I am someone who fully believes that change and growth is needed to continue to be the best version of yourself, but change can still be a hard thing sometimes. When things are going good in your life and you have a nice routine going, who really wants change?
I’ve struggled with anxiety for a few years now and only within this past year have I truly started to understand how my thinking can change my emotional world.
My anxiety really started in college. It’s not that any single decision I made or new experience I was going through was particularly bad, but it started when I was hit with the realization that for once, I wasn’t completely sure what path I was taking or what was ahead. I stressed HARD on the what-ifs, lost sleep on whether I was making the right life decisions, and my body was physically struggling to keep up with me. When I felt riddled with anxiety, it’s like my mind hyper-focuses on all the negatives. For a little while it feels like things are just not going to get better. No, it’s not like over-thinking something. With anxiety, it feels like being thrown into a panic to try to solve a Rubik’s cube, only the harder you try to solve it, the worse it becomes.
I took time to sit and get honest with myself (and through too many phone calls with my personal on-call 24/7 therapist: my mom). What I’ve learned this year that truly has changed my way of thinking is this: my focus creates my feeling. Whatever holds our attention, molds our intention.
It might sound so obvious, but for the most part we can control our thoughts. (This is of course with respect to any mental illness that simply doesn’t allow that). It’s crazy when I stop to think that I have the ability to stop myself when I’m sitting there thinking of all the possible things that can go wrong. When life seems to come to a halt and a dark cloud lingers over and all we can do is replay a little movie in our head with something negative or bad, we have the ability to think: ‘No. I’m not going to think that way. Instead, I’m going to dwell on all the positive outcomes that could happen and be grateful for all the good things in my life.’ My focus creates my feeling.
When I feel such anxiety over the what-ifs or play negative conversations or situations in my head that couldhappen, I realize I have the power to change that. I can immediately stop and tell my mind: ‘you’re better than that.’ Sometimes when I have anxiety, I truly couldn’t even tell you why. This sinking feeling hits me and I’m hard pressed to figure out what the heck is going on. But instead of feeling like I’m sinking, I actively tell myself to change my thoughts.
I stumbled across this verse from Philippians 4:8. Even if you don’t consider yourself religious, this is a sweet little reminder to dwell on the positive things when you’re feeling low.
“Fix your thoughts on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
This is no easy task, though. It’s hard to block out the negative downward spiral when anxiety hits, and even harder to convince yourself to start dwelling on the positives. But through trial and error I’ve found that if I can tell myself, “you are okay, right here, right now,” I can usually lead myself to think about the positive things happening in my day or my life. That switch from worry and fear to gratitude may not solve everything 100%, but it leads me back to the present.