Dealing with Anxious Thoughts
There’s A LOT going on for us at home right now. Lately I find myself in moments where I’ve been having anxious thoughts about things more than usual, big and small. Is everyone in my family going to be healthy? Am I doing everything I can do to be part of my community? Are we eating healthy enough? How can we get a better handle on our financial planning? Why are my houseplants dying!?
I have learned over the past few months that there is sometimes no rhyme or reason for anxious thoughts. Something that may normally seem small can be something that triggers a cycle of anxiety that can easily become overwhelming and feel impossible to remove yourself from.
Here’s one way I’ve been dealing with my anxious thoughts:
Step 1: Pump the Brakes
For me, being able to take pause and recognize when I’m having an anxious thought has been a major breakthrough. When I recognize that I am feeling overwhelmed, I take a moment to pump the brakes and check in with myself in that moment. Usually I can recognize I’m overwhelmed because I experience emotion without understanding why (i.e. getting angry at someone or feeling sad). Once I’ve pushed pause, I grab a piece of paper and divide it into 3 columns.
Step 2: Write Out a List
In the first column I write down a list of all the anxious thoughts I am having: “I am so bad at speaking in public, I’m going to drop the ball on my presentation tomorrow.” “I never check everything off of my list during the day.” “If I don’t get a great review at work, I could lose my job.” “He doesn’t want to go out with me. I must be unlovable.”
Step 3: Label Each Thought
In the second column I label each thought. You can literally write whatever you want in this column to give your thoughts a tag, but the important thing here is to remind yourself that it’s okay to feel the way you do. Here are some of the ones that I use to keep this exercise quick and dirty:
These are thoughts where I take something small and apply it to everything.
“I never do anything right.”
These are thoughts where I only focus on the bad.
“I’m going to drop the ball on my presentation tomorrow.”
SWC (Should’a, Would’a, Could’a)
These are thoughts where I make myself feel bad thinking about what I should have, would have or could have done/said.
“I should have passed on dessert at dinner.”
All or Nothing
These are thoughts where I see things without any shades of grey.
“If I don’t get a great review at work, I could lose my job .”
The World is Ending
These are thoughts where I convince myself the worst is happening.
“He doesn’t want to go out with me. I must be unlovable.”
Step 4: Make a Plan
In the third column I write out an action plan for each item. For example, I look at “I should have passed on dessert at dinner” and then I ask myself what I can do in response to this thought. Why do I feel bad about eating the dessert? What will I do in the future if I have these anxious thoughts about having eaten dessert? Writing it down and being able to revisit my action plan for each thought helps to keep the power of these thoughts to a minimal, and sometimes, stops them from coming altogether.
Obviously I’m an imperfect person, and I don’t nail this process every time, with every thought, but there is something powerful in times of overwhelm where recognizing I’m able to do this is super empowering. It makes it easier to change the commentary in my head from negative and irrational, to positive and helpful.
I’d love to hear how you deal with anxious thoughts in the comments below!