I’ve never been the kind of person who sees the glass half-full. No one has ever referred to me as wearing rose colored glasses.
In fact, quite the opposite.
From a young age I could best be described as consumed by worry. You know, the kind that hijacks your mind, proposing numerous terrible possibilities that might occur, like “what if _______” (insert worst possible outcome you can think of).
Managing anxiety for most of my life has given me an interesting relationship with my mind and my thoughts.
And, if you can relate, this is for you.
When I began diving into the world of spirituality and self-improvement over 15 years ago, I started by reading books focused on practices like gratitude, manifestation, and the law of attraction.
I was so intrigued by this idea that your thoughts could possibly have that much power (and control!) over your reality. Being a control junkie, I was hooked. Give me all the control!
If you’re not familiar with these practices, to put it very simply, they suggest that your thoughts create your life. This idea that you attract what you focus your energy and attention on.
- If you think positive thoughts, you invite more positive experiences
- If you think negative thoughts, you welcome more negative outcomes
- And by practicing daily gratitude for what you already have, you make space for more things to be grateful for
Sounds easy enough, I mean, they’re just thoughts, right? But where does anxiety fit into this equation?
Wanting to have happier thoughts and happier experiences is something we all seem to share as humans. We all want to feel happier. And while gratitude and reciting affirmations certainly helped to shift my overall focus here and there, I also began to push aside or try to stop in its tracks any emotion or feeling I perceived as negative.
My anxious and intrusive thoughts were still there but now they carried a lot more weight.
Am I somehow calling forth these horrible “what if” scenarios just by thinking them?
(spoiler alert – I wasn’t).
If you have anxiety, you know that trying to stop yourself from having anxiety doesn’t work. Working to shove our anxious thoughts out of our minds very often just makes them stronger, and is also just very exhausting.
The idea that you might attract what you fear can be a terrifying idea for someone with an anxiety disorder.
So, first, let me say this:
You are not somehow less spiritual if you have intrusive thoughts, anxiety, or low moods.
You are a human.
And being a human comes with a spectrum of emotions and many experiences that are completely outside of our control. That is the hard truth (especially for us control freaks). Trying to have only positive thoughts all the time will do two things:
1. Prove to be impossible.
2. Essentially cause you to practice emotional avoidance or suppression, and a bypassing of the full human experience.
We are meant to feel the full range of emotions and none of them are “negative”.
And so, here’s what I have come to believe as someone with anxiety who is also into the woo: there is an element of manifesting and the law of attraction that is a beautiful practice. Calling to mind the things we are truly grateful for and visualizing the life we would like to live is great.
Wanting to reframe our limiting beliefs and the old, tired stories we have been telling ourselves, also great.
But in order for both of these things to actually change our lives it requires us to take actionable steps. We are not somehow sabotaging our lives or creating negative events by having anxious thoughts or experiencing the full range of emotions.
The magic happens not so much in thinking positive thoughts, but instead noticing and allowing all the parts of ourselves, and loving ourselves regardless.
Improving the way we feel about ourselves, our sense of self-worth, learning to regulate our nervous system. These are the things that impact our overall energy and daily life.
When we are gentle with ourselves, and practice self-compassion and self-acceptance, we are showing ourselves that we are enough and we deserve love. This creates a beautiful energy within us and it is that energy that is the driving force of our life.
Not our thoughts.