The Power of Thoughts: How Thoughts Perpetuate AnxietyJun 27, 2021
I watched the documentary HEAL on Amazon Prime the other day. I highly recommend it. It was so powerful in reminding me of how powerful our minds are. And it got me thinking about our potential to heal ourselves of anxiety. So I wanted to discuss the power of thoughts today and how thoughts perpetuate anxiety.
The Power Of Thoughts
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”Wayne Dyer
We cite these sorts of quotes with ease. They seem to have become automatic in our patterns of speech. But have you actually stopped and fully appreciated what these quotes reveal?
For many years the realm of quantum physics has proposed that thoughts have the ability to affect the physical world around it. It is beyond the scope of this article (or my expertise) to explain this. But if you are so inclined then head on over and read more on the topic here.
On a simpler note, we can grasp the power of our thoughts by simply imagining eating a juicy, super sour lemon. Stop for a second and just imagine doing that right now.
… Did you notice your mouth and salivary glands responding? Crazy, right? You haven’t actually eaten the lemon – simply imagined doing so. And yet, your body responded as if you were, in fact, eating it.
The same is applied to our thoughts, worries and concerns about future events and outcomes. When we are stuck in daydreams or imaginings of unwanted outcomes our bodies react with emotional responses as if it were happening now.
How Thoughts Perpetuate Anxiety
When you begin to fully grasp just how powerful our thoughts are, then we begin to appreciate how how our emotional states are created and maintained by our thoughts.
Let’s take this a step further and recognise that thoughts are the symptoms of beliefs. Our inner dialogue is usually based on our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.
Someone who believes they are resilient and can cope with major change might harbour thoughts such as “This might be difficult, but I have done it before and I can do it again”.
… You can see how this thought generates an emotional response of determination, right?
On the other hand, one who holds a belief about themselves as incompetent or ‘weak’ might think “I’m not cut out for this. I can’t cope”.
… And generate the emotional response of fear and anxiety.
Unpacking The Power of Thoughts on Anxiety
Let’s unpack this a little further…
Our bodies are either in a state of Fight / Flight or in a state of Rest & Digest. It’s an either / or situation here. And the only thing that decides which way to go is our THOUGHTS!
When we are telling ourselves that we are not safe, that things are not going well and believe there is a threat around – then we trigger the Fight / Flight response.
On the other hand, when we have perceived ourselves to be safe and contained and our thoughts are peaceful then we trigger the relaxed state of Rest & Digest.
And, while our outer realities certainly have a role to play – it is our PERCEPTION of this reality that decides whether we feel stressed and afraid or confident and relaxed.
Let’s use the pandemic as an example. Controversial topic – I know – but there are people who believe the pandemic is a hoax. They do not perceive themselves to be at risk of contracting a potentially fatal illness. As a result, it is likely that their emotional response to the pandemic is one of suspicion and apathy. (disclaimer: I am making some assumptions around this to illustrate a point).
On the other hand, those who believe the pandemic is out of control and unmanageable will likely have an emotional response of fear and anxiety. Their reality is rife with threat.
Same external reality – millions dying of a virus. However, different perceptions resulting in very different reactions.
Our Thoughts About Our Ability To Cope
Anxiety is often created when we don’t believe we have what it takes to cope with a perceived threat.
But let’s remember that it all comes down to belief and perception. We have a belief about what is happening and how much of a threat it is. And we have a belief about our capacity to cope with stressful situations.
If we feel like we can’t cope then it stands to reason that we will feel anxious. And in this way our beliefs and thoughts continue to perpetuate our anxiety.
3 Strategies To Combat Thoughts and Shift Anxiety
When we want to shift anxiety much of it comes down to shifting our beliefs and our thoughts. This is largely why Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is so effective in shifting anxiety.
1. Identify Unhelpful Thinking Styles
Our beliefs create patterns of thought that often become entrenched. This means we develop styles of thinking that can become unhelpful. An example of this is the tendency to resort to self-criticism when things don’t go according to plan. Or to make mountains out of molehills. We may have a thinking style that only sees things in black or white, good or bad and nothing in between.
These thinking styles can perpetuate our anxiety and need to be addressed. The first step is identifying them and then using strategies taught inside our Unstuck Inner Circle to shift them.
2. Diffuse from Thoughts
Our tendency is to become entrenched in our thoughts. We believe them wholeheartedly and they become our reality. We don’t feel separated from our thoughts. By and large we tend to be our thoughts, live our thoughts, experience the reality through our thoughts.
When we have identified specific styles of thinking as unhelpful, or identified thoughts that do not serve us (like those that imagine potentially negative outcomes), then we also need to separate from them.
In fact, we gain control of our thinking when we see ourselves as the thinker of the thought. Separate from it.
We do this by diffusing from our thoughts. Specific techniques such as mindfulness practice and visualisations used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can assist us to diffuse from these thoughts.
3. Adjust The Equation
If anxiety arises when our perception of threat exceeds our belief in our ability to cope then we need to shift the equation. This means adjusting the perception of the threat. Or we need to adjust our belief about our ability to cope.
This might entail mobilising support. Or remembering skills previously learnt in counselling or therapy. Sometimes we also need to address our own limiting beliefs. Coaching is a great place to do this you can get started here today.
Always remember that you are human being with infinite potential.
You are not your thoughts. You are not your anxiety.
Your beliefs and your perceptions have shaped your experience. But you have the power to change them and shift them.