The way we think plays an important part in our anxiety. Every thought we have our body will respond to and if we are thinking in a negative, irrational way our body will see this as a threat or danger and react accordingly. It doesn’t know if the thought is true or not. The body isn’t clever enough to rationalize thoughts it will just react to them.
If we can stop and think a minute, thinking is something we just do. We have many thoughts that just come and go. We don’t worry about them. Why then do some thoughts seem to stick and frighten us? The reason why is that we give them too much of an emotional reaction with fear and anxiety. Anxiety tricks us into thinking we are in danger or something is wrong. The thoughts become a problem and go round and round our mind, which is trying to find a solution or wishes us to act upon the thoughts, to make us safe.
The emotional part of the brain dominates the rational part of the brain when we are in danger because our thinking brain would be too slow and that would put us in danger.
If we understand what happens to us physically and mentally it takes some of the fear away.
In our subconscious we have two small organs called the Amygdala. Many emotional reactions are handled by the Amygdala including fear and anger. One of its many functions is to protect the body from danger. If it feels we are in danger it sends a signal to the nervous system which activates the fight and flight response. For example if someone was stuck in a lift they might start to panic and think “I have got to get out of here. I can’t breathe.” When the lift begins to work again one option is to think “that is the worst experience in my life”. “I am never going in a lift again”. The Amygdala will check if it is doing the right thing and if it hears negative thoughts it believes “Yes lifts are dangerous”. The problem with that is it will react in the same way around lifts in the future. ‘They must be avoided at all costs.’ But if a person thought “Oh what a nuisance I am late for an appointment” and just dismisses it from their mind the Amygdala believes lifts are nothing to worry about. We can see then why it is important to change the way we think and why our thoughts play a large part in anxiety. If we train our thoughts to be more positive and rational it will really help our anxiety.
The best article I have read about the relationship between our thoughts and emotions is by Margaret Hawkins and I would like to share this with you.
Am I ill in the accepted sense? No I am not. I haven’t got a virus, no broken bones, my heart and lungs are functioning well, so my doctor tells me. What is the matter then? If I am not ill, why do I feel ill and look ill? I have all the prerequisites, pains in my chest, my breathing problems, can’t eat, can’t walk because my legs are like jelly and then there are the dizzy spells. I’ve got to be ill haven’t I?
Let me think again. These are all real symptoms that I am experiencing but just supposing I accepted that I was not physically ill, what would I be left with – just that, a collection of symptoms. What now, why do I have them? I have been told it is because I am anxious and that the strange feelings are produced by my nervous system, which is not as steady as it should be. They tell me that it is the result of the surges of adrenaline that cause these frightening things happening to me. Yet I don’t ask for these things to happen to me. So why do they?
I can’t remember exactly when it started. It may have been because I lost my job, or was it when the baby was born and I was so stressed? Perhaps it was when I moved house and I was lonely or when Dad died? Maybe it was the time I had to have an operation or perhaps it was my divorce. I don’t know!
So here I am with a cluster of symptoms that I can’t get rid of because I don’t know what to do. Let me think about this. The first panic attack I had was in the street. It was unexpected and was a tremendous shock. Of course it could have happened anywhere, when I was held up in traffic, at the shops, in the office or at home. When I look back I can see that I was so scared of the horrible feelings, I soon started to avoid places and situations that made me anxious. However, before all this occurred I had no problems with these situations. So what does this tell me?
I have been reassured that I am physically well, but something must trigger of these attack. What can it be? I have tried to ignore them. I have kept away from distressing situations. I have tried everything but nothing seems to work. On the whole I don’t feel too bad unless I rock the boat, but I want to rock the boat. I want to do all the things I used to do.
It appears that only my thoughts are left. It must be something to do with them. ~They say that the mind is like a computer so I suppose I have stored all my horrible experiences away. I must have saved them in a file. That means I am programmed doesn’t it? Could this be the answer? Consciously or unconsciously when I am having a bad day or in a situation I dread, what do I do? I search through my memory bank and up comes my file. It reads “You felt frightened when you were in this situation before” That is enough to make me feel frightened all over again! Here comes another panic attack.
What am I going to do? Well I am going to try and re-program my computer so that when I search my file it will read – “I know I felt frightened in this situation before but I must remember that I have not always reacted like this. The situation has not changed, just my conception of it. I am afraid of a feeling that I had and now I am recreating it. I am expecting it to happen and of course it will. My computer can only do what I tell it and will follow the program through. In other words if I think I might panic my inbuilt computer starts to search its memory bank to locate all the things connected with this thought and it sends out messages, alarm signals, that work automatically to get me ready for action. But I don’t need to go into action do I? There is nothing for me to fight! I am going to try and accept what has happened to me and I am going to gradually go through my memory file deleting all the old and unwanted information. After that I am going to write a new program that will give me a different perspective on my problems and banish fear.