Replacing "Just Don't Think About It"
As anxious as our society is, we still love horror movies. After watching a horror movie, you likely feel…horror.
In fact, for a few days after you watch a scary movie, you're double-checking the door at night or leaving a light on. Flashes of the fear you felt during the movie come back to you.
Anxiety is sort of similar to watching a scary movie, just on the screen of your mind, and during the day. After a scary thought haunts you, flashes of it can come back and freak you out. Something else that anxiety and scary movies share is the advice people give you after you experience them.
“It’s not real.”
“Don’t think about it.”
They might be right on the first part. Your anxiety may be as staged as a horror flick. Remember Psalm 23? in verse 4 David says this:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
He’s not walking through the valley of death. He’s walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Deep in the valley, the shadows are so thick, you don’t know what danger could be lurking behind them. Robbers? Animals? Pits? The shadows give plenty of room for the mind to wonder.
And though it’s really nothing more than shadows, that wondering can be painful. Your anxiety may be irrational, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. The scary movie isn’t real but the fear is.
So what should we do?
As you know by now, “Don’t think about it.” is not an option. So, might I suggest we do the opposite?
I think the reason scary movies freak us out so much is that we only watch them once. I mean, if you watch a scary movie seven times, you’ll know when every scream is coming and you may even get bored with it. Boredom is almost the opposite of fear, wouldn’t you say?
So what if we did that with the scary movies in our heads? Instead of insisting we don’t think about them, let’s think about them over and over again until we’re bored.
This is an exercise a therapist gave me to try. It’s not for those who are in real danger, that’s what 911 is for. It’s for those who think about danger and get in a frenzy. Here’s the exercise:
You'll need to set aside a time each day for seven days.
Open up a document on your computer.
Write out the scary movie that’s playing in your head (your anxious thoughts).
Make sure you write out the absolute worst case scenario. So, if you’re anxious about losing your job, write out the worst way in which that could happen.
The next day, revisit this word document and read it in its entirety. Then, add to it.
I know, I said worst case scenario. Yea, let’s make it even worse. Add a part about waiting in the unemployment line, in the rain.
On the third day, and every day after that for seven days, repeat the process.
Keep adding details that, on the final day, would make it up to 7x worse than your original worst case scenario. The hope is that by day 7 you'll be so used to the story that you're tired of it (rather than on edge because of it).
This exercise may not work for all of us, but it did for me. This helped me get bored with some of my irrational, anxious thoughts. In fact, eventually, I was laughing at my fears and growing more confident that Jesus would be there, rod and staff, to comfort me should something ever actually pop out of the shadows.