Have you ever noticed that the more you try not to think about something the more you actually think about it? Try it! For example, try not to think about a giant warm chocolate chip cookie. See if you can NOT think about it for 30 seconds. Did you succeed? Some might say yes, of course! But when we look further and ask, what did you think about then, folks reply: “I thought about a red apple instead” or “I just thought about sitting on the beach…” When asked why did you think about those things the answer was “so that I wouldn’t think about the chocolate chip cookie!” The interesting part though is that in order to “not think about something” you have to have thought about that very thing you are trying not to. You have to have thought about the warm chocolate chip cookie in order to push your brain to think about the red apple. So in the end you are still very much thinking about the chocolate chip cookie in an unconscious way. How does this relate to anxiety you say? Glad you asked!
Anxious thoughts work the same way! In fact most of our thoughts work the same way. So if you are trying to “get rid of” or “not think about” anxious thoughts it really is just keeping those very thoughts around. So what now? Instead of trying to push those thoughts away, see if you can just let those thoughts BE. Don’t try to bury the anxious thoughts, ignore the thoughts or cover them up with other thoughts, instead NOTICE, OBSERVE, DESCRIBE and be NON-JUDGMENTAL. This means stop and notice, “I am having that anxious thought again” the thought is “I will never be good enough” and then watch that thought float by. Don’t judge it, don’t get upset about having the anxious thought but rather just treat the thought as if it’s a cloud just floating by. You notice it, you observe it and without judgment you watch it float by. You also don’t push it away and to the contrary you don’t try to grasp it either. Just notice it at a
healthy distance. The more we can observe our thoughts In this way, the less control they will have on our behaviors. We become free to behave and act in the way we want despite those thoughts we are having. Our brain produces millions of thoughts throughout our day, if we paid mind to each and every thought we would like be very unhealthy and unsuccessful beings.
Here are two ways to picture your thoughts:
- Picture your thoughts as a cloud slowly moving in front of you and drifting from one side of vision to the other.
- Picture your thoughts as balloons you are holding and slowly release those balloons watching them drift up into the sky.
The important piece is to not push these anxious thoughts away and to also not cling to them. Try out this exercise and let us know how it went for you!
By: Kendra Penski