Sometimes, in my swell American life, there would be moments when I would have my own private terror attacks. A bottomless pit would open below me and I would wait as waves of anxiety would wash over me pulling me down. Panic attack or an anxiety attack are the clinical terms for this and they’re no fun and would leave me feeling like there was something in dire need of “fixing” in my brain.
I have spoken a lot here on the blog about how I finally found the book that finally helped me to understand what I was doing with my brain to create these moments. I discuss Cognitive Distortions Here citing an easy to read article from Psychology Today. The book that finally helped me out was Feeling Good : The New Mood Therapy by David D Burns. See his wonderful Ted Talk here. I haven’t had one of those attacks now in a couple of years and I have to be continually mindful of what tricks my mind gets up to. Ironically, I just discovered Dr. Burns also has a book called When Panic Attacks. But my thought today was, what if our false thoughts actually happened and came true? What if our panic was manifested and we were literally attacked by the imagined foreseen outcome?
Understand, our brains do this fear trick when we say to ourselves, “if we do such and such, we’ll risk being outcast from our clan”. Creatives experience this fear a lot because being creative in and of itself is an act of rebellion. Our protective fear brain says non-conformity and otherness is certain death as it begs for us to be singled out by our village and be stoned. Witch hunts and McCarthyism are perfect historical examples of how this can work.
But I thought, what is the worst thing that can happen? What would it look like if we truly were outcast from our communities and shunned as our fear brains would have us believe. We’d no longer have access to the groceries or the churches or the post offices. We’d be cast out from our beds and our houses and made to wander the world looking for another place to stay. Oh, we’d be refugees. We’re aware of what this looks like first hand through the media. Secretly we fear if we step out of the societal line, this will be our gate as well. So we stand up front to cast the first stone and the first vote.
Our middle class lives here in America are so posh, we haven’t the slightest clue of what any of this kind of terror really means. And yet, when we get anxious, this is exactly what our brains tell us will happen ultimately . When and if you can hear yourself foretelling the future of how it will “always be” or it “will never be”, stop and stand and look at your lying brain and gently remind it that, while it has pretty smart moments, this is not one of them. While it is possible that something may happen if you go out on a limb, it probably won’t and your brain needs to calm down already. That the feelings you are feeling are not facts is also a good thing to remember.
Anxiety is in fact changeable. And it requires just as much work as you’d put into building a new house. Because essentially, that is what you are doing. When you challenge all those old auto-thoughts that have kept you ”safe” and install more reasonable reasons why you are choosing to do or not do, you are replacing the structure of your thoughts. And this is the only very doable way to stop them from reoccurring. Being mindful of what you are thinking and then choosing other thoughts will lead to all sorts of other doors being opened. This is the basis for cognitive therapy. And I find the possibility of change kind of exciting. What about you?
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