Sometimes our thoughts can play havoc with how we feel. They can make us go around in circles with worry and on occasion, they can make us anxious and sad. If you sometimes get easily hooked by thoughts that bother you, you are not alone.
The thoughts that we associate with worry and anxiety are simply messages that our minds produce in an effort to keep us safe. Unfortunately, as our brains are still wired like our ancient cave-dwelling ancestors, the mind can often incorrectly judge or over-exaggerate the risks associated with a particular situation.
Our brains come up with thousands of thoughts a day: some drift by without us taking notice, others spike our attention for both right and wrong reasons. Our minds are brilliant at instinctively making us scared of heights, or urging us to move out the way of flying objects. But on many other occasions, our minds can make us imagine fears that are not real.
An easy way to address your thoughts is to ask:
Is this thought helpful? Is this thought helping me be the person I want to be? To live the life I want to live?
If you believe the thought is helpful, then it is right to consider it and take action. However, if it is stopping you from living life the way you want to, it may be time to question that thought.
When we say ‘question that thought’, we don’t mean just pushing it away or distracting ourselves from it. The more we try and push thoughts aside through positive thinking and distraction techniques – the more powerful they can become.
Instead, we need to accept the thought for what it is: just a thought. It is one of many you may have on any given day, therefore it is good to accept that the thought is going to be there and may pop up numerous times. The more you can accept the thought and its presence as ‘just an over-exaggeration from your brain’, the easier it will be to live your life to the full and be the person you want to be.
Remember: everyone has worries, everyone feels scared or sad at times – that is just
part of being human.
Your senses are working normally if you feel anxious or scared at times. It’s those who can face up to their fears and worries, accept them for what they are, and take committed action towards their values and goals... it is those people who will have greater chance of living the life they want to live.
The next time you have a thought that makes you feel anxious, sad or angry, ask yourself the question: ‘Is this thought helpful to me?’ If it’s not, accept it and move on with a positive action towards yours goals and values.
A simple way of neutralising thoughts is using the three N approach:
The first N is for ‘Notice it’ – Notice where it is in your body and how it feels?
The second N is for ‘Name it’ – Give the thought a name. For example, it could be the ‘I’m scared of something’ thought, or you could just call it the ‘nervous’ thought.
The third N is for ‘Neutralize it’ – There are lots of ways of making the thought less powerful. We can do this through anchoring methods, such as writing the thoughts down or using some breathing techniques.
None of the steps in this approach will magically make the thought disappear.
They are used so that you can learn to be more comfortable with the thought being there, and carry on with your daily life. As a result of following this process, you may find the thoughts don’t affect you as much - this is a bonus and not something to be expected.
In the next few episodes of youmatter, we will be looking in further detail at the different ways we can neutralize and diffuse unhelpful thoughts, including thoughts that can hook you into behaviours you may wish to stop.