Alycia Scott, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Five Questions to Ask When Anxiety Starts to Win--Part 2: Am I Fortune-telling?

As I wrote about here, the five questions I recommend asking yourself when your anxiety starts to take over are:

  1. Am I predicting, fortunetelling, or mind-reading right now?

  2. What do I know to be true?

  3. What do I need right now?

  4. What can I do right now?

  5. What does my body need right now?


Let’s dive in to that first question:

Am I predicting, fortune-telling, or mind-reading right now?

What might this predicting or mind-reading look like? Often, when we’re anxious, if we take a moment to pay attention to what our mind is telling us, we might find that we’re thinking things like:

“My boss definitely thinks I’m an idiot.”

“I’m never going to feel better!”

“She’s not texting me back because she thinks I’m boring.”

“None of my friend’s actually want to see me.”

“I’m going to make a fool of myself in my interview tomorrow.”

“He doesn’t ever want to go out with me again.”

 

These negative thoughts often feel so real. And 100% true. But—are they? If you add a phrase like “I’m imagining that...” to every one of those statements above, they sound a bit different:

“I’m imagining that my boss thinks I’m an idiot.”

“I’m imagining that none of my friend’s want to see me.”

and so on.

Taking a step back from our thoughts in this way, reminding ourselves that we are making something up, can help us to recognize that these negative, scary, critical thoughts—as painful as they often are in the moment—are in fact only words, guesses, and stories that we are telling ourselves. And yes, it’s possible that maybe, sometimes, some of these stories come true, or our prediction ends up being accurate. But in the moment when you are gripped by fear and anxiety and are actually having the thought, you don’t actually know that it’s true, and that is the key. It might be true, but it might not be.

 

Anxiety, plus the fact that we, as humans, are intelligent beings with the capacity for language and fantasy (a blessing and a curse), leads us very easily down the misguided path of assuming, without a hint of doubt, that our thoughts equal reality. However, this is very often not the case! We can say “My friends don’t really like me, they’re just pitying me when they hang out with me.” But having that thought does not make those words true.

Try this for an easy example of what I mean:

Say “I will never be able to lift my arm again” while you lift your arm above your head.

This is an example of how our minds can tell us any and everything, regardless of its accuracy or link to our real, lived experience. This ability is what allows us to be creative, artistic, and innovative, and it’s also how we often end up feeling scared, anxious, and stuck.

Asking yourself if you are, in essence, making things up as your brain starts telling you that everything is terrible, or is going to be, is the first step toward taking the power away from your anxiety. Just because you had a thought, predicted an outcome, or attempted to be a mind reader, does not make any of those things real, at least not yet! So, next time you find yourself entering that cycle of worry, fear, or dread about something in your life, ask yourself what story you are telling.


Next up: After we begin to recognize what our mind is telling us that’s not necessarily real, we then need to work on paying attention to what is “real”, in that (this) exact moment. More on that next time, in Part 3.

The Gift of a Good Day

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing felt…wrong? When you woke up on time, said the right thing to your boss, remembered to meditate in the morning, were thoughtful interacting with your loved ones, remembered to drink enough water, and were feeling present in your life, and maybe even happy?

Did it scare you?

Often, when we have a day where things are moving along as they should, when we’re remembering and using our coping skills, when we’re being present and engaged and there aren’t any big obstacles or hiccups (or, at least it feels like there aren’t—more on that later), the moment we realize how well things are going, that old familiar anxiety starts to sidle up beside us.

“What do you think you’re doing, feeling so content and capable? It won’t last, you know!”

The moment that thought creeps in, we start looking for ways to get out of the discomfort of feeling ok. But what if there was a different story to tell ourselves about these “good” days? What if your good days are practice for the bad ones?

Try to think back to the last day you can remember where things went pretty well, where you felt on top of things and the day didn’t feel like a disaster. Now, I challenge you to remember if literally NOTHING frustrating or difficult or challenging happened that day. I’ll be surprised if you can’t think of a single thing that happened on that good day that, on a different day, when maybe you’re coping skills and mindset weren’t as readily accessible, could have felt like an absolute life-ruiner. But still, your day was good! What was the difference? Perhaps moments and situations that could feel like obstacles felt less problematic, less like problems, because you were using your coping skills, practicing self care, feeling compassionate toward yourself and others, checking in with your needs, or focusing on what was within your power to do or say (or not do or say).

In many ways, the difference between good and bad days is us. Of course there are times in life when difficulties arise, obstacles appear that throw us off course, scare us, or frustrate us, but the more we allow ourselves to acknowledge and embrace the days when we’re ok and view “good” days as practice for the hard days, the more prepared we are when those tough moments come.

Each day is a new chance to practice the things we know work to help us to feel ok. What a gift! So next time you notice that your doing alright, and maybe even feeling great, remind yourself that you’re getting wonderful practice for handling what life may toss your way in the future. Something will come, it always does, but each “good” day leaves you more prepared to face the next bump in the road.

What things do you do that lead to a “good” day? Share in the comments!

(Note: the information provided here or in the comments below is for informative purposes only and does not constitute psychological treatment or care. If you are experiencing a crisis or are in danger, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.)

Five Questions to Ask When Anxiety Starts to Win

I work with a lot of people who often feel overwhelmed by moments of anxiety and fear. In these moments, they feel terrified at the thought of not knowing what’s going to happen next, are scared that they won’t be able to get through the anxious feelings, feel certain that the anxiety will never end, and feel absolutely paralyzed and helpless in the face of the anxiety. Lately, I’ve been talking to many of my clients about how to find a way through that anxiety, when it feels most impossible, when it seem like it’s going to consume everything in its path—when it seems like it’s going to win.

Did you notice I said we talk about how to find a way through the anxiety? Not around it or away from it. Through it. This is the key.

Many times when we feel anxious or scared, our immediate response is to say “I don’t like this, I don’t want to feel this way, I can’t feel this way, how do I get rid of this feeling!?” But this is the wrong question to be asking in these moments. 

In my clinical work, and in my life, I am guided by a belief that emotions and feelings, including anxiety and fear, are always giving us important information. Our feelings are always telling us something we need to know. Our feelings are a friend tapping us on the shoulder, saying “Hey, I think maybe you need to look over here? Something’s up, maybe take a look?”

So, next time you feel that pit in your stomach, that feeling of vague, all-consuming dread, that tension and fear that you can’t quite shake, that constant stream of worry that keeps you up at night, I encourage you to try asking a different question than “How do I get rid of this?”. Try these questions instead:

  1. Am I predicting/fortunetelling/mind-reading right now?

  2. What do I know to be true?

  3. What do I need right now?

  4. What can I do right now?

  5. What does my body need right now?

Stay tuned for more about how to answer each of these questions in a way that helps you to use your anxiety as a starting point to check in with yourself, bring yourself back to the present moment and the power you have in that moment, take your power back from the anxiety and move toward feeling more in control of what happens next.

Questions, comments, thoughts? Feel free to comment below!

(Note: the information provided here or in the comments below is for informative purposes only and does not constitute psychological treatment or care. If you are experiencing a crisis or are in danger, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.)