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by Michael Stein, PsyD

Just Announced! New ADAA Live Webinar with ADAA members Drs. Kissen and Greene - What Are Intrusive Thoughts and How Can You Deal with Them? November 5 - noon EST. 

If you suffer from anxiety, you probably have a contentious and complicated relationship with your mind. It feels like your mind tortures you. It gives you all these thoughts about what you should be scared of and horrible things that could happen to you.  

It tells you that you need to worry, analyze, and seek reassurance about all these things. It never shuts up. It won't leave you alone. Perhaps worst of all, when you try to tell it why you probably don't need to be afraid of all the things it says will happen, it calls you crazy or stupid or any number of bad names.  It's a bully.

It feels like your mind is torturing you.

And yet…you worship your mind. You take what it says very seriously. You believe that if your mind says something, it must be important. It must mean something. No matter how mean your mind is to you, you give it the utmost respect and trust. That's the problem.

It is your torturer, and yet you worship it. In what other situation would you ever want to worship your own torturer?

The problem is not the fact that your mind gives you negative thoughts; the problem is that you take your mind so seriously. Just because your mind says something is important does not mean it actually is important. Just because something feels important also does not mean it is important.

Thoughts are just thoughts.

Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are not meaningful. The content of your thoughts is not important.

What is important is how you treat your mind. If you take everything it says seriously, give it too much respect, and put too much trust in your mind, that is a recipe for an anxiety disorder.

There is a healthier way to approach your mind: don't take it so seriously. Don't believe everything it says. Don't treat your mind as a trustworthy source of information, especially about the things that make you anxious.

Don't get me wrong, you don't have a bad mind. It's not that your mind feeds you meaningless, negative thoughts and everyone else's mind is on target. This is how all minds work. 

Your mind is just doing what minds do. Our minds like to warn us about stuff because our minds think they are keeping us safe by doing this. Your mind would always rather err on the side of giving you a warning than not because it is more likely to keep you physically safe that way, and your mind cares about that more than anything. But just because your mind is doing its job, that doesn't mean the thoughts actually mean anything. Again, thoughts are just thoughts. 

When you have a thought that your relationship partner might leave you, that's just a fart noise in your head. Treat it as such: ignore it and move on with whatever you were actually doing with your day.

When you have a thought that you touched something dirty and you might catch a deadly disease, that's just a random neuron firing in your brain. It means nothing. Treat it as such: be dismissive toward your mind and don't give it any of your attention or time.

When you have a thought that your anxiety will never get better, that's just a buzzing sound in your head. Treat it as such: sarcastically say to your mind, "Good one, thanks for that, keep 'em coming!"

Remember, when you treat your mind this way, it doesn't mean your mind will necessarily stop saying things like this. Your mind is going to do what it wants to do; you don't have control over the thoughts that pop into your head.  No one actually does. The important thing is not what thoughts you have, it's what you do when you have those thoughts.

So the next time your mind starts spinning about why you should feel anxious about something, try to react to it differently. Don't worship your mind, recognize that it is a false god unworthy of your trust, respect, time, or attention. Instead, get back to whatever you are doing right in front of you in the present moment and put your effort into that. 

Even though you can't stop your mind from continuing to give you negative thoughts, that's okay, because thoughts are just thoughts.
 

Just Announced! New ADAA Live Webinar with ADAA members Drs. Kissen and Greene - What Are Intrusive Thoughts and How Can You Deal with Them? November 5 - noon EST. 


About the author: 

Dr. Michael Stein is a licensed clinical psychologist who has spent 14 years specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and OCD using Exposure Therapy and other evidence-based behavioral interventions. He is the founder and owner of Anxiety Solutions, a group private practice that serves clients with anxiety and OCD both online and at its offices in Denver, CO; Reno, NV; and Boise, ID. He is also the author of "How to Stop Overanalyzing", a self-help video series.He sees clients, teaches, and supervises other therapists from Anxiety Solutions' Denver office. He is passionate about both helping his own clients overcome anxiety and OCD and expanding access to quality care for these problems.  

 

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So according to the doctor we shouldn't listen to what our mind tells us. So if I get the feeling my life is in danger I should just not listen to my mind saying run! Yeas ago I was in a car accident and my nose broke the steering wheel. I dont wear scarves around my neck and nothing near my face. Because of people like you who think everyone is alike I cant get xrays done to see if I need another back surgery. You see i tried masks when i needed to get my nerve block and had an anxiety attack and the hospital allowed me not to take the mask off my nose. So please dont say it's all in our mind. Some of us actually cant wear them and you saying everything in their mind allows places to turn me down from medical procedures.

He didn't say you shouldn't listen to them, he said you shouldn't react emotionally to them. It's called in psychology "cognitive defusion".

The purpose of emphasizing that it is all in your mind is to show that even the hardest of traumatizing thoughts are truly just in your mind.
Panic attacks are triggered with your mind and stop with your mind.
You can do it!

Coming from a mind that is very familiar with anxious thoughts, simply ignoring them, or putting them off as insignificant isn't as easy as it seems to be, nor is it necessarily wise to do so. If I think my partner is going to leave me and just pass it off as a brain fart, then I choose to take no action. What if my partner is planning on leaving me and there are things that I can fo to prevent that from happening? It's not about ignoring ther negative thoughts, it's about recognizing the merit of the thought and then deciding on an appropriate response to it. Sometimes a negative thought really is protecting you. The anxious mind does not operate the same way that a learned psychologist's mind may operate. This id a problem with the treatment of mental illness - there's an empathetic disconnect between the doctor and the patient, which will cause ther patient to distrust their provider's advice.

Thoughts are nothing but brain chemicals, they only mean something if you put context to it. The partner example is though because it could in fact be true, but we have the power to communicate and figure out if its true. To an anxious mind your obsessive all the time which makes it true in your mind but in fact it might not be true so you live with fear it might be true. That is no way of living, even when you know its not true your brain still convinces you it is. Thoughts should instead be accepted and moved on, we have the power to choose what we belive or not. Unrealistic fears such as "everytime i get sick i might have cancer" or "if i touch that door the world will die" in your mind your body is sending you chemicals of danger, you might know its not true bit if your brain keeps bombarding you at one point you get tired and says "fine who cares". The idea is to accept the thoughts and not fight them, ignoring them might work but accepting them gives them less power to bother you. The empathetic disconnect between the doctor and the patient is there because we hear all about medicines and not non pharmacological ways to help patients. Meditations, exercise, CBT, are ways to help,but majority of times its all about the meds. We should not treat patients as lab rats. Also having anxiety and depression makes you normal and we should not diagnose people as mentally ill because then patients think they are crazy and or cant help themselves. Everyone are anxious and depressed that is the norm.

I feel like anxiety is just thoughts that you don't want to live with. in reality if you change your mindset and think about these things differently that might help. example- oh man I wanna talk to that girl but what if I fuck up or fall and embarrass myself. BE ok with that. BE ok with fucking up and not being perfect you have to live with these things and find a way to be ok with it.

Hey - I think you got it partially right. The intention of the Doc here isn't to give no damn about it. The intent is to observe it and ignore it. Of course if your partner wants to leave you, you'll get "realistic" signals and not just thoughts based on which you'd definitely act. You've to see there's a difference in perceiving a threat realistically or just thinking a threat through/getting anxious. For example, you meet a lady in your office. Now, your anxious mind may threaten you with an irrational thought that you're going to spoil or disgust your interaction/experience with her/what's wrong with doing it/rationalize that you won't do it etc. However when you actually encounter them realistically and have a conversation, your anxious thoughts will go for a toss. So, the lesson here is your mind will always want to put you in illogical/irrational situations and ask you "Hey, Now try to prove you aren't this bad or You are going fo screw it up, now go save yourself..." etc. And you can't stop this shit. All you need to do as the Doc says is Dont give worth to these thoughts that tend to disgust/spoil your experience of life. Leave it to your conscience/realistic actions to determine what you're experience is. Don't let those thoughts hijack your experience.

So, there's a difference in what the article means and what you've inferred. Pls look at it a bit more carefully.

I'M 54, FROM INDIA SUFFERING FROM ANXIETY AFTER I QUIT SMOKING COLD TURKEY AFTER 30 YRS, 3YRS BACK. I DO NOT TAKE POISON BENZOS, I TAKE 600mg TULSI HERB-RAW HERB. I HAVE ABSOLUTELY ZERO PROBLEMS IN LIFE BUT OODLES OF ANXIETY. AFTER READING YOUR ARTICLE I FIGURED IT OUT. I ALWAYS FIGHT WITH MY OWN MIND, TRYING TO TAME IT SO AS TO BRING ABOUT EQUILIBRIUM OF THE MIND BUT WAS UNABLE TO DO SO & THUS RELAX. YOUR ARTICLE MADE ME UNDERSTAND & REALIZE THAT I DON'T NEED TO FIGHT MY MIND BUT STRONGLY IGNORE IT-THE NEGATIVITY IT IS GIVING ME.
WONDERFUL CONCEPT, EXTREMELY HELPFUL. WISH WE HAD A COUPLE OF DOCS LIKE YOU IN INDIA BUT DOCS IN INDIA ARE BUSY PRESCRIBING ANTIDEPRESSANTS & GETTING COMMISSIONS FROM BIG PHARMA & PATHOLOGICAL LABS
BEST WISHES.

Why are you yelling? Your writing in caps gives me anxiety. It's probably the cause of yours too.

I saw the potential for him yelling also, however it didn't give me anxiety. Because I figured he wanted to make a point, and according to his name, he may not be familiar with the American equal to "yelling" by capitalized type. I also capitalize when a point is of ultimate importance. Just Say'ng
Byl (Bill)

Well that's not true I am from India too and, I speak fluent English.English is not our first language agreed but that does not mean we're uneducated and cannot speak english,and plus there is a possibility that he did not realize that his capslock was on whilst writing,isn't it?

Perhaps overlook the caps and reply to the content. We often pick at one another over something trivial like this when we really need to take a moment to appreciate that something was found that may benefit a fellow in the real struggle with anxiety. My initial response when I saw the post was wow, what's up...but as soon as I began reading it was very clear it was simply an appreciative post from an individual who felt they had found a personal breakthrough for themselves and needed to share. Celebrate with them instead, maybe?

please explain me how u came out of all blues
I am also suffering anxiety depression last 20 years
please help me

......,,,is this limbo among making sure you’re checking that you’re not living a false reality and trying living how you are naturally, and also making mistakes along the way. I get so caught up in between them all, I either can’t seem to accept the current state of any of them or I over analyze it all. It eats away and melts your brain.

Thank you for this! Exact reminder I needed today. Will save this and revisit often to remind myself.

Wow this has changed my life , 29 years and nothing has made more sense to me in my life! What a clever human being!! Thankyou you have changed my hole outlook on life and i thankyou !!

I am having sexual thoughts and sexual imaginations since last 20 days. My mind is just connecting each person and things to sex. My mind started attacking in my body. Mist of time I have thought like someone is touching me sexual part of my body. Whenever I see any person it just creates a thoughts relating that person to my body to harm myself. I tried a lot to stop it but it is not happening. All the time this thought is with. I am not able to sleep. I do not want to eat anything. I do no want to see anything. What should I do to get rid of it.

Hello there...I've been through the same situation a hell lot of times before. Believe me. There are a few very important points you need to consider to get your life back.
1) NONE of these thoughts really mean anything or are True.
2) DO NOT judge yourself as a Mean or Disgusting person just because of these unrealistic thoughts. This is just a phase of life that'll pass away.
3) Somehow Somewhere, you;ve eaten some bad food, mentally.
4) You need to just relax yourself, stop eating any more bad mental food.
5) There will be some mental diarrhoea for a while which is normal.
6) Strive yourself to have that as a pleasant experience rather than overthinking and making it worse.
7) If you believe in God, think of a very soothing image of your favourite god and try to calm your thoughts whenever they occur. Apply this for any activity where you're impacted - eating/sleeping/drinking/working etc.
8) If you don't believe in God, visualize yourself as a part of this cosmos/creation.
9) Never Never Give Up on your life.
10) Hare Krishna.

This article is so useful and a brilliant way to look at anxiety and thoughts. Thank you for this! I will keep referring to it. Sash

Srinivasan Madabushi

August 6, 2020

Thanks a ton Doc. for this wonderful article. There're tons of literature/media available over the net on Anxiety/OCD etc. However this article is the only one of its kind where the situation and what-to-do is explained in the most meaningful and simplest manner. It makes sense to anyone and resonates with anyone who's through this. Thanks again.

Thank you for this article, it really helped. I love reading books, and a week ago, I started getting these horrible and cheap thoughts while I was reading. Can you please tell me what to do when they interrupt my reading?

I love this article! It really helped my outlook on life and my mind. I currently am suffering from anxiety where I think I can hear my heart beat almost all the time especially when I go to bed, and have irrational thoughts of having a heart attack.. I used to drink and party for years but I am recently living a more healthy lifestyle as just the thought of partying now would give me anxiety. I even get a little anxious if I don’t feel like I am healthy enough, say with eating and if there’s refined sugar in the food, it it’s not organic and etc. I am tempted to go to the doctor to do an overall check just to know for sure that I am at least healthy, but then there’s also a part of my mind saying “it’s just anxiety, calm down, think positive thoughts”.. Is this crazy to think?

Hi doctor! I just wanted you to know that. This article is very helpful. You don’t know how much you helped me battling this anxiety. I really hope that God will bless you more ❤️ thank you so much for this article I feel relieved while reading it.

I've been having anxiety for quite long time, I went to a psychologist because of OCD, but I kept listening to my mind, anyways, since quarantine started i've been having more anxiety than normal, so I just randomly decided to search "Anxiety, with all respect f*ck off", and this page was the first thing to appear, I read it even though I'm not the kind of guy who asks for help on the internet, but It really helped me, I think I will just try to tell to my mind to f*ck off.

hello to all my fellow ocd anxiety brothers and sisters. i liked this article. i think what the doc is saying is that we cannot control what thoughts pop in our mind and this is normal for all people, but we can choose how we react to them. yes negative thoughts or thoughts that unsettle us DO have merit becasue our brains develop in such a way that it wants to protect us from physical and emotional pain so our minds will at times auto generate thoughts that unsettle us at times to help prepare us for some sort of danger but this could happen even if no danger is really there. so yes process ypur thoughts and see which ones are valid enough to pay attention to and try not to get tortued by them like me and so many of us who suffer from OCD and anxiety. Thanks Doc

I don't know how to explain but I will try . I always get these intrusive thoughts whenever I try to do something I like. These thoughts threaten me like If u do this I will harm ur loved ones or I wish for bad things to happen to them but not intentionally . I feel guilty for my thoughts . Please someone help me 🙏

Hi my friend, I feel your pain as I have in the past experienced similar if not exactly the same kind of judging thoughts myself.
Eckhart Tolle calls them thoughts that judge other thoughts but the irony is they are not even our thoughts in the first place.
As Michael simply brilliantly explains thoughts are just thoughts and all thoughts come from the mind, they are not real they are just the mind offering an idea or opinion that we are free to take or leave but unfortunately somehow we became confused and started believing everything our minds dreamed as being true.
We are not our thoughts and we are not our minds we are the recipient of the thoughts from our minds, we have absolutely no choice or control over what the mind choosers to produce but we have total control over what we believe and take notice of. Every single day our minds produce over 60,000 random ideas and opinions which it then offers to us to either accept or reject, we have no choice what thoughts we get but total freedom over what we decide to think about., thoughts and thinking are two completely different things, thinking really is a choice even though thoughts aren't.
Whatever we pay attention to on a regularly the mind repeats most often because it believes its important to us simply because we keep paying attention to it, stop taking the thoughts so seriously and just think of something else instead, not easy to begin with but it gets easier and easier the more you do it, It takes a little bit of practice but almost immediately the thoughts begin to lose power over you when you ignore them and don't take them seriously because they 100% rely on our attention and interest to have any power over us or hold on us. As Michael said none of us have a bad mind it's only our relationship with our mind that's all got a little confused but is very very fixable once you understand what's going on and stop being frighten by it. A brilliant Franklin quote is (I don't like that man, i must get to know him better) get to know your mind, it will suddenly stop being so scary and will lose all the power it holds over your happiness and freedom to enjoy this wonderful life.
God bless and try not to worry or overthink the minds ideas and opinions as none of them are real they really are just silly weird mind opinions and ideas that mean nothing and both you and those you love will be fine, just trust in life more and trust the minds ridiculous ideas and opinions a lot lot less :-)

Thank you so much sir for this , I truly needed these answers during some hard times I even felt that I'm going crazy with these thoughts . Again thank you so much i'm grateful for this .

I cant shut my mind of not even for a min in a day my was caused by my wife leaving me 2.5 years ago constant panic all day from the moment i wake up each day i cant sit still always in panic mood cant leave the house i stuck in what to do i wish so mething can help its so hard to live like this each day i understand why people struggle with this and call it a day ,most professional dont even know how it feels

Start with just 5 min. Think of the most calming thought that brings a kind of peace.
DO NOT TRY TO HARD.Don't try to overpower what enters your mind.Instead, when an unpleasant thought enters your mind,just say ,"oh well,peace". It gets easier with practice,and your on your way to control what you think instead of your mind letting unhelpful thoughts enter in.

Thoughts are not just "thoughts". Everything thing in your living room.kitchen,bathroom,began with a thought.Thoughts are things.All
things begin with a thought. Meditation ,begins with what is called a seed thought.
Om,Aum, also known as the sacred word is a typical seed word or thought.
Most people don't know how to use their minds.If we did, bad ,unpleasant thoughts would not plague a lot of otherwise good people before they need a professional.People get caught in a downward spiral of thoughts that are unhealthy.If they did have a little control they could stop them before help is needed.

This article is brilliant and helps me keep on top my overthinking when I start struggling again.
It's my go to place when I'm tired or overwhelmed and I start taking my thoughts seriously again.
Although I know thoughts are just thoughts and have absolutely no power or meaning it's always good to come back and read this article again to talk my anxiety down and stay on track.
Thank you.

I just have to thank the writer of this article cuz wow it’s 12:40 in the middle of the night and I’m just here having an anxiety attack because I’m researching random mental illnesses that I think I have and this just assured me that I’ll be fine and I’m strong and sometimes my mind needs to be ignored when it gets too chatty😂🙏❤️

I have been having some real success by suspending taking any notice of my unwanted negative thoughts for 30 seconds before giving any attention to my minds suggested thought.
It's amazing how quickly my mind drops the initial unwanted thought if I simply put my attention on to a thought of my own choosing, like what I will have for diviner or what I need to buy from the shops next time I go.
The initial thought is never there 30 seconds later in fact long before the 30 seconds is up my mind has completely moved on from its initial automatic thought to a completely different negative thought for me to think about, in which case, I just apply the 30 second rule once again.
Only a fool breaks the 30 second rule is my new motto when dealing with my unwanted thoughts and as soon as I notice an unhappy thought pop into my head I remind my self "only a fool breaks the 30 second rule".
Hope it helps other people too.

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