3 Ways to Manage Fearful Thinking: Tips from Experts, Part 2

During the Relentless Courage Life Event on December 12th, the five experts who joined us provided some great strategies and techniques for managing fearful and negative thoughts. This was particularly helpful for anyone with a history of trauma, depression, anxiety, or grief who may be easily triggered by this crazy time we are in. 

As a follow-up to my last blog, I’ve got tips from three more experts to share with you, so please read on!

Dr. Sharon May is the founder and president of Safe Haven Relationship Counseling Center, author of How to Argue So Your Spouse Will Listen, and a world-renowned relationship psychologist. She talked with us about how social distancing, working and schooling from home, financial woes for many, and a seemingly unpredictable future have put a lot of strain on many couples and families. 

She noted that in healthy relationships, couples tend to have each other’s best interest in mind. They can connect emotionally and turn toward each other with trust in their hearts when times are tough. However, in unhealthy relationships, quite the opposite can happen.

In many cases, couples who struggle to connect deeply with one another did not have the security of safe and trusting relationships while growing up. Thus, as adults, they may have a difficult time experiencing trust and emotional safety with their partners. During times of stress, their “dragons” from the past emerge, leading to increased conflict, defensiveness, and disconnection. If you can relate to this, here is some advice from Dr. May:

  • Address your past and let your partner know what you need to start building trust and safety within your relationship. Talk about it together. 
  • If your partner is the one with a history of trauma, try to look beyond any fearful behavior by acknowledging the underlying anxiety and helping him or her work through it.
  • If you are struggling in your relationship, it’s ok to get professional help! Doing so is a sign of strength (not weakness) and can positively impact the course of your life going forward.

Dr. Joseph McClendon, III is a neuropsychologist, teacher, coach, and motivational speaker. It’s hard to imagine, but at one time in his life he was homeless. When he was at his lowest point someone reached out and helped him. Since then, he has helped thousands of people overcome the fears, phobias, and emotional challenges that keep them from living their best life. 

Dr. McClendon believes that we tend to do things out of habit simply because we’re used to doing them. This includes the habitual negative thoughts that accompany anxiety and depression; we get into the pattern of repeating them. To help break negative thinking patterns, he gave us an example of how that would play out:

Imagine you’re sitting on the couch feeling depressed and a negative thought pops into your head. As soon as you’re aware of the thought, STAND UP! Literally. This physical shift creates a “scotoma” or blank space in your mind that you can fill with something more positive, like a smile (which changes your brain chemistry for the better). 

If standing up is not an option for you, no problem. You can create a scotoma with any rapid movement while simultaneously taking a deep breath. For example:

  • Sit up straight
  • Clap your hands
  • Move your head side to side

You can intentionally practice pattern interruption by doing this exercise: 

  1. Sit down and bring a negative thought into your mind for a few seconds.
  2. Interrupt the pattern by suddenly standing up or with any rapid movement such as the modifications listed above. 
  3. Immediately do something that feels better (i.e., smile, dance, or celebrate). 
  4. Repeat this 9 more times. 

Dr. McClendon explained that with practice, you can break your habitual pattern of negative thinking and create a habitual pattern of positivity. This can help you see greater possibilities and options for yourself, so keep practicing!

Many of you are familiar with the incredible work and bestselling books by my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen.During the event, he emphasized how important it is to take care of your brain—especially in this stressful time. 

Here are a few of his key reminders about brain health:

  • Your brain is the hardware that drives your life, so avoid the things that can hurt it like injury, infection (including COVID-19!), toxins such as alcohol and recreational drugs, and sugar or fat-laden food.
  • If you want to keep your brain healthy you must prevent—or treat—any brain problems that you have. If your brain doesn’t work well, it’s hard to make good decisions and this directly impacts your health, wealth and relationships. 
  • Even if you have a mental health or other brain problem, you can still optimize how your brain functions with healthy lifestyle choices. A better brain leads to a better life.
  • Manage your negative self-talk. You don’t have to believe every thought you have. Our thoughts often lie and make us more anxious, stressed, or depressed. To help you separate your thoughts from yourself, give your mind its own name. This will let you evaluate your self-talk better. 
  • We all have pain inside of us but reading stories about those who have transformed their lives can help inspire you to transform yours. 

After the Relentless Courage Live Event, I know I felt more hopeful that all of us really can get through this difficult time! If you weren’t able to attend and haven’t had a chance to watch the recording, here’s the link: https://youtu.be/5jJ4GAhO2oA.

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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