There is not a single person among us who has not, or is not, living with some kind of anxiety or skewed version of reality. This isn't because we're all seeing things incorrectly, it's because life is confusing and fear feels real and we want to protect ourselves, and there's a lot we can get hurt by if we put ourselves out there and try. A "spiraling thought," if you're not already familiar, is basically when you have an intruding thought and allow it to color your vision of what you think reality is. It's going A to Z. It's seeing a freckle on your arm and getting scared and thinking it's cancer. Everyone does it now and again.
The reason why we do this, however, has more to do with our animal instincts than anything else. Often, we confuse the feeling of discomfort for the feeling of danger. In the modern world, we rarely experience true danger. I mean, life-or-death, lion-coming-to-eat-you danger. And that's basically what our bodies are equipped to respond to. So when we have a feeling of discomfort, we get tricked into trying to figure out "why," or what the "danger" is, rather than allowing the feeling to come and pass and keep moving on with our lives. This is how we get stuck.
It's not easy to get yourself out of a negative thought spiral, but it's also not impossible. The following steps can help you, and are best read and applied before it begins. In other words, these are things to remind yourself of every day, so you have the tools in your pocket if and when you need them.
When You're Extremely Upset, The Only Thing To Do Is Comfort Yourself
You cannot, and should not, try to take any action, or make any assumption, about your life when you are in a heightened emotional state. You are not thinking clearly. Your emotions are infiltrating your ability to see things as they really are. Trying to get yourself out of a spiral by doing anything other than comforting yourself is how you get yourself into the spiral in the first place.
Learn To Ask Yourself: "Do I Know This Is True?"
Sometimes an intrusive thought can come across your mind and sound very factual. "He does not like me." "I didn't get the job." "I will fail." "I don't know what to do." When this happens, learn to stop and ask yourself: do I actually know whether or not this is true? Most of the time, ironically enough, the answer will be "no, I definitely don't."
Verbally Remind Yourself That You're Spiraling
The same works for if you're having a panic attack. Remind yourself: I am not losing my mind, I am just having some spiraling thoughts. I am just having a panic attack. Doing so is the fastest way to remove yourself from it and start thinking a little more clearly.
Write Down Your Honest Thoughts
The more scary or weird or embarrassing, the better. When you get them down on paper, you'll be able to start seeing how displaced from reality they really are. More importantly, you'll be able to look back when you're in a better place and realize just how much your thoughts were informed by your panic, rather than any kind of reality.
Talk To A Friend
I guarantee the right person will be able to comfort you simply by reminding you that you're freaking out for no reason, and that you probably just have to get your mind off of things for a while.
Identify – And Address – What You're Really Afraid Of
Often, an irrational fear of abandonment stems from a fear of abandoning oneself; or a fear of driving is really a fear of "moving forward" with your life. If you don't address the real problems that are happening, your mind will keep projecting them out into these insane, exaggerated circumstances that have no place in reality.
With a funny video, talking to someone you love, going for a run — really anything that forces you to focus and doesn't give your mind too much space to roam.
Disprove Your Fears
Are you afraid to go to a party? Go to one, and see how it's not that scary at all. Are you really convinced that you have cancer? Go to a doctor, and ask what warning signs you should actually be looking for. If you're that absolutely convinced that a situation is real, go find out for certain.
Remind Yourself Of How Many Fears You've Had In The Past
Remember all of the random, insane things that used to seriously haunt you, and turned out to be complete non-issues? Guaranteed that's most of them. This is probably the same thing all over again.
Remind Yourself That If Something Is Really Wrong, Getting Upset Lessens Your Ability To Solve The Problem
If you actually want to think the worst, then consider this: even if this were the case (it's not) getting overly upset only inhibits your ability to solve the problem at hand.
Make sure you're not just over-reacting to a simple feeling of discomfort. You can breathe your way through most things in life. You always have, you always will.
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