging step in the process, as most people have hidden beliefs which dictate that they either “should not” suffer or are “above” suffering. One method of coming to place of acceptance with your situation is to write down on a piece of paper the following statement: “I accept this situation as is, this is my challenge and this is currently where I belong.”
Once you write this statement down, take ten slow breaths, breathing in through your nostrils and slowly exhaling through your mouth. Then pay attention to how you feel about the words you have just written down. If you find yourself still experiencing difficulty coming to a place of peace with these words, then you will probably benefit from working with a therapist to address what your core beliefs about challenges are.
If you find yourself feeling more peaceful with the primary thought which provoked feelings of anxiety for you, then you are ready to benefit from the next step.
Step three is about exploring solutions to your challenges. Notice the language has changed from anxious thoughts to challenges. This change will be seamless in your mind once you come to a place of acceptance about your worrisome thoughts. Now that you have written down your thought along with your worst fears and you have come to accept this as a proper part of your reality, exploring potential solutions is something that occurs spontaneously in your mind. In my professional experience, clients who come to a genuine place of acceptance with the challenges they experience will often come up with reasonable solutions on their own.
For example, reasonable solutions for the possibility of being laid off, is to review your spending habits, cut back on frivolous expenses, while beginning the process of exploring other job opportunities. It is amazing how clear our thinking becomes when we transition from a place of anxiety to a place of genuine calmness. Also, even if you are having a difficult time coming up with some solutions to what you are going through, it is important to remember that there exist people who have experienced the same types of challenges you have experienced before and subsequently found effective solutions to these challenges.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.