The hallmark of anxiety is a focus on what could go wrong. Pick your phobia, and with overthinking you are experiencing multiple scenarios in your mind of what could go wrong in your life. Neuroscience shows us that when it comes to thoughts, the human brain does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. This is why anxiety is so potent to the body and mind. The anxiety sufferer experiences a thought that provokes a reaction in the nervous system and with overthinking, it gets worse.
In several studies, neuroscience has demonstrated the power of the mind in performing certain feats from learning to increased athletic performance. In one such study published in the December 2014 publication of the Journal of Neurophysiology, (Clark et al., 2014) tested the hypothesis that simply imagining exercising made a difference with muscle strength in the body. In the study, they had two groups, both groups had their wrists bounded by casts for the same specific duration of time. The second group was instructed to imagine exercising with their wrists during the time their wrists were bound. The first group received no instructions in regards to exercising. The results of the experiment showed that the second group showed less loss of muscle strength and mobility in their wrists relative to the results of the first group. The results demonstrate neurological mechanisms can impact strength simply through imagery.
This study and a number of other studies indicate the power the mind has over the well being of the body. Further, it is also well documented about how athletes receive imagery training to help improve their athletic performance.
So, if the mind can be leveraged to improve athletic performance, why can’t the mind be leveraged to help the mind heal from anxiety and depression? The answer is that it can. The proof of this lies in the very nature of anxiety itself. As explained in the first paragraph, the anxiety sufferer’s worried thought triggers a cascade of physical effects within him. This leads to a cycle, where his physical reactions lead to more anxiety-provoking thoughts. The cycle can lead to escalation and result in a full-blown panic attack. Another addition to the situation is the behavior of this anxious person. For example, social anxiety can cause withdrawal from relationships and lead to consequences which only serve to worsen his social anxiety.
The reason for this phenomenon is the anxious person becomes so captivated by his anxiety-provoking thoughts, that most of the time, he does not stop to consider if his fears and worries have any true probability of occurring. Most clients I have worked with would make the argument that anything can happen, and I always agree with them. Yes, anything can happen, which also means, that anything positive can happen.
One of the most effective strategies for moving past issues with anxiety is positive thinking. To some who read this, the statement may sound cliché, but it’s true and easier said than done. There are cognitive behavioral exercises, in which the person practices identifying ideal situations, which contradict his concerns and worries. The goal of the exercise is to evoke feelings of relief, calm and confidence in the person, as he steadily buys into the idea of things going his way and working out for the best. This then leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the person engages in behaviors consistent with his new found beliefs that help promote feelings of calm and confidence.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in social anxiety. If you would like to learn more, call and book your first appointment or fill out my contact form and click Send.