Overcoming Anxious Thoughts

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To begin this Mindfulness Exercise on Anxiety, please bring kind awareness to

– why you chose this topic
– how your belly, chest, and head each feel when you reflect on this topic
– the emotions that you can associate with these visceral feelings
– the positive or negative impact of any stories you believe in regarding this topic
– the consoling/humbling/inspiring fact that many others are feeling similarly about this topic as you
– how you will feel with increased awareness around this topic
– when you can apply increased mindfulness to this topic in your day-to-day life

When we are caught in a vortex of anxious thoughts, it might be difficult to see our way out. Even meditation practices seem more difficult than usual in these cases. The momentum of thoughts can be so strong, that we are completely entangled in what we are thinking and find impossible to see the bigger picture. 

So how can we find a way out?

It's always important to remind ourselves that a thought is only a thought. It's like having a novel in our hands. The book is definitely real, but its content isn't – it's just a story. Our thoughts work in the same way. Their existence is obviously real, since we are having them, but their content isn’t.

Reality happens outside of thought. A thought is just a commentary, a superimposition on what’s happening. However, instead of always being conscious of this, we tend to forget and live our life through our concepts alone. 

Imagine reading someone’s long commentary about a gripping TV series, instead of actually watching it first-hand, and decide that this series is really boring… This is how we live our lives! The voice in our head is the commentary. But if we believe the voice in our head, we cannot view reality as it is.

Luckily, psychology offers several tools to help us work with anxious thoughts. In the file below, you’ll find a technique that will help you with overcoming anxious thoughts by firstly estimating the real odds of what you worry might happen and then formulating a coping plan.

Here is your online worksheet:

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More on Overcoming Anxious Thoughts

If you find difficult to endure the onslaught of negative thoughts and want to change them, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) might be your best tool. 

CBT’s aim is to help us recognize our cognitive distortions – i.e., it makes possible for us to see what distorted ways of thinking we are inadvertently adding to reality in our mental commentary. Once this is seen, we realize that our thoughts are a superimposition on what’s actually happening, and they lose the power to control us.

In his “The Feeling Good Handbook”, Dr. David Burns lists 10 Types of Twisted Thinking to look out for. These are:
01. Jumping to conclusions
02. Overgeneralization
03. Mental filter
04. Discounting the positive
05. All-or-nothing thinking
06. Magnification
07. Emotional Reasoning
08. Shoulds and musts
09. Labelling
10. a) Personalization
      b) Blame

He also offers several ways to untwist our thoughts and regain lucidity. You can find a detailed explanation here.

All these techniques can be very useful in overcoming anxious thoughts and see that their content is not actually real. By living life through thoughts, what we are doing is simply looking at it through a colored window.

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About the Author Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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