Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Handling distressing thoughts

Unwanted negative thoughts bother a lot of anxious people. These thoughts might be scandalous, lurid, heretical, or otherwise distasteful. They certainly don’t reflect their personalities or perspectives, yet they arrive unexpectedly and cause distress.

These thoughts are common for anxious people and should not be a source of shame or fear. A person might worry that he/she might say these thoughts aloud in a meeting, during prayer, etc., but that would never happen, as Dr. Low reminds us that the muscles always respond to the commands of the brain (unless there is an underlying medical problem). These thoughts bother us so much because we fear that we will say or do things we don’t want to; we’ve essentially lost trust in ourselves.

Yet these are just thoughts—some random neural energy that most people would immediately dismiss. Anxious people tend to ruminate on these distressing thoughts, giving them power and permanency, leading to greater distress. But Dr. Low says that thoughts and impulses can be controlled, and a feeling of being out of control doesn’t mean you really are out of control.

I find that such thoughts become problematic when I’m particularly stressed. I might fear, for example, that I’ll write a cuss word in an e-mail or drop an f-bomb during a presentation (who isn't a little stressed while standing in front of a room?). Neither of these would happen, of course, without me actually making them happen, but being overall stressed seems to weaken our rationality, leading us to overanalyze random thoughts that pop into everyone’s head every day.

My Recovery training teaches me that when I encounter such thoughts, I can dismiss them as distressing but not dangerous. My muscles will respond to my commands, and feelings that certain things might happen are certainly not facts. I embrace these secure thoughts and think about something else. If I move onto something else, usually these feelings will dissipate quickly, and even if they stick around I can take comfort in the knowledge that such symptoms are average for a nervous person. 

Distressing thoughts can be a source of great shame for an anxious person, but don't let these normal occurrences sidetrack your recovery.