Do your thoughts ever run away with you?
If you answered “yes” to that question, you’re not alone. Thoughts may come and go like clouds in the sky, and emotions may change like the weather, but when a thought storm comes rolling in, it can feel overwhelming, stifling, and paralyzing. In those moments, it is helpful to remember the following:
- Anxiety is the body’s natural response to fear. It puts your body into “fight or flight” mode and it is completely legitimate to feel a fear response to a real or perceived threat.
- Tuning into your body’s fear response is the only thing you can control and it’s the first thing you’ll want to attempt. Your brain can’t function and help you dial back your fear response if your body is readying itself for a fight or a sprint.
- When you experience anxiety, check to see if you are in current danger or if you are worried about potential danger. Then adjust your response. If you are in current danger, get to a place of safety. If you are worried about potential danger, begin a calming process to help yourself understand what it is you’re worried about and why.
- Pay attention to your breathing. When we are in fight or flight mode, our breathing changes to rapid, shallow breaths to help us move quickly in defense of our safety. Once we reach a place of safety, our breathing changes to slower, deeper breaths to help our system calm itself and return to a baseline of normal functioning. How do you breathe when you are anxious? If you can recognize your breathing and mindfully work to slow it, you will begin to calm yourself in the process.
So what do we do with our thoughts? We treat them like clouds passing in the sky, like pieces of the weather patterns in our lives. We treat them like cars on the freeway. We watch them come and we watch them go. We recognize that some thoughts will make our breathing rate increase and others will help it decrease. We realize that our thoughts are powerful but they are not the only reality we can choose to believe. We see our thoughts for what they are, ongoing experiences and commentary about our lives. Like radio static in the background or elevator music when you’re placed on hold during a phone call. Thoughts are present but they do not have to always be overwhelming or overpowering when we are able to remember that they change as frequently as the clouds in the sky. As we learn to watch the shape that our thoughts form, we can give our thoughts permission to change without taking us along for the ride. In doing this, we give ourselves permission to observe the process without becoming overwhelmed by or hooked into it. It takes practice and it takes awareness to get into the habit of observing your thoughts as thoughts on the stage of your reality. It is one of the most helpful ways to assist you in managing your relationship with anxiety.