People who suffer from anxiety and depression, often have a particular way of using their imaginations to make things worse.
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Tania’s Dreaded Interview
Tania has an interview with her boss on Tuesday. It’s only Thursday today and already she is really anxious about it. She keeps going over in her mind what it is all about.
“I do remember I was a bit sharp with him last week over the sales figures, maybe he is going to discipline me?”
“There was a bit of a slump in sales last month, perhaps he’s going to go into that.”
“Oh God, I hope there are no redundancies in the offing!”
“Already I can feel butterflies in my stomach and my heartbeat is all over the place. I just know I’m going to have a panic attack!”
“Maybe I should just hand in my resignation and be done with it! But then I’ll be broke and I won’t be able to keep up with the mortgage.”
What may surprise you is that the thought patterns that Tania is going through are actually a very unproductive form of self-hypnosis.
According to Wikipedia, hypnosis is “a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion.”
So Tania focusses her attention on the interview, specifically as something that could be bad. At the same time she reduces her awareness of all the other possible reasons her boss might want to speak to her, such as a raise, a new project, to thank her for a job well done, to offer her a promotion.
She is even suggesting to herself that she will get a panic attack. Tania is hypnotizing herself to have a miserable time, and the crazy thing is, it might be completely unnecessary, or even counterproductive, since she is likely to enter that meeting, in the most negative state.
So if Tania is negatively hypnotizing herself without even realizing it, one way to overcome the anxiety is to actively use similar strategies to reverse that.
You can go out and learn self-hypnosis formally with a therapist, but in fact, a simple visualization process like the one below can immediately make you feel better in the moment.
Repeating the process will train your brain over time to be better at managing worry and anxiety.
1. Find a quiet moment, if possible, where you won’t be disturbed.
This is only going to take 5 or 10 minutes, so you don’t need to go anywhere elaborate, just an empty room at work, or home. You could even just retire to the bathroom!
2. Reduce your awareness of negative assumptions
If you don’t know what will happen, then avoid making negative assumptions.
It is all very well to be prepared for realistic possibilities, so do be practical and do your homework, but consider how you can be prepared for the positive outcome too.
What would you do if it turned out the boss was offering you a promotion? Actively make some positive assumptions as to what the best outcome might be in the situation. How would you feel afterward?
3. Focus your attention on the positive outcome.
If you were to assume that you had that best possible outcome, how would that feel?
This is where you start to create as vivid a picture in your mind of having that positive outcome.
Imagine a time shortly after the event you are worrying about has successfully concluded in a positive way.
Picture yourself in that moment and imagine how you might look. What might the expression be on your face? Bemused? Elated? Happy?
Step into that picture of yourself so you can really experience it. Imagine how you feel inside at that moment and really try to big up those feelings that you will have.
Are there words which you might say to yourself at that moment like: ‘Wow, that went really well; ‘I can’t believe how confident I felt’; ‘my boss really thinks a lot of me’? If there are, say them to yourself now. What about the things others might say to you?
Some people say they are not good at imagining things, but if that were true, they wouldn’t be worriers in the first place! It takes imagination to worry.
It may simply be that you are better at imagining things as feelings rather than pictures, or as words that are said or thought, so just do that, if it’s easier.
4. Suggest to yourself that things can turn out well.
When you have a clear picture of things going well, step out of yourself in your imagination and look at yourself from the outside in that positive state.
Say to yourself something like ‘that would be wonderful’, or ‘I hope things turn out that way’.
5. You should start to feel better.
Enjoy that for a few minutes and then just gently open your eyes and come back to full awareness. How do you feel now?