When anxiety runs through us, it manifests as a variety of thoughts. These can range from unpleasant or annoying, to nonsensical, to downright scary and dreadful.
By believing these thoughts, we further prolong the anxiety and make it more intense. Instead, if we can recognize these thoughts patterns and not believe in them, we can break this cycle of anxiety.
Here are some of the thought patterns of an anxious mind:
Some examples of what-if thoughts can be
“What if I get a panic attack?”
“What if I will always be like this?”
“What if I go mad?”
“What if they make fun of me?”
“What if there’s a traffic jam and I will be stuck for hours in traffic?”
“What if I hurt someone close to me?”
“What if I want to hurt myself?”
So what do you do when you are possessed by thoughts like these? One simple trick is as soon as a ‘what-if’ thought appears in your awareness, you are free to dismiss it.
It makes no sense to believe in ‘what-if’ thoughts. They are brought about by a stressed and scared mind. If you choose to follow this thought, then it will surely lead you to other thoughts that are highly discouraging and fearful.
The easiest way to deal with such a thought is to dismiss it. But sometimes, they are not that easy to dismiss; in that case, label the thought as a ‘what-if’ and simply agree and accept it; say, “Yes, so be it,” out loud or in your mind.
For example, during my days of intense anxiety, I’d often think, “What if I will eventually go insane?” Then I’d recognize it as a ‘what-if’ thought and say, “Fine, so be it.” Immediately, there will be a sense of relief. And guess what? I still have not gone insane, not even after all of these years.
People who feel depressed often encounter self-defeating thoughts, but it is not uncommon for an anxious person to have them as well. When someone’s been dealing with anxiety for a long time, they can sometimes fall into a hopeless pit of despair. When that happens, their mind is clouded in a haze of self-defeating thoughts.
You might wake up feeling like ‘I can’t take this anymore’ or ‘today will be another dreadful day’. Then as your day goes on, because of how the anxiety might be preventing you from connecting with life, you may think ‘this will never change, I am losing my life every day’.
It is important to recognize these kinds of thoughts and aim to find some space between yourself and this thought. Become aware of such thinking before you start to believe them.
And here’s another important piece of information about these thoughts: they are mostly automatic. All these self-defeating thoughts fall easily into automatic thinking. That means you don’t usually have any control over when they arise.
Learn to see these thoughts as automatic, and not as a sign of the situation you’re in. These thoughts are not a good indicator of your life. They may seem so because you’ve been hearing them for a long time, but that does not make them true.
When we believe these thoughts or keep fighting them, they become a permanent resident of our internal mind-space. Once you start noticing how automatic they are, space is created between you and these thoughts. That may be the key to recovering from them.
At the peak of my anxious days, my mind was buzzing like a beehive. There was a constant chatter of thoughts of various kinds. One in particular, was heavily annoying. I am talking about those thoughts that are pure nonsense. It was usually in the form of a stream of words that made no sense when put together. It was sometimes guttural sounds.
Other times, it would take the form of a collage of sounds from TV commercials I had seen as a kid. The one that takes the cake is when a song or a piece of music would get stuck on repeat in my head for days on end.
I realized that these nonsensical thoughts were a way for my agitated mind to blow off some steam. When I was highly stressed, I became anxious; and my mind, in turn, would become agitated. When this happened I had a barrage of thoughts that suddenly filled my awareness. I understood that I had no control over them.
Eventually, when my anxiety lessened, these nonsensical thoughts completely vanished which meant that their presence was tied to the presence of anxiety.
This is the hallmark of depersonalization (DP), a dissociative phenomenon that anxious people sometimes experience. Ordinary people suddenly become philosophers when possessed by them. Existence, which was once quaint and calm suddenly feels like it’s in full force and full vibrancy.
Some examples of these existential thoughts include:
“Why do I exist?”
“Am I in a dream?”
“Why does anything exist?”
“How can I be sure that I am alive and not dead?”
“How can I know that other people are not aliens?”
“What is this planet called Earth?”
“Who is thinking these thoughts?”
“Where are these thoughts coming from?”
“Am I going to vanish into nothingness suddenly?”
No one really knows why people who are anxious and depersonalized suddenly think about questions that plague only philosophy graduates. In my personal opinion, this signifies some sort of spiritual experience tied to anxiety, depersonalization, and life itself.
The way to get over these thoughts is to actually be curious about them. I know that probably sounds like a dangerous thing to do. Initially, I was afraid to go towards them too. It felt like going deeper into the rabbit hole, and I was worried if I’d just be carried off into another realm, losing my mind and myself in the process.
This, however, did not happen. What emerged was a fascination about our universe and existence and richer sense of who I am and my purpose. These questions and their answers, which I stumbled on to through meditation, reading, and reflection; they actually made life more interesting. They made me more spiritually aware.
These days, I am not plagued so much by these existential questions, but I do have insights about existence and life, which I cherish dearly. These insights lead me to see my own experience of anxiety and depersonalization as a spiritual emergence.
- Jumbled Thoughts – https://www.flickr.com/photos/lochthyme/16227325039