I recently watched a very funny skit (I thought so anyway) starring Bob Newhart as a psychiatrist.
The gist of it is that a woman comes in and complains of being plagued by an irrational fear. The psychiatrist (Newhart) explains his billing schedule, $5 for the first 5 minutes (he assures her it will not take more than 5 minutes), and then very seriously leans forward and tells her that he is going to give her two words that will solve her problem. Then he shouts,
She is of course deeply upset by this advice. He then asks her if she wants to spend her entire life being plagued by irrational fears. Of course, she doesn’t. “So, stop it!” he exclaims.
It’s funny because yes, of course, that is the answer, it’s so simple and yet it’s so profoundly difficult. Most of us think that our problems will never go away. While not all of us are frequent visitors on the therapist’s couch, we all have thoughts that occasionally plague us, be it irrational fears, difficult chapters in our pasts or a current challenge that we may be unclear about how to resolve. These nagging fears and worries deeply impact the quality of our lives, our overall happiness and inevitably affects our overall health. Studies correlated heart health, diabetes, hypertension and even the common cold with an individual’s overall outlook and emotional health. But I don’t need to convince anyone that they want to be happier, that’s an easy sell. What everyone wants to know is how to be happier, how to let go of all the thoughts that keep us from being happy. Therein lies the key. Worrying about a situation in no way makes it better. It’s not a situation that is causing us unhappiness, it is our thoughts and feelings surrounding it that do. I love this adage: I don’t worry because it’s inefficient!
How do we stop thinking these destructive, unhappy thoughts? YOU have to yell STOP IT. No one else can do it for you. As a marriage counselor and mentor, some days all I want to do is shout “stop it”! That’s not something that you can do for someone else, though. The best we can do is be the sounding board, the mirror that allows them to get to that place. Advisors and good friends act as sign posts to that place of realization.
No two people have the same life experience. We all have similar fears and doubts, but what’s behind them is very different for everyone. Therefore, everyone needs to create their own personalized exit plan for dispelling negative thoughts. Here are several tools for dispelling the bad thoughts.
If you have negative thoughts, fears, or self-doubts what are they about? Find the root. Often when they are tracked back to a source, they simply go away on their own. A hypochondriac can turn a cough into tuberculosis perhaps because they lost a parent early in life and have a persistent fear of death, or perhaps they had a parent who didn’t nurture them, so they seek out that care and attention they lacked from medical professionals. Everyone is different and we all have to sleuth out our causes. By recognizing, for instance, that the medical anxiety was a byproduct of the loss of a parent, then those symptoms may lessen as they deal with their loss rather than reassigning that trauma to health issues. The idea is to identify the source and not myopically focus on the symptoms.
Remove Fear Triggers
One woman I know was plagued by anxiety at night. She was recently divorced and would find herself awake all night, often a couple nights a week, lying in bed unable to sleep. She had an irrational fear that someone was trying to break into her house. Every sound became the footsteps of an intruder. She would spend hours paralyzed, too afraid to even get up and turn on a light! This was obviously debilitating, from the sleep exhaustion alone, never mind the emotional toll. She attended a lecture where I talked about fear not being an option. When you take away the option of fear, then you have to act. I asked her, “What steps, what actions can you take to stop your fear response” She thought about it and three days later she spent $25 at Home Depot on door and window alarms and slept like a baby.
Throw It Away
This may sound simple to the point of absurdity, but researchers at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid found that writing down your fears and worries on a piece of paper and then throwing that paper away helped participants let go of their negative thoughts. Participants who edited and kept their writing were found to be ‘holding on’ to their worries and fears.
Stop Dwelling, Start Giving
Constantly reliving your past is not an effective plan for moving forward.
The irony of thinking about your negative thoughts in order to get rid of them, is that you are focusing on your negative thoughts. While this is a necessary step, at some point you need to stop thinking about yourself. There is no better distraction than sharing with others. If you want an immediate injection of happiness, just do a simple act of sharing that goes against your nature. Share in a way that is slightly uncomfortable for you.
(for dispelling doubts & fears written by Louise Hay)
Positive affirmations get a lot of mileage on the comedy circuit, but they are indisputably effective. Say this out loud and watch the negative thoughts dissipate.
- I trust the process of life to bring me to my highest goal
- I love & approve of myself
- I appreciate all that I do
- I make good choices
- In the infinity of life where I am, all is whole, perfect, complete
- I deserve the best & I accept it now.
You Take Yourself Way too Seriously (stop it!)
I have two words for you: laughter and levity. Take a break from your fears and worries. Smile. No matter what you’re going through, it’s not the end of the world! Lighten up. (And also, STOP IT!)
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Write down your fears, self-doubts, worries and anxieties. Now throw the paper away.