Updated: Apr 8, 2021
When faced with a stressful situation that has the potential to increase your anxiety, it's easy to imagine that the worst is about to happen as you are aware. When this happens, your anxiety symptoms can become magnified within seconds. To manage this, you have to quickly catch your own self-destructive and sabotaging thoughts. You need to be adept at transforming these negative thoughts into healthier ones immediately. This blog aims to help you flip the focus of these thoughts at the moment, helping you gain control over fearful perspectives.
How to Deal with Unhelpful Thoughts
We now move into the school of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This psychology approach that has proven effective in treating anxiety. It proposes that a person's thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and behaviours are interconnected. Changes in one aspect will bring about changes in the others. Using this approach, focusing on replacing your negative thoughts with positive ones, you can overcome the negative feelings associated with anxiety. The starting point lies in a conscious effort to take a step back and review your negative thoughts, to substitute positive ones.
To do this, I offer a 3C strategy for you to try; Cease, Calm, Change. Use this exercise each time you feel overwhelmed by negativity or feel frustrated. Ultimately, try to use your inner guidance to dictate when this exercise will suit each situation.
Exercise 12: Use a 3C Strategy to Replace Negative Thoughts
Step One: Cease
The first step in managing your anxious thoughts is to be present and actively stop thinking the negative thoughts. Sounds like common sense, doesn't it? Well, it is; it is the best way to stop focusing on negative thoughts and allow yourself to distract yourself. The cease step, is all about regaining the awareness that you can choose to refocus upon something else, even whilst feeling anxious.
The key here is to stop directly thinking of the pink elephant. That is your anxiety symptoms. You need to focus effort on diverting your attention to something else. Again, easier said than done when you are experiencing anxiety at the moment, however, any small steps will equal more significant steps further on, so work upon making an effort to divert attention. This shift in focus and thereby, distraction will help diminish these overwhelming thoughts' power and allow you to regain controlof your reactions. This technique is known as using "shifters", and the name refers to finding something else to shift your focus onto. I use the "cease" technique regularly in practice, as it is a handy tool, for shifting focus practically.
Thus far, exercises described in Chapters 5, 6 and 8 have provided you with various "shifters" to use when redirecting your attention away from unhelpful, anxiety-driven thoughts. The next chapter gives you other alternative holistic approaches for shifting your focus. You may like to use those techniques even whilst using the 3C strategy.
Other coping aids, however, can include:
· engaging in something physical;
· jumping up and down, dancing, snapping your fingers in a complicated rhythm;
· breaking into joyful singing, with one of your favourite songs;
· shifting your focus to a television program, or a strange image;
· listening to calming music;
· looking at photos that comfort you or bring you happy memories;
· using aromatherapy oils, or smelling something that brings you comfort.
Have a go at this, try out different coping aids and see what shifters work well for you, it may be a selection, or just one. The key is finding the best approach that you are confident works well.
Step Two: Calm
Step one aids in shifting you away from entering into an anxiety-driven state. When you have regained focus from “cease” and opted out of the frantic emotional cycle, your thoughts become your own, once again. This is when you will need to introduce ideas and thoughts that are calming. Several techniques outlined in the previous chapters will have helped you to discover what brings calm to your being. Finding ways to become calm is a necessary stress-management skill to help with your anxiety and regulate yourself. Perhaps you will favour imagining a safe and beautiful place to go to in your mind; or you will use slow, controlled breathing to calm yourself, or perhaps yoga and meditation help. Use whatever techniques you have tried and found useful from previous Chapters. You could also explore new ways of inducing a calm state. The significance here is that you should be open to experiencing new ways of working for you. Surrender any worries and frustrations of what calming technique to use, and just go with the moment and ask yourself what the right approach to use is. Trust that you will guide yourself in the right direction and give yourself strength when needed.
Step Three: Change
Once you have used step one and shifted your focus, and participated in something calming, using step two - the last step then, is dealing with your anxious thoughts is to remodel them. This means that you will actively replace the negative thoughts with positive ones that result from adopting a different perspective on the problem. This is a process known as "reframing". It is one that I spend a lot of energy on when helping clients overcome debilitating thought patterns. The aim is to actively change your distorted perspective of the situation so that you can consider another aspect that you might not have considered previously. For example, suppose you believe that you are a failure and feel low about yourself. In that case, you could try thinking, instead, about past mistakes and how you have learned from them switching the focus. In particular, you could try to remember the times in your life when failures have led to growth and change that has, in turn, brought you success and better things. In this instance, what you are doing is reframing your failure beliefs towards a pathway of appreciation of your growth and better outcomes. This brings you a new way of looking at failure, which is more positive and motivating.
Try the 3 'Cs when you can feel the negative cycle taking hold, the more you do this each day the easier it becomes.