When we 'what if', we are projecting into the future, whether that be five minutes or five months or five years away.
Mindfulness Essays continued by Bronwyn Fox
"We are not aware of the enormous power that our thoughts have. It is our thoughts that generate our feelings and emotions. We don't recognise how we can be happy one moment, anxious the next, feeling guilty in the next, while feeling helpless in the following moment.
We simply don't recognise the power of thought and how our thoughts dictate the feeling quality of our life. We simply attach to our thoughts from the moment we wake in the morning, and we stay caught up in them until we go to sleep at night." (1)
When we have an anxiety disorder, our first waking thought can be, "where's the anxiety?" Because of the fear that our panic and anxiety generate, our anxiety is instantly awake, ready to start our day for us. We think to ourselves, 'Oh no, not again. Will I ever be free from this. Why can't I have just one day without it. Ohhhhh nooooooo ! '
We become so caught up in it all, we don't realise that we have actually triggered the anxiety by that first morning thought. Nor are we aware of how our mind jumps from one thought to another, keeping our anxiety levels simmering away all day, or generating further anxiety and possibly panic.
When we are not being aware, not practising mindfulness, we do feel incredibly helpless against the onslaught of our panic and anxiety, and it does seem as if they are beyond our control. But they are not.
Many people will say to me, "My panic attack, or my anxiety, has nothing to do with my thoughts. I wasn't thinking of anything. My thoughts start after I panic or after I become anxious." Other people will say, "all of this is sub consciousness. It is beyond my control. It just happens."
This is not so. If we were not thinking, we would be in a very deep, relaxed, peaceful state of mind. Nor are our thoughts unconscious. They are all conscious and all within our control. The practice of mindfulness will show us the reality of what is actually happening, moment to moment, and will show us why we are anxious and why we do have panic attacks.
For example, it is not unusual for us to be monitoring our symptoms throughout the day. We check to see what they are doing and how we are feeling. And 'checking' up on them ensures they stay around! One of the 'classic' ways we do this is, is to take our pulse. We think to ourselves, 'what's my heart rate' and we reach for our pulse on either our neck or wrist. Many of us have become very skilled in taking our pulse in front of others, without them realising exactly what we are doing. We can pretend we are simply supporting our neck with our hand, or holding our wrist while looking at our arm with a 'passing' interest.
When we realise our heart rate is high, we think to ourselves that the doctor has definitely made a mistake in our diagnosis and /or we can despair of ever recovering from our anxiety. What we don't realise is, from the thought of 'what is my heart rate?' to the action of taking our pulse, our body begins to respond to what we think is a dangerous situation. Yet the body is only reacting, because we created the 'danger' with our thought. We then become more anxious as a result of our increased heart rate, and round and round we go. With the practice of mindfulness we will be able to see very clearly how our constant monitoring of symptoms only increases them.
This is also true of our anticipatory anxiety. Many people will often say that the anticipation of doing something, going somewhere, is actually worse than the event itself. When we are hooked into our disorder, we may recognise all of our 'what if' thoughts, but we don't make the 'emotional' connection to our thoughts and our anxiety / panic. And we feel helpless in getting our anticipatory anxiety under control.
"I know I am thinking 'what if' but there is no way that I can stop."
But there is. With the practice of mindfulness we learn how to make the emotional connection between our thoughts and symptoms. When we see this connection at an emotional level, we are then able to take control of our thoughts, thereby taking control of our anxiety and panic once and for all.