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.

19 comments:

Jasmine Zyzniewski said...

Wise words. A lot of overcoming symptoms of mental health comes with training the mind that what we're experiencing is okay... I know this is something that I have had to work on for many years.

Cheers - Jasmine

www.thebeautyofmindfulness.blogspot.com

Jess said...

Hi Doug. I'm a first time reader and I have to say that I'm just blown away by your openness and your insight into your own brain. This is an area of passion for me so I get really excited when I see that other people share my outlook.

I would like to talk with you a little further about your philosophies but I can't seem to find an email on your site... When you get a moment, would you please shoot me an email at jess@selfloveworthy.com? I would really appreciate it.

~Jess

Liberty L said...

I can definitely relate to this, I honestly think the most crazy thoughts when my anxiety is at its worst.
I just found your Blog and I am so glad I did I think its amazing and you are so open, I am sorry you have to suffer with this awful illness, but thank you for sharing your coping mechanisms with others.

I just started my own self help blog, which focuses a lot on Anxiety/Mental Illness so if you have time please check it out!:)

www.libertylifeandselfhelp.com

Bethany @ Online Therapy and Coaching said...

Be gently curious about those thoughts. Just trying to overwrite them might not work, if they are deep-seated. But it can be helpful to ask questions like: Why do I think this? What is my answer based on? Why should it be true? Says who?

Jess said...

Hi doug - I'm a different Jess. : ) Thanks for this - What particularly resonated with me today was the statement "we've essentially lost trust in ourselves".

I fear many things, but loss of control is the biggest one. When you write "and feeling out of control doesn't mean you really are out of control" - ah, but then my brain responds: Doesn't that mean then that this is really all my fault? This illness, my panic attacks, that if I just tried hard enough it should all just go away? If I'm not really out of control, then wtf??

Sometimes I hate my brain.

Anonymous said...

I'm on my third day of feeling out of control and understand what you're saying. Hating my brain right now also.

Peyton said...

I have seen my parents sit at home alone let negative thoughts concerning every day events caused them to become extremely agitated and miserable. The mind is a weird and powerful thing.

Neeraj Garnaal said...

very informative post... wonderful job... thanks for sharing





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Rabbit Thoughts said...

For me it's the fact that these distressing thoughts make me feel as you say, irrational, and a little bit crazy. Then I become afraid that I am going crazy and my anxiety takes over ....

It's never ending ... but well done for being on the path to Recovery!

I'm trying to get there myself and have started a blog as a means to getting my thoughts out there - www.rabbitthoughts.com

Anonymous said...

This was such a comforting post! I struggle with anxiety, and I feel like it gets worse when I'm really stressed out. It can be really hard to cope with these strong emotions and fears. I'm really glad that I'm not the only one that has to deal with it though. I'll be sure to watch out for feelings of shame or fear; hopefully that will help. I was thinking about going to see a counselor, especially with finals coming up soon. I get really anxious when it comes time for me to cram and study constantly, and then go take a test.

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Joe Pip said...

Does anyone here experience feelings of anger or high degrees of irritation at prople--espeacially those closest to you--for no real reason? That's my biggest problem at the moment. When my snxiety levels are high and I'm feeling really stressed the smallest little quirks of my gf get me SOO irritated. Then I get mad at myself for being so itritated, start questioning why I am so irritated, and get more worked up still. It always passes but I feel so bad about it. Any suggestions?

Joe Pip said...

Does anyone here experience feelings of anger or high degrees of irritation at prople--espeacially those closest to you--for no real reason? That's my biggest problem at the moment. When my snxiety levels are high and I'm feeling really stressed the smallest little quirks of my gf get me SOO irritated. Then I get mad at myself for being so itritated, start questioning why I am so irritated, and get more worked up still. It always passes but I feel so bad about it. Any suggestions?

Michael said...

Doug,

I think you would really enjoy listening to Comedian Bill Blank talk about how stand up comedy serves as a vaccine for his anxiety. He also talks about his first kiss in our NPR storytelling style podcast. Let us know what you think and please feel free to share Bill's story with others who might be suffering from crippling anxiety like Bill.

Listen now at
www.PunchedUpPodcast.com

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Gabrielle said...

Wise words, I can definitely relate to this article. Thanks for sharing this post.

If you feel like it, I also have a blog about my own experience with anxiety and stuff: https://thatbattlescarredgirl.
blogspot.com

Thank you lots again, this really helped 😊