Hold up an empty picture frame and look through it. What do you see? Now move it to the right or left. Do you see something different? Now turn around and look behind you. What new thing are you now focusing on? How did the different frames make you feel?
Our feelings start with our thoughts. If you think someone is good looking and smells good, you may feel attracted to him. If you think that same person is rude and dirty, your feelings for him will most likely change. Anxiety is no different. Anxiety starts with a thought. A scary thought. A negative “what if” futuristic thought:
- “What if I go to the outdoor concert and a copycat Vegas shooting occurs?”
- “What if the person gets past security?”
- “What if there is a shooting at my church?”
- “What if I go and I make a fool of myself?”
These scary thoughts may be true. But there are other possible and even more probable truths:
- “What if I go the concert and have fun?”
- “What if I go to my church and have a new spiritual experience?”
- “What if I meet someone new?”
- “What if I have the best experience of my life?”
Both sets of “what if” thoughts can be true. Since we don’t know the future, a positive “what if” thought is just as true as the negative “what if”. It all comes down to what we choose to focus on. Like an empty picture frame, we can frame our thoughts, ultimately choosing our feelings.
In the picture above, the hand holding the empty frame is focusing on a portion of the beautiful scenery. The hand is framing out the white rock with a touch of the dark blue water below. It’s true that there is quite a bit of barren rock in this setting, but if the hand was to raise up an inch or two, the frame would capture greenery on the top of the mountain along with blue sky. Both pictures are true. And both pictures generate different emotional responses depending on personal preferences, experiences and memories.
By reframing your scary thoughts with happy thoughts, you can diminish your anxiety and increase your peace. However, this new way of thinking can be hard to learn, especially if you have never done it before. But it is possible. If you find that your negative thoughts overwhelm you with anxiety, you may need help. Through a healthy therapeutic relationship, you and your therapist can work together to help you reframe your thoughts, reduce your anxiety and produce the feelings you wish to embrace.