3 Ways to Manage Fearful Thinking: Tips from Experts, Part 1

On Saturday December 12, my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, and I hosted the online Relentless Courage Live Event. We were joined by five experts who spoke about the adverse impacts the pandemic has had, particularly on people who have a history of trauma, depression, anxiety, grief and other mental health challenges. Each of our guests graciously shared some pearls of wisdom and/or specific techniques to help you manage your fearful thoughts as you continue to persevere through and beyond this difficult time. 

Here in Part 1 of this 2-part blog series, I’m going to share with you what we learned from three of these experts, so please read on! 

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist, bestselling author of Switch on Your Mind, and a cognitive neuroscientist who has done extensive research on the mind/brain connection. She spoke about the importance of being intentional in managing fearful or negative thoughts to avoid being consumed by your trauma. At the same time, she noted that it’s unhealthy to suppress or ignore your trauma completely. As an alternative, she suggested that a better way to manage it would be by setting aside a one-hour block of time—ideally earlier in the day—to focus and work on it. Since anxious or fearful thoughts are likely to pop-up at other times during the day, she taught us a simple technique to help manage them. The following is an example of it. 

You have the fearful thought, “I’m never going to survive this pandemic.” Instead of ruminating about this fear, do this 3-step exercise: 

  1. Inhale for a count of 3
  2. Exhale for a count of 7 with a thought that counters the anxious one. (In this example it would be something like, “I will get through this and be okay.”) 
  3. Repeat this pattern 7 to 9 times in a row.

After you do this exercise, notice how much calmer your brain becomes. With repeated practice, you can change your brain pattern which will give you the freedom to respond to your negative and fearful thoughts, rather than overreact to them. Being proactive in this way teaches you that you can control your thoughts instead of feeling like they control you.

Pastor Derwin Gray is a former NFL player, author of The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness and Founding Pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina. He talked about how all of us can move beyond our personal circumstances—no matter how challenging. 

Pastor Gray grew up in the ghetto where gunshots were normal. He was a compulsive stutterer, which was a form of PTSD. As he grew up, he believed money was status and power, but at age 25 he had an existential crisis when he realized being successful on the outside didn’t fix the broken, hidden parts of himself. He then began the process of healing from his trauma.

He believes through God’s grace each of us can find the courage to transform our lives and overcome our traumas, rather than let our wounds define us. One of his most poignant messages is: 

“You’re more loved than you know and it’s okay not to be perfect.”

This is such an important point because many people who grew up with trauma feel as though they’re somehow defective or unlovable. If you can relate to feeling like this, Pastor Gray has a better message for you which is: 

“No one is too damaged to be loved. Your life matters, 
and the world is a better place with you in it.”

Knowing—and believing—you are loved and valued just as you are, helps give you the courage to go forward, move beyond your past, and find a greater sense of purpose. 

Learning how to receive love is a wonderful goal to work on. Trust me, I’ve been there.

JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN, EP-C is a triple-board certified celebrity Nutrition Expert and Fitness Hall of Famer, but she is no stranger to traumatic stress. Several years ago, her then 16-year-old son was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing the street. He was in a coma and on life support for weeks. Despite the horrific reality and anguish of knowing he could die at any moment she knew she needed to take care of herself so she could successfully take care of him and get him healthy again–which she did. 

JJ offered some very practical tips to help you manage your stress and health, so you can be strong and be there for yourself and those who need you.

  1. Prioritize your sleep 
  2. Choose to eat healthy foods that keep your blood sugar balanced, such as clean protein, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables
  3. Practice gratitude daily
  4. Get your mindset right

This latter point, getting your mindset right, is necessary to make changes in your behavior. It starts by learning to believe you are worthy of good health—because you are!

JJ’s favorite technique for doing this is simple: Put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it every time you have a negative thought or limiting belief. With practice, you can teach yourself to cancel out your negative thoughts. It’s truly amazing how much you can shift your mindset when you become aware of your thoughts!

The Relentless Courage Live Event was an amazing two hours during which our guests provided some well-needed inspiration and advice to help get everyone through this challenging time. I’ll share more tips from them in next week’s blog. 

Meanwhile, if you couldn’t join us last Saturday, don’t worry—we recorded it. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/5jJ4GAhO2oA. I think you’ll love it!

The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child is written by New York Times bestselling author, neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and vice president of Amen Clinics, Tana Amen. In this compelling and candid memoir, Tana shares how she was able to find healing after experiencing a terrifying childhood of abandonment and abuse and how she became a champion for others who have experienced trauma. It offers an inspirational look at what’s possible for anyone in need of healing and hope. Order your copy here.

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