Anxiety – How to gain control of your thoughts

I’m walking back home from campus, headphones in, zoned out, just walking the same route I take home every single day. I’m listening to music and letting my mind wander freely, as I eagerly head home to finally relax for the day. I’m looking down at my feet taking each step forward when I vaguely see something that resembles a wave to my right. I take my headphones out, as if that would sharpen my vision and turn to my right, only to see one of my friends walking away. Immediately I’m flushed and a wave of thoughts enter my head.

Did she see me? Did she wave? Oh no, did she say something? But I couldn’t hear cause I had my headphones in…I hope she doesn’t think I ignored her, I genuinely didn’t see!

What could’ve gone from “Oh no, I missed her wave” to “Maybe I should just text her saying hey” turns into “I am so awkward and I need to pay attention more and maybe if I paid more  attention people would think I’m more friendly…” etc etc. You get the picture.

The picture

Now this is just one, small scenario of my thoughts spiraling out of proportion, but if you’re anything of an over-thinker like me, you know how much these snowballing thoughts can affect you every day. This is just one way anxiety can manifest itself.  

What Anxiety Looks Like

Anxiety looks different for everyone, but can generally be described as feelings of worry, nervousness, and discomfort. It can cause physical reactions, like difficulty breathing and shortness of breath as well as spiraling thoughts that can impact emotions and behavior. Anxiety can also be experienced on a multitude of levels, from a slight feeling of nervousness to a full blown panic attack.

No matter what anxiety looks like for you, it’s important to understand that how you may feel is not always a reflection of the reality of the situation.

How I’ve Tried to Kick My Anxiety

When you’re feeling anxious, it can be overwhelming and even disabling, and that’s why it’s important to gain control of your thoughts before you let them get the best of you. It’s important to note that thoughts and feelings are two different things. What does this mean, you might ask? For example, in the earlier situation, I thought “Oh no, I missed her wave”, but I felt awkward, rude, and regretful. Thinking I missed my friend waving at me is literally just that, I missed her waving at me! Maybe she didn’t think anything of it, since she saw I had my headphones in. Or maybe she brushed it off knowing that it happens all the time. Thoughts are thoughts, they come and go. We can similarly be mindful about how we’re feeling by just letting ourselves feel the emotion and not give it more validity by acting on it or responding to it.

It can also be helpful to write out or speak about your thoughts to someone (or yourself in the mirror). When you see your words on paper or hear yourself talk out loud, you may just realize that what happened or what is worrying you may not be that big a deal after all, and maybe your mind just blew it out of proportion.

Anxiety tends to enlarge our biggest worries and fears, so identifying the extremity of the situation can definitely help reduce some of those feelings.

Lastly, if you know you’re prone to spiraling thoughts, it could be beneficial to make a list of what situations and scenarios tend to make you more anxious and prepare for and/or avoid those situations entirely. For example, if you know that missing someone say hi to you makes you feel crappy, maybe try to walk home without headphones every once in a while. It would be a great way to be more present, so you can feel grounded and aware of your surroundings, thus being more perceptive to what’s happening around you. Or, you could try taking a different route home. This way, you can enjoy your music and not have to worry that you’re ignoring people on accident!

At the end of the day, we all get a little anxious every once in a while – it’s just your body’s way of protecting itself from possible danger. However, not all of our worries and anxieties pan out to be as big and scary as it seems. Gaining control of your thoughts can help you regain a sense of calm and stay level headed.

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