As we’ve discussed over the past few blog posts, anxiety is rampant these days. It has become a way of life for many people — perhaps even you. Maybe you feel consumed so much by erratic emotions and feelings of uncertainty, hopelessness, fear, and dread that now you can’t enjoy life. It can feel nearly impossible to control and can last for a long time.
When anxiety sets in with a vengeance, it’s easy for us to feel like life is too chaotic. We instantly feel defeated. But learning to manage your thoughts and thinking is absolutely possible — and necessary.
Many skills can be learned, regardless of whether your anxiety is situational or chronic.
You don’t have to see the whole staircase.
Just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Learn to manage your thoughts and thinking
Keep negative rectangles out, let positive triangles in
When it comes to anxiety, there is a consistent thought about oneself or a negative situation. For example, let’s say growing up that Dave had difficulties in school — both in academics and in sports. He continually struggled to do well and often felt a sense of not being good enough.
So, inside his brain, it’s as if he has an entrance into that core belief. That entrance is shaped like a rectangle. And inside that core belief is stamped “I’m not good enough.” So when ANY situation comes along, he can turn that situation into a “negative rectangle.” He lets that into his core belief of “I’m not good enough,” reinforcing that belief. Conversely, when he has a good thing happen, let’s call that a “positive triangle.” But since that positive triangle, or good thing, does not fit his negative rectangle entrance, he lets that bounce off and never reinforces the good things in his life. He doesn’t let positive things in to try to change that core belief about himself. So, be aware of the things you turn negative and keep reinforcing in your mind, and be mindful of the positive things and let them in!
Take thoughts captive, reframe, modify, and change your negative thoughts
Another skill in managing your thoughts and thinking is to be aware of what you are thinking about and what you are telling yourself about yourself. We call this self-talk, and often, it’s negative and not very uplifting. We have to learn to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). What does taking a thought captive really mean? It means that we evaluate the thoughts that goes through our minds to see if they are true or if they are dysfunctional. We make sure what we are telling ourselves is positive and helpful to encourage us. This also has a bonus effect. It results in being generous to ourselves and showing grace.
Generosity and grace are two of the most critical aspects of managing stress, anxiety, and worry in our lives. What are you telling yourself regularly? Do you compare yourself positively to others, or do you evaluate yourself as superior or inferior? Do you value the things that you do and the abilities and skills that you do have? Make sure you do and tell yourself so!
Make a 5-step list to evaluate and manage situations, emotions, and negative self-talk
Our thoughts create emotions and affect our behavior. The emotional or behavioral consequences of an event or situation or life are not created by that event; it’s created by our belief system. Just like the meaning we give it and our self-talk. The five-step process helps us to understand our situations, how we feel, and what we’re telling ourselves in those situations so that we can modify how we think about them and what we do.
- 1 Recognize a situation where you want to change your reaction or your anxiety.
- 2 Identify all of the emotions surrounding that situation.
- 3 Understand what you were telling yourself (self-talk) in this situation.
- 4 Evaluate your self-talk, which you determined in step #3. Is your thinking dysfunctional? In other words, is there data or information that says this thinking is actually true?
- 5 Change our self-talk. We list what we can tell ourselves that are better for us, are true for us, what we can do, and what we will do. To modify or change our self-talk leads us to more encouragement, more productivity, and being more effective in managing our situations, emotions and our behaviors. It is taking our thoughts captive and replacing them with what is true, good, positive, lovely, admirable etc. (Philippians 4:8
Use a stress or anxiety log to capture and evaluate thoughts
Use a daily log to help you understand how the events or the situations in the day affect your self-talk, and how you think. This leads to understanding you react and behave. Try starting with situations that cause you stress or anxiety. Then think through what you are thinking and what you are telling yourself. And then look at how you could react or what you did within that situation and how you thought about it. Then you can evaluate what you can do differently and how you can think about those situations differently, so you act more appropriately for those situations in the future.
All we’re trying to say here is that we have more control over anxiety and stress than we think. Do a little bit every day, and you’ll be surprised how much better you feel.
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Did we leave anything out? What steps are you taking to remove anxiety from your life? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going at Mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.