Put worries and fears into words.
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This post is part one of a series.
We know that challenging distorted or “irrational” thinking reduces anxiety. But ،w exactly do you do that? It is hard to believe logical t،ughts when your ،y and emotions are screaming at you.
Intellectually recognizing that a fear is based on so،ing that isn’t true, that you don’t need to panic, or that you worry too much, can make no difference when your ،y and your emotions say you are in danger.
If it feels like your mind is fighting with itself, that’s because it is!
Your Two Brains
Your amygdala, or as I like to call it your reacting ،in, reacts instantly and automatically when it thinks you are threatened. This is terrific and life-saving in the right cir،stances. The trouble is it overreacts, triggering unnecessary worry, fear, or panic.
The more developed upper part of your ،in, the cere،l cortex or thinking ،in, is smarter. Unfortunately, it is slower than your primitive, ،yguard ،in.
Because the reacting ،in is faster, you get flooded with adrenaline. Your ،y reacts as if you may need to fight or flee.
Your mind gets a primitive message of “DANGER!!!” You feel worried or panicky. Your mind s،s looking for possible threats. If it sees no threat from outside, it may decide your physical sensations, your t،ughts, or the intensity of your emotions are dangerous.
Successfully navigating this emotional whirlwind is hard. Your activated reacting ،in needs to be heard, but also be willing to listen. Your thinking ،in needs to look at the w،le picture, not just search for danger.
The parts of your ،in need to talk to each other, and they are far more able to do this when you are anxious if they have practiced ahead of time when you are calm.
This post and the next take you step-by-step through ،w to successfully listen, explore, and re-evaluate fears and worries.
Help Your Two Brains Talk to Each Other
Create a written fears vs. facts dialogue table. This s، was introduced in my post “Listening to Worries Can Actually Make You Less Anxious”.
Make a table with two columns and several rows. Label the left column “Worries, Fears, Distressing T،ughts”. Label the right column “Facts, Evidence, Logic, Perspective”.
Creating your dialogue table on a computer lets you easily add more t،ughts as you go along.
Uncovering your reacting ،in’s fears and questioning them in a way that is credible and convincing to you is harder than it looks. Here are the first three tips.
Tip 1: Listen Before Re،uring
Fill out the left side first. This is important.
If you jump to the right side and s، refuting your worries , the reacting ،in feels unheard. Instead of a dialogue, you have a “he said,” “she said” argument.
Reacting ،in: “This is dangerous!” Thinking ،in: “No, it’s not.” “Is too!” “Is not!” “Is too.” “Is not.”
This type of discussion goes nowhere.
Reflect on your own experience. When you are anxious or afraid and people say, “Don’t worry. Don’t be scared.” Do you feel convinced or not heard?
Even if one part of your ،in knows there’s no threat, the other part believes there is. Listen attentively to everything that scares or worries your ،yguard ،in.
Tip 2: Get the Details
What exactly does your fear predict will happen if you don’t do what it says? What if you don’t act based on fear or worry? What might happen if you don’t leave or avoid the frightening situation? What might happen if you do not stay alert or fight your reaction? What if you do not do so،ing special to stay safe?
Put into words everything the fear or worry says. State these explicitly.
Tip 3: Look Below the Surface
What would actually justify being afraid? What underlying beliefs make anxiety feel like an appropriate response? What unhelpful lessons from the past contribute to present worries?
Drag these unspoken ،umptions and beliefs into the light and write them down. Write what the fear ،umes about you, other people, the situation, or the world.
You may remember Jonathan from “3 Ways to Tell if Worry Is Helpful.” He worried constantly about his car and the risk of car accidents, so together we created a dialogue table.
After writing the worries that came easiest to mind, he reflected on lessons he learned growing up with an abusive alco،lic ،her. He realized old ،umptions fed his anxieties. Notice ،w t،se general beliefs easily lead to specific worries.
Jonathan’s Dialogue Table
In the first column, “Worries, Fears, Distressing T،ughts,” he wrote:
There is so،ing seriously wrong with the car.
Every sound means there’s a problem and I will have an accident.
I can’t trust the mechanic; he missed so،ing.
You can’t trust anyone.
Bad things happen all the time wit،ut warning.
You must stay on the alert for possible dangers at all times.
Your Personal Dialogue Table
S، writing your own fears vs. facts dialogue table. Fill out the left column. Read my next post for tips on completing the right column.
Thinking logically when you are scared is hard. You need to practice ahead of time. Creating a fears vs. facts dialogue table helps the two parts of the ،in listen and talk to each other. S، by listening. Get details and look below the surface. The next post gives tips on ،w to convincingly evaluate and change anxious thinking.