4 Questions to ask your anxious thoughts
Does your anxiety make you feel cut off from the world?
Does your anxiety make you feel separate from other people?
Do you worry you’ll never feel happy or “normal” again?
Feeling anxiety can often make a person feel disconnected from the world and from the lives of other people. Anxiety also can seem to rob of life of its joy and meaning.
It’s like you can see and appreciate that other people are living happy, fulfilled lives, while you are merely watching them from the outside.
It is very common for people with anxiety to think they are alone. Then, thinking they’re alone, you start to feel even more anxious. And on and on.
People who experience anxiety tend to get caught in a web of anxious thoughts. One anxious thought leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next.
But research shows that just because you think a thought, does not make that thought true. The mind thinks thoughts. That’s what it does.
Dr. Rebecca Gladding explains the science behind this in her article “Don’t Believe Everything You Think or Feel”.
She writes: “One of our biggest challenges… is that we often take [our] initial brain-based thoughts, urges, emotional sensations, impulses and desires at face value and assume they must be true.”
According to Gladding, this “causes us to berate and dislike ourselves, often leading to anxiety, depression or unhealthy habits.”
Learning to see your thoughts as just, well, thoughts can bring tremendous relief to yourself as well as your relationships.
One great technique we’ve found to help us identify our painful thoughts so we aren’t controlled by them is The Work by Byron Katie.
An ordinary woman with a remarkable story, Katie used the following four questions to shift her own life out of crippling anxiety and depression into joy and fullfilment.
Next time you find yourself believing an anxious or stressful thought, try to systematically work through the following four questions:
1. Is the thought true?
2. Am I absolutely sure that it’s true?
3. How do I feel when I think the thought?
4. Who would I be without the thought?
As you answer these questions, try to notice (in your mind and in your body) what comes up.
When the answers flow smoothly, notice what you are learning about yourself. What new perspectives are you seeing? What is this revealing to you? What new possibilities might now be possible?
When you experience a block of any kind, or a desire not to face some part of the truth within yourself, notice what is coming up for you then too. What is keeping you from wanting to face yourself honestly? What do you sense is blocking you? What are you afraid of?
Recognizing that your thoughts are just “thoughts," and that you are not a slave to them, is often a turning point for many people with anxiety that we work with.
So go ahead. Give it a try!
If your thoughts have been controlling you until now, perhaps this is the moment to begin a new approach.
Remember, anxiety or not, you deserve to live a rich, full and meaningful life. We all do.