Mindfulness for managing anxious thoughts
Let’s begin to control your anxious thoughts. First of all, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Take another one. This time breathe a little deeper and letting the breath out a little more slowly. Listen to the sound your breath makes as it enters and leaves your body. Watch yourself as one breath follows the next. Let your mind begin to calm and clear.
Begin to notice what’s going on inside you.
Stay focused on your breath. You will probably find yourself having distracting thoughts and feelings. That is common when you are learning to calm your mind. Try not to judge it. Just notice instead. When a thought like “This is stupid” or “I’m no good at this” comes up, just identify it by saying “This is a thought.” Not a good thought or a bad thought – just a thought. And when a feeling comes up – anger, sadness, whatever — just label it: “This is a feeling.” Then return to your breathing.
When you do this you are shining a light on the inner workings of your mind. You’re becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings. That’s good. You’re also practicing having those thoughts and feelings without having them upset you.
You may notice that some of your thoughts make little sense. Let’s take a closer look and see how we can apply these some of the insights of mindfulness.
We’re having conversations in our heads all the time.
A client once compared his mind to a gerbil running on a wheel in its cage – feet working furiously, but not getting anywhere. It’s an apt comparison. Like the gerbil, our minds love to be busy. In the absence of other information, our minds sometimes fill themselves with worries, doubts or fears. Our mind is constantly looking for the worst-case scenario.
I think this pattern originates in childhood. As kids we were constantly facing new situations, and we risked embarrassment or injury if we didn’t respond skillfully. So we become vigilant – maybe too much so.
Ye like many other things, this may serve a purpose at one time early in our lifetimes, but we overdo it or outgrow it. The voice that started off warning us about potential danger becomes hyper-vigilant and is always looking for danger – sometimes seeing it when it’s not actually there.
Other voices speak up. One sounds like the critical voices of parents, teachers, peers and others. This voice morphs into an all-purpose critic that is never satisfied and never gives us a break. Another voice might be a response to this: a sort of defiant “inner child” that rebels against the parent. It’s like having a committee meeting in your head.
These voices have a lot in common.
They tend to shout at us rather than whisper. They often give bad advice. And sometimes they all want to talk at the same time! We become paralyzed by our self- consciousness like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.
Don’t believe everything you think. One way we make ourselves unhappy is to confuse our thoughts with reality. When you catch yourself thinking in this way, start with a deep, slow breath. Feel your body. Realize that what is going on is a thought, not necessarily reality.
Finally, note that this practice is different from what is commonly called “will power.” Will power is too often just a way of turning your inner critic into a tyrant. That isn’t a reliable way to create positive change in your life.
Next let’s look at some common ways of thinking that get us into trouble and lead to us being unhappy. And remember, therapy using the tools of mindfulness has been shown to be very effective in controlling anxiety. If you would like to find out more, feel free to contact me.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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