Melanie Albin PsyS. LMFT
Anxiety and Worrying is A Habit That Can be Changed.
Updated: May 27
"What if" or worry thoughts which are about something bad happening in the future, trigger adrenaline in our body because our brain thinks that what we are worrying about is happening now and its only way of helping us is to trigger adrenaline which starts the stress cycle. The stress cycle begins when adrenaline prepares us to fight or flee. Because it is too much adrenaline, we begin to feel irritable and anxious and then end up feeling depleted or depressed at the end of the stress cycle. #changingworrythoughts #stopanxiety
Our unconscious or subconscious mind is like the hard drive of a computer. It stores all of our important information. Our conscious mind is what is currently aware. Our thoughts are in part directed to our conscious mind from our subconscious mind. The thoughts in our unconscious mind are thoughts we accidentally reinforced by thinking about them in our conscious mind or the part of our mind where we are aware.
When we consciously worry about something, our brain counts the number of times we think about it and notes the environment we think it in, for example, the car when we are driving or before we fall asleep.
If we think the same thought, in any environment, 21 times in a row, our unconscious mind records it. Our unconscious brain is hard-wired to record the thoughts we think about, assuming the thoughts are important to our survival. Our brain doesn't discern whether the thought is true or not, only the number of times we think about it before it's recorded. The unconscious mind will then throw the thought out, in the same environment, to our conscious mind.
Then if we reinforce it again by thinking about it, our unconscious mind thinks it did the right thing by throwing it out, and it looks for more opportunities to throw the thought out, even in different environments when our mind is free. Now our "what if " thought becomes a habit.
So how do you change worry thoughts and the habit of worrying?
For us to feel in balance, the goal is to keep the stress cycle off. If your worry thought is not a problem to be solved then it is a thought to be stopped or changed to a positive one and one that doesn't trigger adrenaline. If you are thinking about a problem that needs to be solved, see my blog for problem-solving skills to keep your adrenaline to a minimum.
To change your worried thought, you have first become aware of it as soon as your unconscious mind throws out the unwanted thought. It takes practice to catch your thought just when it begins. Listen for any "what if" thoughts. Just keep at it.
When you recognize the thought, visualize or imagine something that signifies stop to you, this is"thought stopping". For example, you could see a stop sign, use an eraser, paint over it, or imagine the thought going up and away in a balloon.
Then replace it with "I am calm and relaxed". Once you think or say out loud "I'm calm and relaxed"your body will turn off your adrenaline and you will feel relaxed.
The thoughts you want to consciously choose to think, won't trigger adrenaline.
And our thoughts need to be positive because our brain does not understand the word not. So if you were to say "I am not anxious", your brain hears "I am anxious".
After you think or say "I am calm and relaxed" how much your body relaxes, depends on what the word "relax" means to you. In other words, how much you have previously trained your body to relax. You can train your body to relax by using progressive relaxation which is deep breathing and telling each part of your body to relax from head to toe, or visualization; where you imagine you are in a relaxing place, or use a combination of these. You can imagine a light beginning at the top of your head and relaxing you as it moves through your body, or by doing yoga stretching and breathing, or guided imagery.
See my blog on relaxation for more information on using your imagination to relax. When I started teaching myself to relax after learning the way our bodies work, I would fast forward through the relaxation tapes so I chose to get massages to train my body what it feels like to be relaxed.
4. Once you successfully use thought stopping with your worry thought, 21 times in a row, your unconscious mind erases the thought, thinking it is no longer useful to your survival.
You have to be careful to not re-record another "what if" thought by consciously thinking about it.
This line of thinking explains why you want your thinking to be in the present moment because that's how our brains are designed.
For more information about keeping the stress cycle off see the blog on coping with stress.
Take 3 minutes here to relax on the beach with the waves and John Lennon singing "Imagine"