Anxiety and fear commonly accompany any difficult transition. Left unchecked, they can be all-consuming, leading to feelings of overwhelm. While we can’t control the thoughts and feelings that come to us, it is within our power to choose what we focus upon. We can control the amount of space that our anxiety and fear consume.
Daniel Goleman, renowned for his work in emotional intelligence and the author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, writes: “Think of attention as a mental muscle that we can strengthen by a workout.”
Two Types of Thoughts
Goleman describes two forms of thought: rumination and constructive worry. He defines rumination as thought loops that one can’t stop and are upsetting. You keep thinking about the same things over and over again, becoming more anxious and getting nowhere. Constructive worry on the other hand is when you think about something upsetting, but you come up with something you can do about it and that stops the thought. You can then move forward and focus upon something else.
I had a client who was riddled with fears and anxiety due to many unfortunate life circumstances converging at once. She felt out of control. Negative thoughts were consuming more and more space and she was becoming increasingly more stressed, unable to move forward. We did an exercise in which she learned how to intentionally choose what to focus upon and in so doing, she became empowered, able to regain control over her emotions. You can try this if you feel you are engaged in rumination versus constructive worry.
Manage Your Anxiety
Visualize wrapping your negative thoughts, worries and anxieties in a package and placing this “worry package” on a shelf. You are permitted to unwrap the package twice a day for a defined amount of time – she and I agreed upon one half hour. At the end of the allotted time, replace the package on the shelf to be revisited later. When the package is on the shelf, you need to focus on other things and people in your life – work, friends and interests. Eventually you will need to revisit the worry package less and less as the energy devoted to other thoughts, people, and activities begin to consume a larger space in your head and heart.
It is a process, so be patient, but also be mindful.
How can you begin to create more space for yourself starting today?