Anthony Robbins put it perfectly when he said, “If you want to experience different results in your life, just start asking yourself different questions.” In my experience with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and almost daily panic attacks, there were two words that shaped the way my day went back then. Those two words that made up a question I asked myself at least 100 times per day were the words ‘what if.’ To give you a few examples of how I used these two very powerful words that literally brought me to my knees many times, I have to go back to a few scenarios that I can remember vividly:
The Shopping Mall – What if I experience a panic attack like the way I did last time, will people think I’m crazy? Oh the humiliation, I’ll never be able to go to the mall – or any crowded place for that matter – again!
A Professional Tennis Match – What if my hands start shaking uncontrollably again and I get those dizzy sensations? Will my opponent think I’m losing it mentally? Will he spread the word to the rest of the athletic community that Dennis should be locked up!
Driving – What if someone cuts me off and my anxiety levels spike up again? Will I have to pull over and call emergency again? Will I get in a crash? What if I have to pay that $300 emergency bill again in case I have a real heart attack this time!
You see how the words what if dictated everything. It was rare that when I thought the words what if, something like a panic attack or constant checking in to my bodily sensations actually did not happen. These are just three examples of when I used what if, but trust me, there were many more. The words what if forced me into a corner and kept me pinned down in my basement for 31 days. I would go out for the occasional short walk, but other than that I did not budge and purely existed. I was more dead then I was alive for some time. So what did I do? I started to change my what ifs to a set of words that were just as powerful, just as intense, which in time changed what I associated to what I used to fear. Just by using these three words in the comments I made to myself when a feared situation came up, I gained momentum in the right direction. The three words I started using instead of what if, were ‘ride the wave.’
During my anxious times, I moved my family to Bali thinking that a change of view and attitude would help cure my problems. When I was in Bali, I would surf quite a bit and realized that when I surfed it was one of the only times I was thoughtless, nothing could bother me. I was just riding the wave without the thoughts of what if I fell of the board, what if there was a shark, and so on. I was free – I didn’t add fear to the experience at all, I just kept riding the wave. I started applying the term ride the wave to my anxiety and panic and it worked! I started using these comments to myself rather than asking a fearful question, for example: “If I experience dizzy sensation at the shopping mall, I’ll just ride the wave and not add any tension to this experience,” or “I’m on this plane now and I’m feeling jittery. What if this plane crashes? Well, I’ll just ride the wave and experience this feeling, but I won’t add anything to it as I cruise through these feelings.” Eventually, I became disinterested in the what if’s, and I didn’t add to any initial fears I had. Did it take time to recondition this? Of course, doesn’t anything take time when you want to create a lasting change? Turn your what if’s into comments to yourself using the words ride the wave and change your entire perspective.
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