CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) taught me about the impact of anxious thoughts.
Throughout years of suffering with crippling anxiety, my family and friends would always tell me to just ‘distract my mind.’ I would throw myself into a variety of distractions, such as watching TV or going out shopping, but nothing really helped get rid of that anxious feeling and the thoughts I was struggling with.
Thankfully whilst I went through CBT, I learned all about a coping strategy: distraction vs dealing with the anxious thoughts.
Here’s how I overcame the power of anxious thoughts…
Distraction from anxious thoughts
I was told that it was very much ‘mind over matter.’ So, I would try to be strong and distract myself from all thoughts and worries that were swarming through my head each day. I would go out shopping, watch films or bake.
Although there’s nothing wrong with any of these activities, they never cured my anxiety. If anything, I felt more stressed by the end of the day ironically. All the anxious thoughts had built up during the day and had not been dealt with. They still existed. In the long run it made my suffering with anxiety even worse.
When I went to CBT, my mental health counsellor told me that distraction actually hinders your progress with dealing with anxiety. Initially, this was quite alarming to hear; as that was the only way I’d learnt to cope with them until then.
Thankfully the counsellor taught me a new method that I was to use going forwards, which would help me to deal with my anxious thoughts. It took away the power that they had over me.
The method he taught me was called ‘worry time.’
Throughout the day when you encounter anxious thoughts, make a note of them on a piece of paper, or on your phone. Every anxious thought that comes into your head. As a worry arises, you must acknowledge it. Say to yourself, “I acknowledge this worry, but I’ll deal with it later.”
In the evening, dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to sift through these worries. Remember to set a timer – be really strict with yourself – and deal with these worries in one go.
What you are learning to do here is to allocate a set amount of time and give yourself permission to think about these thoughts consciously. By doing so, the remainder of your day should technically be worry free.
I discovered that some of the concerns I had earlier in the day had already been dealt with by the time I sat down. I found this quite reassuring.
The other worries that were left could be split into ‘hypothetical worries’ and ‘practical worries.’
Hypothetical worries are worries that you have that you cannot do a single thing about. For example, worrying about a scenario such as a fire happening or your parents passing away. These are all very valid worries and are something that a lot of us fear, however, there is nothing you can do about them. And they are likely to not happen, certainly not when you think they will.
Therefore, with these worries, you should acknowledge them by saying, “I acknowledge that I am worried about X, Y or Z, however, there is nothing I can do about this worry, so I’m going to let the worry go and move on.”
These thoughts are very hard to overcome to start with. You might end up worrying about them every day for a while at first, but over time you will develop a habit of knowing that you cannot affect these worries. You will realise that it’s unhealthy and detrimental for you to keep processing those worries through your brain and learn to not think about them until your allocated time. Overtime you realise that some worries just never come to fruition, therefore it’s pointless energy.
Practical worries are those you can do something about. For example, if you have got a debt that you need to deal with, your next action during your ‘worry time’ is to create a plan to deal with this issue. Break it down into achievable, realistic goals – and your worry will soon be dealt with.
By simply creating a plan, it will be much easier to deal with. It makes this big worry suddenly shrink before your eyes in importance. What you’re left with is a problem or challenge that you can, and you absolutely will, resolve. You could also ask a trusted friend or family member to help you for extra support.
Don’t be afraid to tackle your thoughts
The aim of this article is to help you to realise how important it is to deal with your anxious thoughts and worries rather than let them grow through your inaction. Ultimately, when you distract yourself from solving problems, what actually happens is that they become more powerful. In the long run, this could make your mental health worse.
By tackling your worries each day and getting into a healthy routine of breaking them up to be more digestible, you will chip away at your anxiety.
This in turn will lessen the impact your anxious thoughts and feelings have on you.
If you are struggling with anxiety and you need help, whether that’s 1-2-1 or group support, please visit our help and support page for more information.
Thank you to our regular guest blogger, Gayleen Hodson, for writing this blog.