“It is the way we think about things, and the way we react to how we think”, says Cindy Haines, “that causes us stress”. Dr. Haines, a psychologist with Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey, presented at our April 12 meeting on “Anxiety and Wellness”. Such thinking leads to a vicious cycle, with our automatic negative thoughts increasing our stress and the stress causing us to have more severe automatic thoughts. All or nothing thinking, mind reading, and fortune telling are examples of cognitive distortions that can cause a physical reaction as real as a punch in the stomach.
How to break the cycle? Challenge those thoughts with reality checks. What is the likelihood that the imagined worst will happen? Even if it does, are the consequences so irreparable? Think of what you can do about it. Reality checking breaks the cycle by putting you back in control.
So you are stressed. Take a deep breath? Not such a good idea, asserts Dr. Haines, as that can lead to hyperventilation and magnify the stress. Instead, take normal, regular breaths (perhaps slightly deeper) and turn to relaxing thoughts, or count if that works better. Sensory grounding, taking an object and spending a few minutes to describe it tactilly, visually, and aurally, will help bring you back to reality and allow you to work towards resolving the problem.
Anxiety, though always a stress on the body, is not necessarily bad. Good anxiety helps us to overcome challenges as in “I need this push to succeed”. Bad anxiety, in contrast, makes us feel lousy.
Anxiety is a fear of fear. Challenge that fear, and find your way to a more healthy and helpful state of mind.