Given all my years of experience with anxiety (hello, childhood friend who gave me stomach aches and the shakes the night before a presentation!), I have actually built a solid repertoire of tools to help me deal with anxious thoughts.
In fact, this tool actually was brought to me during my second pregnancy when I went to my prenatal yoga class. I saw a sheet of paper pinned to a bulletin board, and on it was printed the following poem.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
After reading the poem, I chose to put it into practice. My yoga teacher once told the class that emotions, just like labor pain, come and go like a wave. The premise is to treat anxious thoughts like a guest.
Invite the emotion in, welcome it instead of pushing it away. Observe it with curiosity instead of trying to avoid it. And let it go as opposed to fearing anxiety and desperately trying to rid yourself of feeling anxious (which actually makes it worse because then you spiral into those ruminating thoughts that start spinning in your head and where you feel you have lost control. See, told you, I knew what I was talking about :D)
In fact, in moments of anxiety, I would actually envision a scene, where anxiety takes a human form (like a decrepit, weak, trembling, scared old man) knocking on my door and I picture myself inviting him in a cozy, warm living room with a fireplace.
I proceed to ask him to take a seat and stay for tea and we sit for a while. It might sound cuckoo, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It may take some practice and your own twist to it but the more you get comfortable with your uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, sadness, anger, etc. the more you have a handle on them and then they stop controlling you.
You are always in control of the way you feel. Anxiety can happen to everyone at some point. Slow down when it happens. Slow down your thoughts. Don’t fear it. Acknowledge it. And always breathe and keep breathing… inevitably, the guest will decide to leave you be.
How do you keep your anxious thoughts in check?