Amongst all the uncertainty and unknowns are you finding it difficult to control your thoughts, worries and anxiety? Are they consuming you and everything feels overwhelming? Don’t worry you are not alone with these thoughts. Worrying and feeling overwhelm are very common symptoms of underlying fear and anxiety which can be triggered by situations or events which happen to us and are out of our control. The corona virus is just one example of such event. Of course, we panic because we cannot directly influence what is going to happen to us and our brain senses danger with puts us on even higher alter than normal. As a result, we feel consumed by negative, racing thoughts, worrying and ruminating in our current situation and we feel completely out of control and powerless.
Well, the good news is there are 3 reasons why these thoughts seem to have taken over your mind:
1. A natural negativity bias
As humans we tend to show a greater reaction and response to things of a more negative nature and these have a bigger impact on our mental state than things which are neutral or positive. Our brains evolved to get us to focus on more negative rather than positive information as a way of alerting us to any danger and therefore to keep us safe. Also negative information tends to be stored much more easily than positive experiences.
This negativity bias can also cause us to dwell, obsess and worry about something negative even if a positive counterpart is equally present. This is why, right now you may feel like your world is completely falling apart and yet you are failing to recognise the more quality time you are spending with your family, the lie in’s you can have now you don’t have your hour commute to work and the time you have to get those projects done which had slipped to the bottom of your never ending to do list.
So how do we break this bias to stop this getting out of hand?
The majority of us have never experienced a crisis like this before and as a result our brains have no reference point to use as a guide for how to think, feel or act. So our brains will try and makes sense of what is going on, looking for answers as a way to help you escape all the uncertainty and unknowns. The longer we spend in a crisis or negative situation the more threatened our brains feel and this creates more and more uncertainty, worrying and anxiety to the point where these thoughts seem to enter your head before you even think of them!
When you are feeling so much uncertainty and anxiety all your emotions seem to be tenfold, everything magnified and a small problem you could previously easily solve suddenly becomes huge. Your decision-making ability decreases, you can’t think straight and all you want to do is escape your thoughts and feelings.
Uncertainty creates anxiety and anxiety needs an outlet which most commonly manifests into scary, irrational thoughts. You may find many ‘what if’s’ creeping into your thoughts:
What if I get sick?
What if I lose my job and I can’t afford rent?
What if I will never be able to recover financially?
What if this carries on for the next year or 2?
What if I can’t get another job?
What if my family gets sick?
These are prime examples of our brain catastrophising the worst in our current situation. This is in part fuelled by the confusion our brain is experiencing in terms of how to act in this new world and the naturally negativity bias to always think the worst. If this sounds like you right now, it is important to realise that these thoughts are being created by the underlying uncertainty and anxiety you are feeling, Everything, becomes magnified when you are anxious and that thoughts do not carry any weight or have any meaning unless we place a false sense of importance on them. Trying to push them away and ‘get rid’ of them will not help either. This results in them lingering underneath the surface for longer and their strength in-fact increases.
There are ways you can take back control over your mind and harness your thoughts to help you stay mentally strong and resilient during this challenging time.
1. Reframe your thoughts
‘Thoughts are like guests they check in and check out but you are always there’.
What makes a thought feel real is the attention we bring to it. We make a thought into a solid object by focusing on it and relating to it as if it is an event happening in the world somewhere.
WE CONNECT THE THOUGHT TO WHAT WE BELIEVE IT IS ABOUT.
However, the two are not actually connected!
Our thought does not affect what we believe it is about (the thing / place /event /situation /person) UNLESS we BELIEVE it does.
Just consider this; if we do not attend to a thought, answer it, change it, identify with it and all the rest, it literally ceases to exist. If we let a thought be nothing, then that's what it will be... nothing.
2. Question your thoughts
Rather than accepting the negative thoughts and worries as the truth you can use these questions to stand up and challenge them:
· What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
· Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
· What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen? If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
· Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
· What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
3. Change “What if…?” worries to “How can I…?” worries
To be able to manage your worries, you need to understand exactly what they are. Try keeping a worry diary for a week or so. Write down each worry when it occurs – just a sentence to describe it will do. Then later, try and see how many of your worries are “What if…?” type questions. As we mentioned earlier, “What if..?” worries are not helpful. You can try to turn these worries into “How can I…? worries, which is more likely to lead you on to practical solutions.
4. Shift your thoughts
I’m sure you have heard of positive affirmations; changing your thought patterns from more negative thoughts to more positive thoughts. However, if you are really feeling the strain of uncertainty and fear it may feel near enough impossible to shift all that negativity to something overly positive. The thing about positive affirmations is that unless your brain believes the affirmation it is unlikely to be effective. So, this thought shifting process may take a little time for your brain to buy into your new way of thinking.
An effective way to start this process is to first shift your negative thoughts to some that feeling realistic and neutral.
For example; “what if I or my family gets sick?” can move to, “I need to make sure we are all carrying out the necessary precautions”.
It may feel difficult to replace something as strong as “we are all going to stay fit and healthy throughout this crisis” as of course there is a real threat in our world right now. Instead, take this process slow and focus on changing those thoughts to first those of a more neutral, proactive nature and then shift these to thoughts slightly more positive in nature.
5. Stay present
Worrying is when we find ourselves focusing on the future and what our brain is making up and predicting, NOT what is true. It is often the case that the majority of our worries and anxiety do not turn into anything at all! What we need to do is bring ourselves back into the present when this happens and refocus on the here and now.
Use the 5-1 sense quick exercise.
When you feel the anxiety and overwhelm creeping in, take a moment and pause to notice:
· 5 things you can see
· 4 things you can hear
· 3 things you can smell
· 2 things you can feel
· 1 thing you can taste
Don’t ever tell yourself that you must not think these thoughts. Let all thoughts come; do not run away from any of them; see them for what they are, just thoughts, exaggerated because of the way you feel. They can do you no harm and they mean nothing. They won’t be around when you recover, so pay them no respect. The best way to alleviate these intrusive thoughts is to allow them their space by NOT trying to force them out and instead equipping yourself with the following strategies to help you reduce their impact on your health:
1. Reframe your thoughts
2. Question your thoughts
3. Change the what ifs
4. Shift your thoughts
5. Stay present
If you are feeling the strain and would like some extra support during this challenging time, I am offering a select number of free sessions over the next few weeks. To thrive during this time you need resources and I am here as your guide to equip you with everything you need to come out of the other side of this feeling stronger.
Get started today and head to https://bookme.name/Masteryourmind
to book in your free session.
In the meantime, if you haven’t yet, join my private Facebook community called Women Living Unleashed for unlimited support:
Life Coaching Sydney