I’ve seen so many articles that tell us we should push past our fears and/or try to control them. While that’s satisfactory short-term advice, it’s not a long-term solution.
Fear always comes from thought in the moment. And thoughts are not under our control.
Fearful thoughts come into our head, which signals our brain to start pumping chemicals into our body. This is what creates the feelings we associate with fear. The feelings are there to take care of us under super stressful situations. Like those times when we have to make a quick decision. While anxiety medication can help lessen the feelings from the chemicals pumping into us, the thoughts themselves are neither controllable nor changeable.
Which is not as bad as it sounds. The fact that thought energy is constantly coming and going means that our fear also comes and goes.
Here’s how I describe it in my book, Victim of Thought: Seeing Through the Illusion of Anxiety:
The power of thought that is constantly streaming through us, comes into our heads and is filtered through everything that has ever happened to us, as well as what’s been on our mind lately.
Let’s say we have to give a presentation in a meeting at work for the big boss in a few days. Some of the thought energy flowing through our head may land and get stuck on the topic of that presentation.
It might be helpful here to picture the “thought flow” as a stream. (We’ll call it the Thought Stream.)
Now let’s imagine that individual thoughts are sticks gently floating within the Thought Stream. (We’ll call them Thought Sticks.)
And let’s picture the impending presentation as a large rock sticking up in the middle of the stream (we’ll call it the Presentation Rock). It’s there among many other rocks that represent situations (or even people) in your life. There may also be a Spouse Rock, a Mother Rock, a general Work Rock, etc.
As the Thought Sticks are floating down the Thought Stream, imagine one of them happens upon the large Presentation Rock and gets stuck there. When the Thought Stick is attached to and stuck on the Presentation Rock, it creates “Presentation Thoughts.” And for those who have decided that presentations are scary, it turns the presentation thought into a “Scary Presentation Thought.”
Remember, the thoughts (and Thought Sticks) themselves are neutral until we give them meaning. If a Thought Stick lands on a situational rock relating to something we like, for example, an Ice Cream Rock, it creates a “yummy ice cream thought.” But that same Ice Cream Rock with a Thought Stick attached could also create a “guilty ice cream thought” if we’re attempting to lose weight and believe we shouldn’t be eating ice cream at the moment.
There is no one particular thought that any situation must always create.
Once attached to a situational rock a Thought Stick may loosen up quickly, become free from its rock, float away downstream and its resulting thought may barely be noticed. Other times a Thought Stick may get deeply wedged into a situational rock and stay around for awhile.
When this happens in our presentation example, for instance, Scary Presentation Thought now becomes SCARY PRESENTATION THOUGHT! Then it’s all we can think about, and it seems to take up all the space in our head.
That’s what stuck sticks (thoughts) do!
The idea of this metaphor is to help us see the ever-flowing nature of thought.
We can be going about our day feeling perfectly happy and fine. When suddenly out of the blue, we start feeling fearful or anxious.
What’s happened is that the flowing energy of thought randomly got stuck on something that had some scary connotation to us. That’s it. It could be some situation we don’t like or we have been worried about. It doesn’t really matter, as the situation itself is always neutral.
Many of us start to notice the uncomfortable feelings produced by the stuck thoughts, and get doubly scared (i.e., we add more thoughts to it). We may think things such as, “Oh no, here we go again! Why does this always happen to me? I’m never going to feel better ever!”
Now we’re in full blown anxiety mode.
Yet when we know how the system works, i.e., that it’s our own thoughts innocently creating our fearful feelings, things can be sooooooo much better for us.
And when catch the fearful feelings early enough and remember where they came from, we are less inclined to add more fearful thoughts to the mix. We know what they are and that they’ll pass. We know there’s no reason to pay attention to them, or to have to do anything special to get rid of them.
Even more helpful is understanding that ALL thought–be it fearful or otherwise–is NOT who we are. We are that which is underneath it all. The quiet space of awareness watching it all play out.
How cool is that?