Today I want to talk to you a little bit about boredom.
Now, you might think that anxiety disorders and boredom have as little to do with each other as baseball and ice skates. Who among us with anxiety can say we actually feel boredom too often? Most of us love being alone and can easily find ways to keep ourselves content. However, the truth is that boredom is a pretty fair-sized component of an anxiety disorder on a couple of different levels, especially when it comes to intrusive/obsessive thoughts and chronic fears such as health phobias.
Keep in mind that when I say boredom, I am not talking about the conscious kind of boredom where you are sitting around on a Saturday afternoon with no plans, no mental stimulation and nothing to do but listen to the clock tick. I will get to that kind of boredom another time.
Today I am talking about mental boredom as in a lack of something to keep our subconscious mind entertained and occupied. Our subconscious minds have quite a flair for the dramatic and in the absence of some “real” drama going on in our lives, they tend to create their own. This can wreak a little havoc in our lives so it is something we need to be aware of and able to recognize the signs of, and consistently manage.
In order for you to understand exactly what it is I am talking about, I want you to think of your mind, and the mind of almost everybody who has GAD or Panic Disorder, as a newspaper.
Those of us with anxiety always have a lot of mental “stories” going on. The “Worry” section is one of the most popular sections of our paper of course, along with the “Ancient History” section. We also have a pretty good commentary section that is great for telling ourselves all the things we should have said during every conversation we have ever had.
The “Society” section is pretty small due to the fact that lying around in our lounge-wear is usually the only big event we are interested in. And while we are lounging, we frequently visit the “Brainteaser Section” which is where we go when we are in the mood to ponder very serious riddles such as “Why is Everybody Else Normal, and I am Not?” and “What Was That Twinge I Just Felt In My Head?”
And of course, like any good newspaper, we always have our “Headline Story”.
Our Headline Story is the one “story” we have going on in our lives that is holding our attention the most. It is the one story that our subconscious keeps bringing our thoughts back to. It’s the main event in our lives. It is important. To us, it is big, dramatic and exciting – at least, it is compared to everything else going on in our lives. It grabs our attention and holds it. The story is sometimes negative, sometimes positive, but it is always interesting enough to keep our minds occupied.
Our newspaper seems to run quite smoothly over the course of our life. Smaller stories toward the middle and back, bigger stories stay up front. It’s always worked out just fine.
Your subconscious, is the “Editor” of this “Newspaper Mind” of yours, and he has always been okay with how the paper has been running “pre anxiety disorder”. He has been watching the stories play out your entire life, and helping to decide whats important enough to keep as fresh “Front Page News” and what can be filed away back in the archives.
Yes, everything seems to run just fine in our lives until right around the time that our anxiety disorders erupt.
Let’s go back in time a bit to right before those first symptoms appeared.
Chances are good that you went through a period in your life right before your anxiety disorder erupted, of big change, and/or big stress, and/or lots of drama.
There was a lot going on in that “Newspaper Mind” of yours.
Either one really big story came about: a death in the family or you left home and went off to college, or perhaps a sickness or divorce happened. Maybe you switched jobs? Good or bad, it was a big enough story to rock your world.
Perhaps you had lots of little stories popping up. A promotion, your kids have been sick, fighting with your husband, planning a wedding, preparing for vacation, a project to complete at work. It was nothing too major going on, but just enough to keep your subconscious busy, busy and “aware” that a lot of little changes and happenings were underway.
Either way, your subconscious was busy keeping up with all of these stories and watching them play out. And he liked it! He loved the action, the drama, the change, the suspense! Things were getting exciting at newspaper headquarters!
You – your conscious self – may not have loved everything that has been going on in your life, but the subconscious minds of those of us with anxiety disorders are drama junkies and they crave chaos. It’s a comfort zone in a twisted sort of way because chaos means we aren’t letting our guard down and getting too “relaxed”. Our subconscious HATE being relaxed – it could lead to “danger”.
So your subconscious newspaper editor sees all these stories coming through and your response to the stories. And he says “These stories have her attention. These stories have her alert. She is paying attention to these stories.” I want more of this! This newspaper is really taking off!
And fortunately for your subconscious, you continue to keep the stories coming. As your brain started producing more adrenaline due to all this drama and stress in your life, your very first anxiety related symptoms started to appear. You either started to have mental symptoms such as obsessive worry or panicking, or physical symptoms such as pounding heart and light-headedness.
And with these new anxiety symptoms came the best “Headlines” of your life!
“I May Be Crazy!”
“I Am Scared of Everything!”
“I Am Afraid I Am Having a Heart Attack!”
Boom, Boom, Boom…..big story after big story after big story.
Your subconscious “Editor” is on “Cloud 9” with all of this extreme drama every day. He is loving every second it. It is just one thrill after another. Sure, it now all negative, pretty awful stuff but, who cares?!
It’s the bad stuff that clearly grabs your attention and brings some of that chaos that it craves. Every day another awesome, attention grabbing headline that seems like it was hand-picked just for him pops up and he tries really hard to keep it fresh in your mind so it doesn’t lose its punch.
Things continue on this way for a while – weeks, months…maybe even years and our subconscious is kept busy with our very real fears of something terrible going on. Fears that are fueled by our non stop stress, negative thinking and neglect of our emotional health.
However one day, as happens for most of us with anxiety, we might start to notice that our symptoms are improving or that the chaos in our life has died down and our thoughts are clearer and more rational. The initial stressful events that triggered our anxiety disorders have faded into the past a bit. The shock of our initial anxiety onset has worn off. We become “used to” our symptoms. Or perhaps we have educated ourselves, we have started taking better care of ourselves, or maybe we have just had enough healthy distraction in our lives that we didn’t focus so much on our anxiety symptoms anymore.
Other things were starting to take over the headlines. Things that weren’t quite so “exciting”, and our subconscious newspaper editors really don’t know what to do with that. After months or years of drama, drama, drama, they couldn’t go back to putting out stories about what kind of cookies to make for the Halloween party next week. There is no excitement in that! That is not going to make us pump adrenaline and keep us focused and prepared for danger!
Your subconscious starts getting restless.
He starts to get a little desperate. He starts brainstorming trying to think of something, anything that could become the “next big thing”. As so often happens in times of desperation, standards and ethic can go out the window, and our subconscious now starts dipping into “tabloid journalism”.
As he is sitting at his desk, bored, making paper clip chains, waiting for some big “drama” to happen, suddenly our subconscious sits up and says “I’ve got it!”.
He thinks, “Didn’t I hear something a while back about some “twinges” she was feeling in her head. Maybe I can do something with that. I know…..how about instead of a “twinge”, I plant the seed that it is a “potential brain tumor”? “Brain Tumor” makes such a better headline….and besides it’s not that much of a stretch is it? I mean it COULD be a brain tumor, right? .05% of a chance is still a chance! It’s not like I am just making stuff up out of thin air here. Yeah, I think I can turn this into something. I will just plant a little thought seed, try to get her attention focused on it and see if she latches on to it. Then once again….BOOM! Splashy Headline!”
And sure enough, before we know it, we find ourselves huddled in front of a computer, Googling symptoms because we can’t get it out of our minds that we might be dying from brain cancer.
Our subconscious is very smart.
It knows exactly what we need to give us the exact kind of “Headline News Story” that it craves and that will hold our attention. It knows the right time to plant the seed and the right way to do it. And right about now, he is quite pleased with himself! He hasn’t just created a headline, he has created another sensational headline! We are giving it a huge reaction!
If our minds were real newspapers, they would be flying off of the shelves.
Depending on how strong our reaction is, and how mentally tired we are, these new “Headline Stories” that our subconscious has created, can stick around for weeks or months even. Eventually though, they will lose their “pop” and then the cycle will repeat itself over and over again.
This is why you find so often that once your anxiety disorder erupts, your symptoms change and morph throughout the months and years of your life, and why they often seem to be a bit bizarre.
It’s all just tabloid garbage designed to get your attention and keep you alert and in “battle mode”.
Your subconscious mind wants you to stay in “Maximum Anxiety” mode and as soon as it thinks you are adapting to a symptom and the shock from it is wearing off, it will find a new one to roll up and throw on your doorstep.
We all know those people who buy the newspaper at the grocery store checkout and read them like they are gospel, right? (I’m not judging, we have all picked one up a time or two.) Well, now your mind is running like one of those supermarket tabloids and you are buying every word of it.
The good news is that your subconscious may be the editor of your “Newspaper Mind”, but you own the damn thing.
You are the boss. This is your life and you get to decide what is important and what isn’t. And if you make it clear that you aren’t buying what he is selling, he will have no choice but to change his tactics.
Look at the desperate moves certain “news” websites go to, in order to get you to click on their articles with their “click-bait” headlines.
Your “Newspaper Mind” works the exact same way. But if you show your subconscious that you no longer react to these outrageous thought seeds it is planting, then it will see no point in trying to tempt you with them.
Your “Headline Stories” MUST hold your attention. That is what makes them “Headlines”. So your subconscious will not waste its time trying to create stories that it knows you will ignore! There would be no point to it. You can train your subconscious to quit throwing this garbage at you, by simply ignoring these thoughts and distracting yourself with something else.
Do not fall for the tabloid thinking that your subconscious is throwing at you. I know your thinking isn’t at its clearest due to exhaustion and stress, but deep down you know what is BS and what isn’t. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into lies and sensationalism that was only created to feed your subconscious need to have something to worry about.
A rule of thumb when you are living with the mental and physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder, is to only believe what you KNOW, not what you FEEL.
If you don’t KNOW a feeling or thought to be true, or at least have some pretty compelling evidence to back the story up, then it must be considered to be false. It must be considered to be a “tabloid feeling”.
And you must keep reminding yourself it’s just a tabloid feeling every time you get the urge to dwell on it. This is where your power comes from. This is how you remind your subconscious that you are in charge and running the show.
As a person with an anxiety disorder you MUST remember that there is a part of you that craves drama…that craves worry….that craves negativity.
Once your subconscious gets the taste of a little bit of drama in your life, it will always try to “top it” with something better to keep the cycle going! You have to always be prepared for this and never let your guard down and. And this is why you must always do daily relaxation exercises and deep breathing exercises so that you are keeping your overall tension levels down! The higher your overall level of stress, the thicker the clouding of your judgement!
No matter how emotionally tired you are, you must always remember who you really are and that you know better than to fall for garbage like “I am going to forget how to breathe” or “I can’t eat food that isn’t chopped up really small or I will choke on it” or “I can’t hold a knife or I might go crazy and hurt myself.”
Those are all things that I believed at one time and now I can’t believe I let my trouble-making subconscious make me think that way.
Do not analyze. Do not question. Do not ponder. Do not Google your new symptoms.
Do not tell yourself “But THIS one feels real. THIS one feels different from the other symptoms. THIS one must be taken seriously.”
I know all about those thoughts. Every time I had a “twinge” of any kind, I would think “This time its different. This time feels like it could really be something.” And here I am 20 years later and that aneurysm or stroke I was so worried about never happened. I sure have a lot of gray hairs I have to spend a fortune coloring every month from worrying about them though!
All those types of thoughts are just “click bait” that your subconscious is throwing at you. Ignore them.
And this thinking process must be continued on until you are sufficiently recovered enough to be able to trust your feelings and your subconscious again.
Let’s get back to YOUR newspaper again.
It will still have drama of course…but it won’t be filled with EXTREME drama day in and day out and hopefully it will be filled with a little more emphasis on the “feel good stuff” this time. Your mind should be full of whatever you CONSCIOUSLY want it be full of. Not whatever your bored subconscious decides to amuse itself with. The prefix “sub” means under.…which means that you subconscious voice is supposed to be under YOUR voice. Never forget that.
And on a side note, after I got done writing this post, I Googled Baseball and Ice Skates just for kix, and it turns out they aren’t so far removed from each other as I had once thought. You just never know in this world! 🙂
Photo Credits: All Photos Courtesy of Pixabay Except for Tack/Note.