Dear Beautiful You,
We all worry. However, to most people worry is a fleeting emotion that passes without inspection and over analysis. However, for people with anxiety "what if thinking" is a relentless battle. It can take you to depths of despair that seem impossible to climb out from. When someone with anxiety is preoccupied with these thoughts, they can become paralyzed. Fearing these ideas in your head, a relationship is formed that creates a battle between intrusive thoughts and trying to stop them.
I had such a problem with "what if thinking" that I was sure I was never going to get them out of my head.
I had general anxiety thoughts such as "what if I lose my job?" and this very statement would send me in a tailspin of arguments and counter arguments of why I could possibly lose my job. As I thought about these thoughts, symptoms of anxiety would arise alongside of me, as feelings of panic and fear would rule my body.
I also had specific phobias: such as a fear of heights. For example, my mind would go to work with multiple "what if" thoughts while I peered out over a beautiful mountain view, but because of my thinking, I never was able to fully enjoy the view. I would be clinging to the negative, thinking of what could possibly happen if I came too close to the edge. Panic attacks would accompany me whenever I went into this pattern of phobia, and I was left tired, scared and defeated. An extreme behavior from here is agoraphobia where you tend to tighten your safe place so that you can avoid any what if thinking. But this too, is a temporary fix, as your mind will find a way that even your perceived safe place is questionable.
Another type of "what if thinking" is for people who have OCD. Contrary to popular belief, OCD is not someone who needs to be neat and orderly. In fact, OCD thinking is 'what if' thinking gone too far. I had these thoughts too, and in my case, were the worst for me. I would get caught up in catastrophic thoughts that I would focus on, trying to argue that all is good. I would build scenarios in my head to prove the catastrophe could never happen, but the thoughts would just grow and counter my arguments. My compulsion was to fight the thoughts with knowledge. I would Google the problem and find proof that what I was thinking was not valid. However, our brains a very powerful and will give us more of what it thinks is important. And because I focused upon these thoughts, well guess what, I got more of the dreaded thoughts. It was a relentless battle that created awful physical symptoms day in and day out. The worst part was that those that loved me could not truly understand what I was experiencing within, and although they tried to help, it actually made me feel worse. I was a smart girl, with odd intrusive thoughts that wore me out and left me feeling lost, scared and longing for the strong woman that used to be me.
So how to get out of this cruel world?
I learned to allow 'what if' thoughts in. Yes, that is right. The very thoughts that I believed were hurting me, were actually my passage out of anxiety. It was not the thoughts themselves that created the anxiety. I realized it was actually me engaging in a battle with those thoughts that fueled it. It is the anxiety trick. It had me believing that the thoughts were a threat, and so I treated them like danger. When in fact, all I had to do was treat them like any other thought passing through my mind. Give them no importance. As I did this, the thoughts began to shrink and disappear. It sounds obvious and simple to someone without anxiety, but it is a tough road for someone suffering. You literally will be changing pathways in your brain, and it will take time. As you begin to recover, there will be slow progression, setbacks and victories. Give yourself love during every step and forgiveness while stumbling to rid yourself of anxiety. You are amazing, and can overcome anxiety.
Most of us will experience some form of anxiety in our lives, remember it is really just symptoms of heightened stress. The thoughts are just a symptom of the condition. Let them be there and give them the room to move in and out. You are so powerful and you can absolutely change the direction of your current situation. Know this. You got this.
Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.