The mind is one of the greatest assets God gave us to thrive, flourish, and prosper. Our minds can empower us to discover creative innovations, solve difficult problems, and make decisions that lead to a fulfilling life. But sometimes our minds — our thoughts and impressions and perceptions — work against us. When our thoughts are negative, distorted, or out of balance, we become filled with doubt, district, and despair. And anxiety.
This leads to very good news. It is within your power and ability to control and shape your thoughts to be comforting, reassuring, and life-giving.
Let’s look at several techniques to help you overcome negative thoughts rather than be overcome by them. Try some of these activities to begin putting these techniques to use in resetting your anxiety.
- Read a book or article about mindfulness. This is such an important technique for calming your brain and soothing your emotions that it warrants further exploration. Many people misunderstand what mindfulness involves, assuming it means doing yoga or sitting cross-legged on the floor while meditating. There are many ways to incorporate a mindful approach to life, and reading a helpful book will give you ideas.
- Identify several specific aspects of your life that you feel especially positive and optimistic about. Do this in your journal, with a counselor, or close friend. These aspects might be your work, parenting, marriage, spiritual growth, or creative pursuits. Be as specific as possible, and celebrate the good things in your life. One powerful way to relieve anxiety is to choose to focus on the positive parts of your life rather than dwelling on the things that are less than ideal.
- Examine your negative thoughts. Write down a sentence or two that reveals a specific thought that’s been troubling you. Then try to identify what might have triggered the thought. Did a coworker make a snide remark about you? Did a news report upset you? Once you know the source of the troubling thought, you’re in a better position to look at it realistically and to reframe it in positive terms.
- Try a simple cognitive distancing exercise. On a piece of paper, write down a negative belief you feel is holding you back and weighing you down. Now take the piece of paper, fold it up, and cut it up into small pieces and throw it away. As you do, say to yourself, This belief has been with me for a long time, but not anymore. I am choosing to let it go and replace it with a more positive and accurate belief about myself.
- Envision your best possible self and life. For the next two weeks, spend fifteen minutes thinking and writing about enjoying the best possible circumstances in your future. Ponder your goals and dreams, and envision that everything works out to be the very best situation. Then spend another five minutes visualizing this best future life as vividly as you can, with lots of details. This exercise is more than just a feel-good pep talk for yourself; you will be retraining your mind and redirecting your thoughts.
You are not a slave to your anxious, pessimistic thoughts. You are in charge of your thoughts, and you can direct them to help you rather than hinder you, to propel you forward rather than hold you back.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, recognized as a Top 10 Center for Depression Treatment. He is the author of over 40 best-selling books and a renowned expert on mental health treatment.