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What to do when our thoughts are not so pretty.

You know that moment in a movie when a character is supposed to give a grand, pre-planned speech and then rips it up all dramatically and speaks from the heart instead? Or for my church friends, when a pastor decides to change their sermon last minute because the Lord laid a different message in their hearts?

That’s me right now, only not really dramatically, lol. My blog post today was supposed to be a holiday kids’ book haul. I’ve got all these cute Christmas books to share with you (that I still will, next week probably!)... but kids books are the last thing on my mind.

It’s currently 4AM, and I can’t sleep. If you know me well, you know sleep does not evade me easily. I can fall asleep early, sleep in til late... I LOVE sleep and it loves me back. So it’s rare for my own thoughts to wake me up and keep me awake.

But now, in this quiet nighttime hour, I’m wrestling with anxious thoughts. In a blog dedicated to giving room to thought, I believe it’s appropriate - necessary even - to make room for thoughts that aren’t so pretty. I love recipes and kids activities and books... but the reality is that anxiety does play a role in my life (has for almost my whole life), and I am still learning how to navigate these thoughts, making room for them while not letting them take over the whole house.

It’s no lie that 2020 has been a hot mess. It’s almost become a joke that I’ve learned to laugh at (I live for all the 2020 dumpster fire memes). But as the year comes to a close, I can feel the weight of it all over again, similarly to how I felt back in March when things first started going downhill - the unknown, uncertainty, skepticism, feeling like things will never be back to normal.

Maybe it’s because baby boy is coming in like two weeks, and there’s some unknown there with him being breech and trying to stay healthy as possible for his arrival. All that compounded with this time of year - which is so beautifully sacred, but also comes with a lot of expectation and the feeling that you’ve been thrown off your routine (which can be a real mental health struggle for some people).

I don’t want to go too much into my thoughts themselves and take you down that dark rabbit hole, but instead I want to share with you a tool that is helpful for me when dealing with anxiety, in case it can be helpful for you, too.

About 10 years ago when my anxiety was manifesting as full-on panic attacks, I started going to counseling and I read a book that changed how I navigate my thought-life to this day. The book is Loving the Lord with all your Mind by Elizabeth George. It’s centered on the Bible verse:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” - Philippians 4:8

Elizabeth George goes on to explain how to protect your thought life, filtering each thought through the standard of “Is this real? Is this true?” and whatever thoughts weren’t real or true had to be discarded. This was powerful for me, because it helped me realize that a lot of my thoughts were projections and what-if scenarios. Many of the thoughts I allowed to pass through my mind weren't grounded in reality, so I had to learn how to reroute my neural pathways and retrain myself to think thoughts based on reality.

Fast forward 10 years, and I’m so grateful that I’m not experiencing panic attacks or extreme anxiety. But I still have to keep my thoughts in check regularly.

A few weeks ago when I was planning my blog and deciding on what kinds of things I wanted to write on here and share with you all, I had the idea to create a short, simple tool to help navigate anxious thoughts. I wasn’t dealing with anxiety myself at the time, and didn’t create it out of necessity. I had planned to share it sometime after the New Year, with no clue that on Friday, December 11th at 4AM I’d wake up with anxious thoughts of my own, needing to use this very tool myself.

So here I am, sitting here in front of my beautiful Christmas tree, hot cocoa in hand, using this tool to calm my anxious thoughts.

It’s a simple tool called the Thought Filter... let me show you.

Step 1

Do a "brain dump". In the big thought bubble area, write down all your scattered thoughts. Don’t overthink it, just put on paper all the thoughts that are overcoming you right now. Don’t justify them. Don’t feel the need to explain them. Just write them down as they pass through your mind. Try to be vulnerable here, and write down even the thoughts that scare you. This isn’t giving them power or life... what it’s actually doing is acknowledging them so you can squash them. It makes them powerless over you.

An example of a thought I wrote here is “I feel out of control.”

Step 2

Now it’s time to begin analyzing these thoughts. Go through each thought in your "brain dump" and decide what about these thoughts is false. Remember, just because a thought is false doesn’t make it invalid to you or make you wrong for thinking it. But ask yourself if the thought is grounded in reality. For example, earlier I wrote down that “I feel out of control.” That is a valid feeling. But when that thought is put up to the light of reality, I have to ask myself, am I really am out of control? And the answer is no. I’m not. I have the ability to make the best choices for myself and my family. No one is forcing me into anything. I AM in control, and I need to squash the idea that I’m not so that I can walk in the confidence and power needed to navigate this new season.

Step 3

Replace the false thought with a true thought. Once I identify a thought as false, I need to replace it with a true thought. I identified that “I’m out of control” is false, so I replaced it with “I’m in control of my own self and my own life, and can make choices - even hard ones - that are best for me.”

Note: Some of you may be in circumstances that are truly out of your control. If that’s the case, identify what you ARE in control of, how you can regain control, who you need to reach out to for help. I am ALWAYS here if you need someone to talk to.

I go through these steps for every thought. Afterwards, I may not have all the answers, but just being able to address and categorize these thoughts helps me not to feel so frenzied. I wrote all of this at 4AM, but as I'm publishing this post at around 9:30AM, I'm so grateful to have woken up when I did to tackle these thoughts head on. I actually ended up falling back asleep for a couple more hours in true peace. When I woke up again at 8, it was with a resolve to live this day ahead of me rooted in reality, rather than let my feelings over my circumstances stay in the driver's seat.

You can download the PDF version of this Thought Filter here.

Thought Filter
Download PDF • 117KB

I hope this is helpful to you. And even if it’s not, I can rest knowing that my past self created it not even knowing my future self would need it.

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