[Image Source: HAMZA BUTT]
Written by Sam Todd
A racing mind, a heart beating too fast, breathing seeming like the hardest thing on the planet to do… Welcome to the world of anxiety caused by negative thoughts spiraling out of control.
Anxiety is very common in Australia and around the world.Beyond Blue, Australia’s leading mental health organisation, states that at any one time, 2 million Australians are suffering from anxiety. That’s roughly 1 in 10 of us, which is huge.With statistics like that, you definitely know or have come across someone struggling with anxiety (whether you have known it or not). Or, even more striking, it could be you that anxiety has chosen.
Managing the negative thoughts that create anxiety can be challenging, but with the right tools, you can take control of those thoughts. These tools can also help make small wins over anxiety every day, making it less likely to rule your day, and ultimately, your life.
It is important to note that thoughts, both positive and negative, will always be coming in and out of your mind. You will never be able to stop a negative thought from crossing your mind, but you can manage your reaction to them, which is ultimately what will help you beat anxiety each time it tries to engage you.
Let’s get down to it. You want to take control – you are sick and tired of anxiety controlling your every decision and movement. Here are some tools inspired by Acceptance Commitment Therapy, or ACT, to help you on your way:
3 Ways to Diffuse Anxiety Caused by Negative Thoughts
- Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness Meditation is one of the strongest tools in managing day-to-day anxiety.There are many mindfulness meditation apps available, as well as books with complimentary audio tracks such as The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris; a fantastic resource for those wanting to get a head start on ACT. Mindfulness meditation revolves around observing your thoughts as they come and go, accepting them as they are.Most importantly, you learn how to detach yourself from your negative thoughts and view them as they are – only thoughts.Mindfulness meditation works best if practiced for at least 10 minutes a day, every day. You can see Jacob’s blog on meditation to get ideas on how to fit meditation into your everyday routine.
- Changing the Thought
Changing the Thought is definitely my personal favourite tool when it comes to diffusing negative thoughts. You can do this through imagery or just words. For example, a lot of people have a fear of flying.They get on the plane, and automatically imagine it crashing and burning. Well, maybe you can change that thought through imagery. Change the flames shooting out of the back of the plane to purple fairy floss. Imagine the screaming passengers are now singing Care Bears and the oxygen masks? Make them balloons floating from the ceiling. That crashing plane seems completely different now, doesn’t it?
For those of us that don’t have an active imagination, the thought may just be in the head without the image. Taking that negative thought of the plane crashing as our example again, the thought might be "This plane is going to crash and I am going to die.” Now, take that thought, those exact words, and sing them to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’. It changes the thought, doesn’t it? All of a sudden it seems a lot less threatening than it did at the start.
Changing a negative thought can take a lot of concentration to begin with but, once mastered, it becomes second nature, and quite a light and “fun” one at that!
- Thought Challenging
Thought Challenging can be a great tool when you are struggling with negative thoughts that you know are unrealistic, yet can’t help but be ruled by the anxiety that comes with them. Take the thought and pit evidence against it actually being reality.
For example, let’s take the thought “I will have a heart attack if I exercise”. Although it has been known that people with heart problems have in fact had heart attacks while exercising, most people who have this negative thought are healthy people who have no history of heart disease in their family. Also, it is a known fact that exercise, especially cardio, actually benefits the cardiovascular system, therefore making it less likely that the person exercising will have a heart attack, if they keep it up on a regular basis. All of a sudden, we have more evidence against the thought than for it, and exercise seems less daunting than it did at first. Definitely a win for thought challenging, wouldn’t you agree?
By applying these tools to your everyday negative thoughts, you can tell anxiety that it is not welcome in your world anymore. It will take practice (no one can become a mindfulness expert overnight). Every time you win over an uncomfortable feeling through changing, challenging or accepting, you take one more step to being in remission from the haunting dog we call anxiety.
What tools do you use to manage your anxiety?
If you or anyone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, please contact one of the following helplines, or visit the websites for resources:
1300 224 636
13 11 14
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
1300 726 306
Thanks for checking this out!
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