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Containing Your Runaway Thoughts that Cause Anxiety

Jill suffered a devastating anxiety attack. She had been depressed for months over her upcoming fiftieth birthday. Instead of being a celebration of a half-century of life, Jill dreaded the date. She forbade her family from making a fuss.

Jill refused to go out with friends as the date approached. She was emotionally distant and began to complain of a variety of physical ailments. Instead of engaging in social events and her normal routine of volunteering, Jill spent months going from doctor to doctor, unable to find out why she was feeling so bad. The weekend after she would up in the emergency room, Jill called to see a counselor.

Together they worked on the reasons for her depression and subsequent anxiety attack. During their time together, the counselor noticed that Jill talked a great deal, almost nonstop. Once she got started on a topic, Jill would keep right on going. One thought led to another, and another, and another. Often, the thought three or four steps down the line had only a marginal connection to the first. The runaway thought pattern helped contribute to Jill’s depression and anxiety attack.

Jill was concerned about turning fifty. She thought about all of the conditions and health problems she had heard about in those over fifty, from cancer, osteoporosis, and menopause to Alzheimer’s. As she dreaded her approaching birthday, she convinced herself that being fifty automatically meant a loss of health and vitality. On the night of her panic attack, the spiral of her thoughts led her to believe that common indigestion was actually a heart attack. The more she worried, the more adrenaline surged through her system and the faster her heart raced.

The faster her heart beat, the more she was aware of it. It seemed abnormally fast and beating erratically. Jill remembered hearing a radio commercial about the signs of a heart attack, and sure enough, she suddenly found herself experiencing each one—rapid, erratic heart rate; shortness of breath; lightheadedness; tingling in her extremities. These symptoms, of course, are also present during anxiety or panic attacks.

The humiliation of creating such a crisis in her family caused her to worry she was losing control over her mental process. This fear of losing mental control prompted her to come in for counseling, something she had never considered in the past. Her counselor coached Jill to “slow down” and practice thought containment.

Many times, emotional depression and its companion, anxiety, can be brought under control when the depressed person learns to contain his or her thoughts without letting them escalate into predetermined catastrophes. Jill had convinced herself that her fiftieth birthday would bring nothing but problems, so it did.

It is part of the human condition that negative thoughts seem to flow easier than logical and more positive ones. An overactive brain can take a small incident and inflate it into a major crisis. If this pattern is repeated often enough, the person becomes swept away in the mental torrent, unable to find the footholds needed to return to the solid ground of common sense and reality. When the flow of thoughts slows down, the person is able to better realize the truth and maintain a grip on the probabilities.

If a person is naturally pessimistic, inclined toward runaway thoughts, depression is often the result. The person who feels powerless to control his thoughts assumes that the worst can happen soon will. This focus on disaster does not allow the person to keep optimistic, hope, or joy in his sights for very long. Negative self-talk and the grim atmosphere of a foul mood fuel this fatalistic mental spirit.

If you are struggling with depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.

 

Examining Your Anxiety

It may seem that our current, crazy, stressful lives produce a bumper crop of anxieties, concerns, and worries.  Because we think our present circumstances are unique, we use them as an explanation and, frankly, as an excuse.  We use them as an excuse to justify hopelessness, for staying stuck.  Life today is just so hard.  This is just who I am.  I’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work.  No one can really help.  What I go through is just too weird; no one can really understand. 

Anxieties speak a language of absolutes.  A possibility is a certainty.  What could, will.  What might, will.  But if anxieties speak a language of absolutes, it is not a universal language.  Some words are not translatable.  Anxiety does not have a word for peace.  It does not have a word for relief.  It does not have a word for rest.  It is a language of negativity, of hopelessness, of despair.  It is a language of defeat.  Anxieties force us to surrender before the true battle is even engaged.

There is an axiom: know your enemy.  I’d like you to anthropomorphize your anxiety, your phobia, your panic attack and think about it as something other than yourself.  This is a way for you to examine your anxieties and their consequences through an imaginary buffer.  Put them outside of yourself and give yourself permission to examine them without triggering them.

Anxiety disorders have an anatomy.  They have shared traits and unique features.  What I’d like you to do now is get to know yours.  As much as you’re able, think of it in the third person.  Use “it” instead of “I.”

  • What are the physical characteristics of anxiety?  What does it do to you?
  • How often does it happen?
  • What do you do to help yourself feel better?  Does anything help?
  • Does anything make it worse?
  • How long does it usually last?
  • Have you ever talked with someone about it?  If so, who and why?  If not, why not?
  • How long have you been hoping it would just go away?
  • Do you really believe you’ll ever be able to get over it?

Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (NLT). Anxiety is a perversion of faith.  Anxiety is the confidence that what we hope against will actually happen; it gives us assurance that what we can’t yet see will be bad.  Hebrews 11 is a chapter replete with the victories of faith.  Anxiety doesn’t produce any victories; it only accomplishes defeat.  This is not the life God has planned for you.  The life you’re living now is not the one he wants you to live.

The faith life God intends for you is not the perverse life of anxiety.  He does not want you to take your capacity for faith and distort it into a belief in the least possible or the worst imaginable.  He does not want you to sacrifice your life on the altar of anxiety, giving up more and more year after year, hoping to appease anxiety’s appetite.

Instead of trusting in the catastrophe of today and the terror of tomorrow, God asks you to trust in him.  As you continue to to examine your anxiety and what effect it’s had on your life, I ask you to transfer as much trust as you can from anxiety to God.  You’ve trusted in your anxiety’s capacity to cause you grief, fear, and stress.  Take a part of that trust and turn it over to God.  Trust him to be with you through this journey, to know the face of your fear, to be strong enough to help you overcome it and loving enough to deeply desire to help you.

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or fear in your life, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  For more information, call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.