Living with an anxiety disorder, my thoughts are my nightmare. I get trapped in a negative thought pattern and it creates a terrible downward spiral that is almost impossible to escape.
This often leads to me hiding in my bedroom trying to avoid the world around me, worrying about events that may or may not hold any basis in reality.
That is, until I learned that I hold the remote on this big screen TV brain of mine, that I can change to a different channel whenever I want.
Here are some methods to help change the channel and escape the downward thought spiral
Take a Step back
When the negative thoughts begin, it is important to take a moment and step back from them. Analyze and observe your thoughts. Use this time to determine whether these thoughts hold any merit and are realistic or not.
Your thoughts don’t define you and most of them are not based in truth, you made them up.
Accept your thoughts
Accept your negative thoughts and welcome them in. Don’t be immediately dismissive of your thoughts. Take them in and understand why you are feeling this way.
Avoiding your thoughts, running away and putting them in the back of your mind isn’t doing anything to help you develop a process that will be positive. These thoughts will just grow and fester if you continue to avoid them.
Draw on past experiences
Think back to a previous time that you had the same or similar worries and thoughts. What happened in that situation?, did it really turn out all that bad?
Most of the time, you were fine, the world did not end. Use these past experiences to give yourself strength and confidence to move forward, and not fall down the rabbit hole.
Use a reinforcing statement
Develop a reinforcing, comforting statement, also known as a Mantra. Choose something that makes you feel better and keep repeating it until your thoughts diminish.
I won’t give you any examples, everyone must develop their own. Repeat a comforting statement and it’s harder to focus on the negative thoughts.
Change your anxiety routine
My habit when negative thoughts arose was to run to the medicine cabinet, grab my pills, pop a few and hide from the world. Looking back, this was not the best solution. You need to change your routine.
Change your venue, go to a different room, or leave the office for a few minutes. Try to do some exercise, take a quick walk, do some Yoga, or even a little meditation instead of running for the pills. Sometimes a good long walk helps more than a Xanax ever will.
Live in the moment. This is a form of meditation that can help you welcome your thoughts in and watch them float away. Don’t dwell on the thoughts for too long. Understand that they are just thoughts, and you can blow them away.
I close my eyes and imagine my thoughts as bubbles (like the ones in the comics) and then I shoot arrows at them making them explode away.
Do a breathing exercise. Take a few minutes, close your eyes and breath in slowly for a long count of 4, then breath out even slower for a count of 8.
You can even check out some YouTube videos with guided breathing exercises. They are all mostly the same and follow the same principles. Focus on your breath and it will have an amazing centering affect on your brain.
Journal or Start a Diary
For me, writing is incredibly therapeutic. It is a true Godsend. I will turn to my journal or laptop anytime I need to escape the downward spiral. I jot down all the thoughts that come into my head, all the worries, all the negativities and then I scribble them all out.
This follows the same principle of accepting your thoughts and dismissing them, just in written form. Sometimes my ramblings even turn to stories I can post on Medium (like this one).
Schedule a worrying time
This one sounds a little bonkers but pencil in some time in your day to worry. Throughout the day collect all the worries and negative thoughts and revisit them during your worry time.
This is a form of acknowledging your thoughts and knowing that you will think about them later. Trust me, when you get to that worrying time, you will have forgotten most of your worries. And the ones remaining won’t seem that bad after all.
Find an outlet
Find something that makes you happy and takes your mind off your thoughts for a few moments. I understand that this contradicts what I said earlier about avoidance but when you fall a little too far into the anxiety spiral, sometimes a little escape helps more than anything.
Find something that makes you happy in the moment. I normally listen to a little music, or watch some funny comedy videos, this breaks me out of the spiral most times. My Therapist calls this my “brain candy”. Find yourself some, it helps a ton.
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Ultimately, you may not use each and every one of these methods. Hopefully, you can cherry-pick the ones that work for you, and I truly hope one of these helps you find your way out of the downward thought spiral.
Understand that your thoughts do not define you. You can easily change the channel on the remote and create a different mindset.
Previously published on “Invisible Illness”, a Medium publication.
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