Anxiety might be common but it isn’t natural. The fact that anxiety rates in present-day Africa and Asia are far lower than in the West points to this as does the fact that it is almost non-existent in so-called ‘primitive’ cultures. It is arousal that is natural and anxiety is largely exaggerated (and malignant) arousal. Anxiety disorders are created when thinking centres in the brain are allowed too much time to dwell on worry, perfectionism, guilt and other wrong thinking habits.
Do you have a troublesome or traumatic memory? Or so-called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome – PTSD?
A common belief is that once you have one of these ‘memories’ then you are stuck with it for life and little can be done about it.
New research confirms that this is not true. if you interfere with the way in which people access these memories you can neutralize them. This is the basis for the EMDR technique which disrupts access to traumatic memories by asking subjects to keep their eyes on a moving finger while trying to recall the trauma at the same time. I must have used this technique countless times and have never yet seen it fail.
This is the fifth in a series of articles which teach you how to cut out worry, obsessions and any other kind of negative thinking which triggers anxiety, panic, or stress – about which I have written elsewhere – 30 great ways to reduce stress.
In this article we are focusing on the third step in the 4-step method I am showing you.
The four steps are:
- Change Position
- Change Attitude
- Change Focus
- Practice Mindfulness
The third step entails changing the focus of attention away from the obsessive, worry, panicky, depressing, addictive thought and towards another activity that engrosses Headmind attention.
For some people this step can be difficult to achieve at first, simply because they have spent so long listening to their negative headmind tapes that they have been conditioned into taking them seriously and, as a result, they automatically have an anxious/depressive/addictive reaction.
Just last week I worked with a 67-year-old client who, since the age of 14, had reacted to every encounter with a stranger with the tape ‘She won’t like me because I am stupid and don’t know what to say’. Not surprisingly, after 53 years of listening to this stuff, she had a minor panic attack going into any new gathering of people. Over time her anxiety response had become pre-programmed on the lines of:
Meet new people > Listen to tape > Wait for panic attack > Seize up > Give up and go home
This programming can be broken up though and sometimes that can happen surprisingly quickly. However, for most people, breaking the pattern can take time, self-discipline and practice. Bear this in mind when using any of the ideas and techniques below: daily practice is essential. Don’t wait for anxiety attacks to happen to you before working with the four steps; practice on minor worries and obsessions three or four times a day and then build up to bigger ones.
The key to making a change of focus work is that you must select an activity which fully absorbs the Conscious Mind in a way that is more compelling than listening to the worry, obsession, guilt-trip etc. You don’t in fact need a technique to do this, useful as those can be. All you need are your ordinary daily activities.
Here are the most popular:
- Music (preferably loud!)
- Social contact (includes texts/emails)
- Yoga/Tai Chi, etc
- Entertaining DVDs
- Creative tasks
- Satisfying chores
- Games (of any kind)
- Engaging with anyone or anything that makes you laugh
Remember that speed is vital. Do not dally with the thoughts but ignore them and throw yourself into activity. As a general rule, activities that keep you grounded in Bodymind work best, particularly (hard) exercise, dance and laughter.
Some people find that reading books or other intellectual tasks such as research or problem-solving works for them. My experience is that this doesn’t work for the majority because the new focus may not be completely fascinating, thereby giving Headmind space to wander off back to listening to those old tapes again. A similar objection applies to watching TV programmes or doing household chores.
If you are experienced in meditation then that is an excellent way to refocus. If you are new to meditation, or if you are dealing with particularly loud worries and obsessions, then you should use an auditory tape (I provide two for you to use below).
As an alternative to meditation you might consider using a Binaural beat program. I have written about these elsewhere and you can purchase some good ones using the box on the right hand column.
Finally, you could use a relaxation tape or a meditational tape
Here is a short relaxational tape:
And here is a longer, meditational, tape based on sensory awareness:
This is the fourth in a series of articles which teach you how to cut out worry, obsessions and any other kind of negative thinking which triggers anxiety, panic, stress, depression or addictions in you.
In this article we are focusing on the second step in the 4-step method I am showing you.
The four steps are:
- Change Position
- Change Attitude
- Change Focus
- Practice Mindfulness
The key to making Step 2 work is to change your reaction to the negative thought. Typical unwanted reactions include getting upset, anxious, uptight, depressed, panicky or frightened. Others include getting obsessional or compulsive – as happens in many types of addiction in which the individual believes she has ‘no choice’ but to go ahead and indulge. Often, these reactions are so automatic that we are only dimly aware of the triggering thought (or image). That is why it is important to identify the relevant Headmind tape which is triggering the reaction.
We are looking to replace those reactions with boredom, ridicule or contempt.
Consider, for a moment, your attitude to a worry that you don’t have but someone else has. For example:
This plane is about to blow up
I just caught a disease from shaking that man’s hand
The government is spying on me
Unless you are one of the few that take these thoughts seriously your probable reaction to hearing about them will be incredulity. ‘That’s ridiculous!’ you might say to yourself. You might go on to wonder: how on earth do people learn to think like that?
It’s exactly that kind of attitude you now need to adopt towards the negative thoughts you have yourself. Remember that, by definition, all worries and obsessions are a kind of fantasy. They have no bearing on reality at all.
There must be hundreds of techniques you can use to change your attitude to the tapes in your head. I am going to mention just three tried-and-tested routines that work for most of my clients.
The first way is to make the tape (once you have identified it using this article) comical.
Think of someone who is absurd. That could be someone you have met but it could be a film or TV character. Now imagine that the ‘tape’ is being replayed back through that character’s voice in your head. It helps to exagerrate the ideas in the tape so that they sound ludicrous.
Original tape = “It’s all going to go wrong”
Edited tape = “It’s going to be a total disaster”
Homer’s tape: “It’s not only going to be a disaster but you are going be seriously damaged and in need of psychiatry for the rest of your life. “
When using this method it helps to laugh. It doesn’t matter if the laughter sounds forced – just laugh (you can think of something genuinely funny at this point if it helps).
Replaying dismissive remarks to yourself about the ‘tape’ works here. For example;
There it goes again. Really don’t have time to listen to this.
Same old same old rubbish. Time to move on.
This is getting boring. I have better things to do.
You can get aggressive about it, too. Once you identify the contents of the tape you say (out loud if you are on your own) things like:
What a load of crap!
(Anglo-Saxon swear words are particularly useful here as those add force to your new attitude).
In a less dramatic way boredom is often the most effective response to negative thoughts. The reason for this is that boredom, when listening to tedious, repetitive people who talk rubbish is an emotionally intelligent response dictated by Bodymind. Think of the most tedious conversations, school lessons and lectures you have ever sat through. You didn’t bother trying to work out whether there was any sense to what was being said. Instead, your body pressed the ‘OFF’ button and sent you to sleep.
You can use a variation on the first technique here. Instead of replaying the tape using a comical voice you can use the voice of someone you know (or whom you have watched) who is deeply boring. Be sure to edit the voice so that it sounds slow, monotonous and, of course, tedious. You can help the process along by yawning out loud while you are doing this.
A lot of people burst out laughing when they try to do this – a good sign that the technique is in fact working.
The next article concentrates on Step 3 – Changing Focus.
This is the third in a series of articles that teach you a new method on how abolish worry, anxiety, obsessions, OCD, and addictive thinking patterns. In fact, any kind of repetitive, boring, disturbing thought pattern that keeps you enslaved to the Chatterbox inside your Head.
To recap: the four steps in this new method are:
- Change Position
- Change Attitude
- Change Focus
- Practice Mindfulness
I have before written a similar article on this subject called Do You Control Your Mind Or Does It Control You?
In this post I am focusing on Step 1 in the four steps: Change Position
In this step your job is to distance yourself from your thoughts. However ‘real’ they might seem negative thoughts do not in fact belong to you. They have their origin somewhere else – in the conscious mind – ‘Headmind’ – in fact. And Headmind is stuffed full of ideas it has adopted fron other, mostly, dysfunctional, people as well as from mistakes it makes about everyday life and past experiences which it refuses to relearn.
I covered most of these mistakes in my previous article in this series: How to Stop Worrying. But the basic mistake Headmind makes when faced with any challenging situation is to replay old, unhelpful, stories from the past which give you the idea that you are a complete mess. These ‘Headmind tapes’ are like a record stuck on the groove that tell you over and over again that you are facing disaster.
The Change Position step encourages you to see that the tapes are coming from IT rather from you. YOU are not your MIND. Instead, YOU are a sentient, living, emotional person grounded in the moment who needs have no fear of what your mind is trying to do to you.
To make this step work you first need to identify the content of the Headmind tape and I refer you to the previous article in this series in order to get some more help on this. Once you have identified some destructive thinking patterns you are in a good position to identify the tape contents.
These ‘tapes’ are repetitive, conscious, or semi-conscious, ideas which trigger anxiety. You will know they are running because you will suddenly notice that you are getting uptight, frightened, obsessed, panicky or worried. Your job now is to analyse the tape.
This may take some practice and the fourth step, which relates to practising Awareness, is crucial here. I will elaborate more on that step when I get to it but here is a previous article on the subject here. Be aware that these ‘ideas’ may not be thoughts as such. Instead they might take the form of images or self-dialogue which you hadn’t realised (until you practised Awareness) were there at all.
Some common ‘tapes’ include:
- An image of something terrible happening to you
- The thought that you cannot bear what is ‘about’ to happen
- The idea that you are going to ‘pay’ for past mistakes
- Self-talk that you are useless, worthless or otherwise fucked-up
- Flash-backs to past traumas
- Injunctions to ‘get it right or else…’
Once you have identified the crap that Headmind is relaying on to you the next step is simple. And that is change position; to distance yourself from it, treating as something alien to you. A good way to do that is to engage in some self-dialogue:
- The Chatterbox is working overtime today…
- Those stupid tapes are playing up…
- The Control freak is off on one…
- There it goes again…
This step is immediately followed by the next step: Change Attitude, which is closely linked. More on that in the next article.
This is the second in a series of articles which teach you how to eliminate negative thinking.
Bad thinking habits, sometimes known as cognitive distortions, trigger worry, stress, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, depression, guilt, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and a host of other problems.
Treating these problems have attracted lots of books and a variety of methods for overcoming them, including the Linden method and other techniques borrowed from NLP and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These, and many other approaches, including Dale Carnegie’s 1948 classic ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ provide lots of workable ideas through which you can defeat anxiety. My approach, however, focuses on the core insight that worries, being fantasies, are best ignored. And that you need to be spending less time in Headmind.
As related in my previous articles there are four mistakes that people make around worries and obsessions:
- Getting sucked in by anxious thoughts
- Being frightened by them
- Not knowing what to do about them
- Living too much in the head
The four steps in the method I am explaining in these articles address all four problems.
To recapitulate, these are:
- Change Position
- Change Attitude
- Change Focus
- Practice Mindfulness
Before using the method, however, there is an important preliminary which you need to work through first. Which is to distinguish between Worries and Concerns.
Briefly, worries are fantasies while concerns are problems you can influence.
A worry typically has one or more of these features:
1. Predictions of disaster:
Examples: I will lose my job/have a breakdown/get ill again
Example: I won’t be able to cope
Example: I always mess things up
Example: I am a complete failure
Example: I can’t make any mistakes
Example: I must get it right
Example: It’s all my fault
6. Focusing on the negative:
Example: It happened last week, the month before that, twice last year and again this morning at 10 o’clock
Notice that worries aren’t about anything that has actually happened. Instead they are a kind of nightmare in which it is assumed that anything that can go wrong will go wrong and what’s more will always go wrong (Murphy’s Law may be a joke but quite a lot of people with anxiety disorders treat it as revealed truth).
There is no point in arguing with this kind of thinking as so many cognitive-behaviour therapists believe. Doing that is the equivalent of trying to argue with the psychotic on the street corner who wants you to come and hide with him because the world is about to end. The only thing to do about worries is treat them with the contempt they deserve.
But one reason why even daft worries get taken seriously is that they get mixed up with concerns. And because concerns are real then worries can seem real too.
For example. I might have a concern about this article: namely, that it won’t be readable. Were that the case then there are a number of things I can do about that: read examples of good writing and imitate them, get a friend to check it, use a thesaurus, rewrite it, etc. But the associated worry ‘I will never learn to write‘ gets off on the genuine concern that I am finding this particular article hard work. And so I fall into the trap of taking it seriously.
In this series I am teaching you a four-step method through which you eliminate worries such as these. However, to make it work you first have to address any concerns. Doing that may eliminate the worry all by itself. For example, rewriting this article and getting some good feedback makes the earlier worry sound ridiculous.
Here are a few more tips to help you distinguish between the two:
- If it is a worry it will frighten you; if it is a concern it will focus you
- Concerns foster decision-making; worries foster paralysis
- Worries leave you powerless; concerns alert you to what to do next
- Concerns focus on potential solutions; worries on disasters
- Worries are all about the past and future; concerns are about the here and now
- Concerns have an emotion behind them; worries are empty
- Worries tell you that you can’t cope; concerns tell you that you can
Research shows that at least 10% of the population, at any one time, suffer from an anxiety disorder. But if you take into account the figures for those experiencing stress-related problems – which are clearly related to worry and anxiety – the figures are likely to be far higher. And most of us have problems with negative thinking: gloomy thoughts about the future, guilt over the past, the idea that we can’t cope with the present and obsessions about having to get it all right.
On that subject the National Institute of Mental Health – NIMH – calculates that around 1% of the population in the USA suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – or OCD – (that’s over 3 million people). But millions more are bothered by obsessions about work, about our personal appearance, about our success or failure in life and anything else that might have to do with the Ego. Incidentally, obsessions are also the driver for addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling, about which I wrote in my last series of articles.
I have recently been carrying out renewed work with clients suffering from chronic worry, panic attacks, OCD, negative thoughts and anxiety. As a result I have been refining my method of working with these problems. The next few articles show the way out.
The method comprises four basic steps as follows:
- 1. Change Position
- 2. Change Attitude
- 3. Change Focus
- 4. Practice Mindfulness
For any worry, obsession or negative thought you first change your position to it. Instead of identifying the thought as coming from you, instead you change to seeing the worry as coming from IT – meaning Headmind at it’s worst.
Next you change your attitude to these ‘Headmind tapes’. Instead of getting upset by them you learn how to get bored with them, or to laugh at them, or to treat them with the contempt they deserve.
Then you change your focus of attention, immediately engaging Headmind with something focused, productive, entertaining or calming to do.
Finally, you practice Mindfulness on a daily basis. This could entail Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qui Gung, Sensate focusing or a myriad other ways of focusing on Bodymind or on present moment awareness. This isn’t strictly a ‘fourth step’ but a way of making the other three steps easier to practice.
More on this method in the articles that follow.
So stay tuned.
This is yet another addition to the lenghthening list of articles on controlling Headmind that have appeared on this blog.
It seems to be the one problem most people struggle with in therapy and in life:
- Eliminating negative thoughts
- Ignoring the Chatterbox
- Laughing off worries
- Heading off panic attacks
- Forgetting guilt
- Putting the brakes on obsessions
- Doing the dirty on perfectionism
- Postponing procrastination
So I am continually being asked for more techniques on how to control what some people like to call ‘Rational Mind’ when it is doing dumb, stupid, things. And I agree that it helps to have a variety of techniques on offer so that if one does not work something else will. So I am going to share one of my recent discoveries with you.
It came about when I was looking up one of my favourite works – The Wasteland – by T.S. Eliot and I was reminded that Eliot had, in fact, had a nervous breakdown shortly before completing the poem.
I then learnt that Eliot recovered from his breakdown in a sanatorium in Lausanne during the summer of 1922 while under the supervision of Dr Roger Vittoz, who treated anxiety problems by teaching his patients how to control Headmind with the aid of specific techniques devised by him.
His premise is that anxious people have lost control of their own minds and are paying attention to garbage. When they learn how to edit out negative words, objects, images and statements and replace it with their own content they get back control. Many of his exercises seem quite trivial at first but if you practice doing them every day for, say, a few weeks, the accumulative effect is that one is back in charge. And I can vouch from personal observation that some of the exercises work very quickly indeed.
One of them works like this.
Write out a worry statement. For example:
I CAN’T COPE WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Now imagine that you are flashing up each letter on a screen, one by one, until you have the complete statement.
Now delete each letter of the statement one-by-one, working backwards.
Next, you replace the first statement with something more empowering. For example:
I AM LEARNING HOW TO COPE BETTER
And then you ‘flash’ each letter of that statement up on the screen until it is complete. Look at the statement for a few moments, and then decide on one thing you can do in order to act on it.
Like all Vittoz’s techniques, it works on repetition. So use it every time you catch Headmind giving you a hard time with that particular worry.
If you would like to get a free copy of the English translation of Vittoz’s book on mind control – How to Control Your Brain at Will then you can download it from here.
- Learn how to control Headmind. See previous articles on this subject, in this blog here.
- Exercise. Few things can help relax you more quickly than a bit of vigorous exercise. Whether you box, jog or play a game of tennis, aerobic exercise will release endorphins, thereby improving your mood, eliminating tension and giving you a natural high.
- Meditate. When you think you are getting overwhelmed, take at least ten minutes out to clear your mind of worries and meditate. If you have trouble doing it alone, try using a guided tape, or a Binaural Beat CD.
- Focus on the breath. Concentrating on your breathing is a powerful way to promote inner calm. Increase the number of counts as you breathe out, and then in, from 3 to 8. Then reduce the count from 8 back to 3, slowly. This is one of the oldest known meditational techniques in history: at least 4000 years old.
- Use Yoga. You can learn how to use Yoga from a group or personal instructor, or even from a DVD. Our work in Reverse Therapy shows that Yoga is an exceptionally effective antidote to Headmind-produced stress.
- Use Tai Chi. See previous item as similar advice applies.
- Focus on an Eye-Movement Program. You can learn how to do this by going to a an article I wrote about how to do that here.
- Take a Break. Force yourself to break away from what is bugging you and do something pleasant that is completely unrelated.
- Slow down. Most people when they get anxious do everything faster, so deliberately slow down your movements, and the speed at which you are doing things.
- Talk slowly. See previous item. Speak at 50% of the speed at which you were talking before, with frequent pauses in between sentences.
- Think slowly. This is usually effective while you are taking a break. Slow down the speed at which Headmind is racing around its worries by recalling a calming memory, situation or person.
- Let the past go. If you’re stressing out about something bad that happened yesterday then keep your attention on the here and now. Focus on something important to you and ‘drown out’ the internal control freak who wants to keep going over problems.
- Let go of the need for control over events. You can’t control the events that happen to you; only your response to those events. Focus on what you can do, rather than what is not in your power to do.
- Laughter. A good laugh releases endorphins. So either mix with people who make you laugh or watch one of your favourite comedies.
- Limit your intake of caffeine. Caffeine is a unnaturally strong stimulant and adds existing anxiety, making you worse than otherwise. If you’re stressed then avoid drinking coffee and other caffeine-based beverages.
- Use lavender oil. Research suggests that lavender oil is one of the most effective calming agents available. One reason for its effectiveness is that it works through the olfactory centres in the brain; smells are particularly powerful. Try lighting a candle or putting some lavender oil on your skin, or in a bath to help you relax.
- Drink green tea. Green tea contains theanine, an amino-acid which improves mood and reduces arousal.
- Use herbal supplements. If you’re into natural remedies you may want to consider taking some herbal supplements like valerian root or passion flower. Both of these were extensively used in the Middle Ages as natural tranquillizers.
- Eat dark chocolate. For reasons not yet clearly understood, dark, bitter, chocolate increases endorphin release. Chili has a similar effect.
- Take a shower or bath. This does not work for everybody but many people find that bathing increases calm. That may be because of the slow down-effect noted elsewhere in this article/
- Get a massage. See last item. But effectiveness of this strategy depends on the skill of the masseur or masseuse – so select your practitioner wisely. But you can also use self-massage or the EFT movements.
- Create variety. If you love to browse bookstores, take long walks in the park, or if you have a favourite hobby, or game, then take more time out of your day to do those things.
- Work at simple chores. This doesn’t work for everybody but many of my clients find that some chores help then wind down. For me it is washing up the dishes but others report that gardening, hoovering, cleaning, tidying up or clearing things away, make them feel better afterwards.
- Spend time with a pet. Playing with, walking focusing on your pet’s needs is a useful distraction from worry – it also tends to raise endorphin release.
- Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. When you’re faced with what looks like an overwhelming problem, focus on small, concrete, steps you can work on today, rather than worrying about ‘big’ solutions that might never happen.
- Avoid people who make things worse. If you are indulging in worry yourself then avoid other people – no matter how well-meaning – who worry, exaggerate problems, have doom-laden opinions, or who keep asking you ‘whether you are going to be ok?’.
- Put on some music. Music is another powerful trigger for endorphin release. Always keep your favourite tracks available to you on your ipod whether you are at home, out and about, or at work. It only takes 5 minutes.
- Ask for help. If you really just have too much on your plate then don’t hold back from asking people for help. Too often, anxious people are people with a banana which dictates that asking for a help is a sign of weakness. Do not make that mistake.
- Use the word ‘No’ more often. It’s simple, powerful, and incredibly effective when you are up against it. if you have a phobia about it, try practicing it when standing in front of the mirror.
- Make time to be with people who love you. This is possibly the most important item on the list. Do it now.
Perfectionism is a great example of the way in which Headmind can push us into anxiety and illness. And it also reveals a lot about the way Headmind is set up. Namely, that it doesn’t belong to us and does not have our personal interests at heart. That it works through a ‘pushy’, inner voice that acts like an impersonal control freak. Always compelling us to spend more time on tasks than is really warranted.
My readers will understand that, for these reasons, I kept putting off and putting off writing this article in case I got it all wrong and made myself look like an idiot…….
But seriously, perfectionism can get at people in different ways. And these styles are closely related to what I have called bananas elsewhere in this blog.
- Bananas about failure
- Bananas about approval
- Bananas about weight/appearance
- Bananas about power
- Bananas about being sexy
And many other things besides.
The first thing to get clear about is that Perfectionism is a type of obsession. An obsession comes about because Headmind is worried about something. In the case of perfectionism the worry is that the person can never get it right and will therefore be criticised, rejected and hurt. The basis for this problem is conditioning. Somewhere along the way the child’s Headmind picked up the script ‘No matter how hard you try you will never be good enough’.
A lot of people blame Parents for scripts like these although, in my experience, Teachers and Priests are often the usual culprits. The pity of it all is that there is absolutely no need for anyone to worry about having to get it all right. If you are out of your depth on something then Bodymind will trigger the fear signal to tell you to go and ask a few questions or get some help.
But this move is is disallowed by Headmind – the Perfectionist cannot ask for help because that would be to admit failure – imperfection. So he has to do it all by himself. In later life Headmind keeps playing these scripts every time a new challenge comes up. So each time the person settles down to do some work Headmind triggers the worry first, and then the obsession with ‘getting it all right’. With the sub-script – ‘work harder, you miserable failure’. That can get very scary. But each time Fear is created to remind us to get some help that is interpreted by Headmind as fresh evidence that the person is ‘imperfect’ triggering the script all over again.
Now, if you spend too long doing the same thing over and over again then Bodymind is going to create the emotion known as frustration. That will be prompting you to give yourself a break. But when Headmind notices frustration coming up, it misinterprets that as fresh evidence of failure. So the script gets triggered again, and again and again. I will write more about the solution to perfectionism and other obsessional states in a later blog. But the first step towards breaking free of the trap is to disobey the script, own up to being ‘a failure’ and go and have some fun instead.