What to do when Fear becomes our Filter to see the World
16 Nov 2016
Akash felt numb as he sat holding his mother’s latest test reports. His mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Few months ago, one of his friends had lost his mother who had been battling cancer. Though the oncologist had assured him of positive prognosis, Akash was sure he would be losing his mother soon. Beads of sweat showed on his forehead as he felt his world was crashing down.
Supriya had been married for 8 months. She had a love marriage with her boyfriend of 3 years, who loved her cared for her a lot. But Supriya was constantly taunted upon by her mother in law due to her dark complexion and criticized on her ‘inefficiency’ to take of her husband and his family. She cited examples and showed Supriya how she was unable to keep her husband happy. Supriya felt low, and started questioning herself at every step. She would take any difference of opinion with her husband as his rejection as well as her personal fault; and would berate herself over it. she started believing that her marriage was going to end and there was no way to save the relationship.
WHAT HAD HAPPENED WITH AKASH AND SUPRIYA?
Akash and Supriya had been going through a tough phase in life, and here, fear was acting as their filter for drawing conclusions rather than logical and rational thinking. Let us see how.
In Akash’s case, he had seen few of his relatives dying in the recent years, all due to cancer. His friend’s mother was another recent example. Therefore, though his mother’s doctor had discussed the treatment plan and reassured him that this was only the first stage and she would be cured, Akash would not be assured. All the negative instances piled up in his mind, and overwhelmed him. He was sure of losing his mother untimely and became depressed day by day.
Going by Supriya, her mother in law criticized her repeatedly over her complexion and way of doing work. Supriya felt she was not good enough to be a wife. When her husband differed with her even in one opinion, she took the difference as criticism from him. She was sure that he was not happy with her and therefore would leave her. She overlooked that her husband still loved her a lot and cared for her, also never criticized her appearance. She rather sulked, interacted less and got depressed day by day.
Fear is a negative emotion. When it becomes the filter for our life experiences, we tend to focus only on the negatives and expect a negative outcome. It creates a cycle of negative thoughts, which affect our behavior and make us feel lonely and depressed.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO OVERCOME IT?
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1. Ask yourself if the problem is solvable
If a worry pops into your head, start by asking yourself whether the problem is something you can actually solve. The following questions can help:
§ Is the problem something you're currently facing, rather than an imaginary what-if?
§ If the problem is an imaginary what-if, how likely is it to happen? Is your concern realistic?
§ Can you do something about the problem or prepare for it, or is it out of your control?
2. Challenge the reality of anxious thoughts
Although cognitive distortions aren’t based on reality, they’re not easy to give up. Start by identifying the frightening thought, being as detailed as possible about what scares or worries you. Then, instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out. As you examine and challenge your worries and fears, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective.
§ What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
§ Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
§ What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen? If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
§ Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
§ What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
The inability to tolerate uncertainty plays a huge role in anxiety and worry. Chronic worriers can’t stand doubt or unpredictability. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. You may feel safer when you’re worrying, but it’s just an illusion. Focusing on worst-case scenarios won’t keep bad things from happening. It will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. So if you want to stop worrying, start by tackling your need for certainty and immediate answers.
§ Is it possible to be certain about everything in life?
§ What are the advantages of requiring certainty, versus the disadvantages? Or, how is needing certainty in life helpful and unhelpful?
§ Do you tend to predict bad things will happen just because they are uncertain? Is this a reasonable thing to do? What is the likelihood of positive or neutral outcomes?
4. Focus on the present rather than the past or future : Mindfulness
Worrying is usually focused on the future—on what might happen and what you’ll do about it. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present.
§ Acknowledge and observe your anxious thoughts and feelings. Don’t try to ignore, fight, or control them like you usually would. Instead, simply observe them as if from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging.
§ Let your worries go. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that pop up, they soon pass, like clouds moving across the sky. It’s only when you engage your worries that you get stuck.
§ Stay focused on the present. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions, and the thoughts that drift across your mind. If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.
5. Confine your worrying to one time period during the day
“Thought stopping” backfires because it forces you to pay extra attention to the very thought you want to avoid. You always have to be watching for it, and this very emphasis makes it seem even more important.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to control worry. You just need a different approach. This is where the strategy of postponing worrying comes in. Rather than trying to stop or get rid of an anxious thought, give yourself permission to have it, but put off dwelling on it until later.
§ Create a "worry period" Choose a set time and place for worrying. It should be the same every day (e.g. in the living room from 5:00 to 5:20 p.m.) and early enough that it won’t make you anxious right before bedtime. During your worry period, you’re allowed to worry about whatever’s on your mind.
§ Postpone your worry. If an anxious thought or worry comes into your head during the day, make a brief note of it and then continue about your day. Remind yourself that you’ll have time to think about it later, so there’s no need to worry about it right now.
§ Go over your "worry list" during the worry period. If the thoughts you wrote down are still bothering you, allow yourself to worry about them, but only for the amount of time you’ve specified for your worry period.
If you feel the fear is overwhelming you, feel free to take professional help.
A counselor would help you to challenge the negative thoughts and guide your thoughts back to the rational track.
Even when you are at your lowest and feel helpless, give yourself a chance. There is always a way to take charge and fight back.
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Tags: fear anxiety worry depression negative thoughts