Most weekends we have a film night, I suppose it’s our version of Hygge, we all get together as a family, snuggle up on the sofa (light the fire if it’s cold) have scrummy food and I may have a glass or two of wine. This weekend was no exception, the children had chosen an ‘action’ film, not my first choice but I was happy to go along with the majority! However, half way in, my once calm Friday night had been disrupted as it was no longer clear that the hero would save the world and in fact his life was hanging by a thread in glorious technicolour. I was left hanging onto my cushion, using it as some kind of protective shield, while my kids were roaring with laughter seeing how high my heart rate could get (they were monitoring my fitbit!)
Now I knew rationally I was watching a film, that the vision I was watching wasn’t real, they were actors, characters in a film, they weren’t facing certain death, in fact far from it they were all safe and well at home! But I found it interesting how I could create such a physical reaction from watching the film unfold. Interestingly I only had this reaction when I was consumed by the film – when I popped out to the kitchen, thinking about something else, of course I knew it was a film and my feelings easily and readily settled.
Reflecting on it now, life can be a lot like that, often when I ask clients how they know that they are stressed or anxious, they will often describe the feelings that they have first, whether it will be a racing heart, or a tight knot in their stomach, they may feel sick or maybe breathless. These are the indicators that we notice first, the things that tell us that we are stressed or anxious – it is these indicators that tell us what thinking we are doing. Just like me watching the film – it was my thinking, my concern, my fear if you like for the hero that was causing a very physical reaction.
When we delve a little further, often when we are stressed or anxious, it is usually about something that hasn’t happened yet (future), something that has happened (past) which we can’t change, or we’re concerning ourselves with other people – we’re are either comparing ourselves or we’re trying to work out what they think of us! So unless you are super good at reading the future, time travel or reading minds there’s a very strong chance that your imagination is creating a story, a very believable, often very scary, story, but it is still a story; just like the scary film that I was watching.
Often I ask clients to imagine that that scary thinking that they are doing is like watching a scary film because it is just a made up story like the action packed film that I watched, the difference being that I probably won’t watch that film again, but in life they watch that scary life film several times a day, becoming all consumed by it, living it, breathing it, believing it to be real, making themselves feel stressed and anxious – a bit like if I really believed the action film was real and started to build a nuclear bunker! But in the same way that when I let the images of the action film go, recognising it was just a film, all made up with none of it being real, all the feelings fell away; we can do the same in life too – when we realise that it is just a scary made up story that we are telling ourselves and allow those thoughts to pass, which they do if we let them, the feelings start to subside as well and we simply return to being ok.
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