You are not your Thoughts – Managing Anxious Thoughts
One of the frequent reasons people start therapy is that they are worn out from being constantly v
igilant against intrusive or racing thoughts. They ask, “how do I manage anxious thoughts?” So, this is one common skill learned in therapy is managing those anxious thoughts. Once you have a strategy, that feels believable and specific, dealing with your concerns is more manageable. One of the things I say often is that “You are not your thoughts. Not everything you think is true. Not everything you think is useful.” Just because you think something doesn’t mean you have to listen to it. Likewise, this is why we have consciousness and egos. A healthy psychological ego is the mitigator of your thoughts and actions.
A Healthy Ego
Wait a minute, ego you say? I thought that was what we call people who are “egotistical” and negative sense of self we need to get rid of!
Not quite. Ego strength is a good thing in the psychology world. In fact, building a strong sense of who you are are living by your values is a sign of a healthy ego. Ego is the term for consciousness, the sense of “I”. Furthermore it’s the part of us that manages the rest of us. Ego puts the breaks on when we want to emotionally eat or engage in binge behavior. Ego is the part of us that responds when we think, “I’m pissed! I really want to fly off the handle.” Ego states, “wait a minute, breathe, what are the consequences here?” and plans the mature response.
Here’s a video of my demonstrating a mindfulness breathing technique you might want to try as a way to manage anxious thoughts.
Automatic Negative Thoughts- also known as Complexes
Automatic negative thoughts are ones that can be nasty self-talk that feeds our inner critic or complains about things. From a Jungian perspective, this would be called a negative complex. For example intrusive thoughts and negative self-talk are ways to describe these thoughts. It is like the virus pop up window hat is annoying, invasive, distracting, and throws you off your game. However, you’re the person running the computer of your mind, not the virus! Training ourselves of ways to respond to negative thoughts can make all the difference of feeling like you can be in control of how you feel. So once you stop blaming yourself or trying to avoid how you feel, then you are able to start managing anxious thoughts.
About the Tree Photo
Did you wonder if I was going to mention this boring tree photo? Okay, so here’s a tree I saw the other day when I was going for a walk (Yay self-care). It is a pretty typical looking tree that is about 30 feet tall. It seems to be healthy. Yet, one of its hands of leaves is orange. That means that one set of leaves isn’t healthy. So what if 1% of the tree isn’t healthy. It won’t hurt the whole tree. It seems to be a pretty robust tree that is thriving in the July heat. The orange leaves are basically like a blemish, right?
This is the perfect example about when we fixate on little things that are wrong; blemishes, cellulite, saying something that we perceived as awkward, not knowing what to say and feeling awkward, etc. Fixating with negative responses to small things can make a big impact on how we feel as a whole. Giving ourselves the same kind of compassion and putting things into context like I just did with this tree is the realignment work we do in therapy.
Affirmations only work when you can believe them. They need to be aligned to your mind and values in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy and you don’t feel like you’re patronizing yourself. If your immediate response is “I can’t do that!” or “Oh yeah, right! NOT” then it’s not the right affirmation.
Negative complexes can be tricky. However, with some creative problem solving you can outsmart your negative thought patterns. Sometimes understanding what situation started the thought pattern helps. Sometimes understanding how your internalization of negative feedback affects you helps. Working through these things is an individualized processed that feels like it clicks into place when you’ve got it just right. At that moment, you feel a rush of energy. This energy is the pinpointing of a complex as you reclaim your power.
Ready to resolve negative thought patterns and reclaim more of your power? I work with individuals virtually and in person. Learn more here.
Maggi is a registered art therapist at Columbus Art Therapy who assists their clients to discover more of themselves through dream interpretation, art therapy, and depth psychotherapy. They specialize in working with grief and loss as well as gender exploration. Click the button below to get connected.