Stress and Anxiety
“The inner speech, your thoughts, can cause you to be rich or poor, loved or unloved, happy or unhappy, attractive or unattractive, powerful or weak.” – Ralph Charell
“I’ve been worrying a lot about my father,” she said, “I’m feeling a lot of stress and anxiety. I’m not sleeping well and so I’m finding it hard to concentrate at work. It’s got so bad I’m concerned I might lose my job!”
“Hmm, that’s really interesting,” I replied. “How do you do that?”
“How do I do what?” she said.
“How do you worry about something so much that it affects your sleep and your job? I’m intrigued…”
I already knew the answer to my question
I knew the answer, but I wanted my client to have an insight about how her thinking processes connected to how she felt.
The way you think about things affects how you respond to them.
How many times before now have you seen or heard that previous sentence, or something similar? Look it again, because it’s probably one of the most important sentences in the whole article.
“The way you think about things affects how you respond to them.”
It’s such a tiny, inconspicuous phrase, lying there like a little chameleon, blending in with all the other sentences. It would be so ￼easy to overlook it. But within that one phrase is the key to letting go of stress and anxiety.
So let’s put it under a microscope and examine it a little more shall we?
When you think, you use your five senses to do so. You make pictures in your mind, you might recall a conversation, have feelings in your body and your thinking might also include taste and smell. On top of this, you talk to yourself about it.
This ‘thinking’ process often happens so quickly that it might be below your conscious awareness. You might only notice how you feel. To show you how this works, let’s do an exercise together 😉
I’d like you to ‘think’ about your favourite restaurant. As you think about it, notice how you represent it in your mind.
For example, when I think about my favourite restaurant, I have a very vivid, moving image of it. Immediately I recall the sounds of people laughing and enjoying themselves, I feel relaxed and start to smile as I remember the last time I was there. I can remember the taste of the food and the wonderful, exotic smells coming from the kitchen. I’m reminding myself of what a fun time we had. In fact just doing the exercise myself is making me feel hungry!
OK, your turn now. What specifically came to your mind about your favourite restaurant? What do you remember seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling and saying to yourself?
I wanted you to think about a restaurant because it’s a place where you’d call upon all five of your senses. In other situations, taste and smell might not play such a valid role.
O.K. so that’s given you a very quick understanding of your thinking/remembering process.
But, so what?
Your body responds to your thinking processes.
The way that you represent your experiences through your thoughts has a direct influence on how you feel. A minute ago you were thinking pleasant thoughts about your favourite restaurant. Those thoughts probably made you feel good.
Worry = Bad Feelings
Some people spend hours worrying about things that could potentially go wrong. In their heads, they make horror movies of all the worst case scenarios.
Then they wonder why they feel stressed.
You can try it yourself if you don’t believe me; think of something bad that’s happened and imagine reliving it, seeing things through your eyes, hearing through your ears and feeling the physical reactions in your body. What are you saying to yourself about it? Notice how you feel now? You’ll become aware that your body is responding to your thinking process – in this case your remembering of a past event.
Your body is not responding to your current reality
This is really, really important; the stress and anxiety you feel in your body is caused by the way you respond to the images, sounds and self-talk you experience as you remember it.
What this means for you, is that if you think dangerous thoughts you’ll experience the stress associated with danger in your body – even though no threat may be present. Suffice to say it’s not a good idea to keep reliving unpleasant events.
It may seem as if you’re not in control
The reason you might feel you’re not in control of your thoughts is that your thinking may be on auto-pilot. You may have been thinking anxious or stressful thoughts for such a long time that you no longer even realise it. However, thinking comes from your brain so it is definitely under your control. And if you can control your thoughts you’ll start feeling a lot more relaxed.
My client’s father had not been well and she was concerned about what might happen to him, to her mother, and how this might change her life. In her mind, she made images of the ‘worst case scenario’ and focused incessantly on these pictures. She spoke to herself harshly. No wonder she couldn’t sleep and was feeling so much stress and anxiety.
When she began to pay attention to her thinking processes she was able to stop, examine and question the validity of her negative thoughts. In less than a week, she was sleeping soundly again and feeling back in control.
- Your thoughts create the feelings in your body.
- Positive thoughts = positive feelings.
- Negative thoughts = negative feelings.
- Your body responds to any thoughts you give it – good or bad.
- Persistent negative thinking causes stress.
- The first step to changing negative thinking patterns is to notice them.