Podcast Episode 50 – Stop the Fearful Thought Spin

Jul 1, 2023 | Podcast

I’m Diana Swillinger, and you’re listening to the Renew Your Mind podcast. Episode 50 Stop the Fearful Thought Spin.  

DIANA: Hey. Hey, Diana Here for episode number 50. Woo. That is a lot, don’t you think? I mean, I’m like, let’s start a podcast and I’m 50 episodes in. I think that’s awesome. When I started it, I thought it was going to be a little daunting. And am I going to have enough to say? Uh, I don’t know, but I still have so many ideas of what to talk about. I have a really long list. So this podcast is going to be around for a while. Maybe we’ll hit 100 episodes this year. That would be fun. I think of the work I do as like, saving the world one brain at a time or maybe one podcast episode at a time. Or one coaching session at a time. One conversation at a time. Just noticing what we’re thinking, figuring out the thoughts that are sabotaging our lives and fixing them. 


One little thing at a time. Baby steps, but changing everything. So fun. So 50 episodes in. Let’s keep the renew your mind movement going, y’all. Thanks for joining me. And a lot of you send me messages and emails and encouragement, letting me know that what I’m doing here on this podcast is helpful. And so I need some encouragement. Sometimes I need some fuel to keep me going. So I really appreciate that. Thank you guys for letting me know that this is helpful. And I think today’s episode is going to be pretty helpful too. Sometimes I do a bit of preparing and I do a little research for my episodes and I put together this really pretty outline and think it through. Well, but today I just want to talk about something. I mean, I wrote on a few things I was thinking, but over the last several days, I feel like I’ve had the same conversation with several people. And it’s about the stories that we tell in our heads, right? It’s always about that, but like feeling fear, being afraid something’s going to happen and just kind of dissecting that. I just kind of landed on this the other day when I was coaching somebody. Well, let’s talk about a little and then I’ll tell you what I landed on that I think is super helpful. And I think you’re going to find it’s helpful too. 


Let’s just start with why does our brain do this? We just are in a situation. Um, I’m going to use the kids driving home I’m going to talk about this. My kids went to Madison for a concert once. We’re in Wisconsin. Madison’s like an hour away, and they were late teens. A buddy was picking them up, and they were going to go to this little club in Madison and hear some jazz musicians play. What kind of jazz? Street musicians. I don’t know what you call it. Cool berry sacks. Stuff that you would hear these guys play on YouTube. Pretty cool. And I’m like, yes, you can go. And then the concert day came, and it was snowing. I’m like, Shoot, their ride came and picked them up. I forgot about it. It all happened so fast. Like, the car pulls in, the boys get in the car, and I’m like, oh, my gosh, I forgot you guys are going to the concert. And it’s snowing an hour away. And they’re young drivers, but I decided I wasn’t going to freak out about it. I’m like, they got in the car. I don’t have time enough to think through any alternative about what they should do. I’m not going to tell them to not go. I’m like, Please be careful. These Madison concerts, the creatives, I don’t know. They go late and then people talk and whatever. So I went to bed knowing they were going to be home late. But I woke up well after midnight, and they were not home. So this is what our brain does. My brain, at that moment, the first thing it did is think, oh, my God, something’s wrong. And so I thought, they’ve got Life 360 on their phones because teen drivers. 


I’m going to pull up my Life 360 app and see where they’re at. It shows that they’re in Madison. At least the last known place was Madison. So I thought, okay, uh, they’re not driving. I’ll text them, no response. I’m like, oh, my God, they died in a car crash. Because our brain wants to solve the problem. Our brains are like supercomputers that want to solve the problem. My brain kids are out driving. It’s snowing. No one’s answering. They must be dead now. What are we going to do? And then my brain started going down the rabbit hole. Like, what’s going to happen when the police show up and tell me my kids were in a car wreck and then there’s going to be the funerals. You guys know what I’m talking about, right? Your brains do this too? I know they do, because I hear the stories, and we think of people showing up at our house with meals. It’s crazy what our brains do. They go to drama. If we leave them on autopilot, our brains will spin on all that because they think it’s useful. We’re going to solve a problem here. If we start thinking about all these different scenarios, maybe we’ll avoid some future pain. Maybe we’ll avoid some danger, maybe whatever. If the brain just spins and spins through all the possibilities, somehow we’ll be more prepared and feel less pain. But it’s not true. 


All it’s doing is putting us in the panic and the fear. I was talking through this scenario with someone last week about her husband being gone hunting and she was home alone and they were supposed to have a phone call while he was gone and he didn’t call. And when she called him, he didn’t answer and her brain went into fear filled thought spin. But before we even start to talk about how to get the brain to stop that kind of thought spin, we need to spend some time understanding it first. That’s what I did with her. This is the absolute best place to start, so let’s do that. A long time ago, our superhuman brains that are supercomputers and great at solving problems would just be ready on alert if something dangerous seemed to happen. Like M, if you open your door to step outside and a wild wolf comes charging at you, you’re going to instinctually run back in the house and shut the door and without you even trying to solve the problem, your brain does it for you. So psychologists and psychiatrists and people who neurologists who study the brain, they say that this is our more primitive part of the brain. This is the fight or flight response that just kicks in and automatically solves problems and steps in to save the day, to protect us. 


That’s our brain functioning properly and now we live in a culture where we have media and stories and connection like never before. We can watch TV shows at any given time that are going to show us all the fictitious problems that happen in life, but they’re similar to real problems that happen in life. Or we’re going to watch the real shows about dramas that happen in life or we’re going to be on Facebook and we’re going to see every time one of our 700 friends posts about something bad happening. Now, think about that. 100 years ago we didn’t know what was happening in 700 people’s lives. We weren’t hearing all these stories. But today, in our world of connectedness, we do. And we have the news, which is sensationalized in the way that they want more people to watch the news. And the news shows that people seem to get sucked into watching and get high advertising dollars, then for high viewership are the shows that focus on the negative and the problems and the drama because our brains are wired to look for it, be interested in it and step up to the plate to protect us from danger. So now in our current culture, we’ve got this part of our brain like on high alert all the time and it has so much knowledge. It’s like we know people die in car crashes, we know people get cancer, we know that people that get COVID might die. We know that there’s rioting across the country. We know that something bad has happened in the Middle East. 


We know that people are suffering in Hong Kong. We just know too much, almost. So our brain has all these stories. It can focus on any time. This person I coached last week, she’s like, nobody really close to me has died. I haven’t experienced that. But I know people who’ve lost people who are close to them. And so I just know it’s going to happen to me sometime. When my husband doesn’t answer the phone, I know he might have gotten hit by a stray bullet. I know this happens sometimes. So it could have happened to him. Here we are understanding this is what our brain does, right? Can we give it some credit for functioning well? It’s supposed to look for danger to keep us safe. It’s doing its job. It’s taking information we put in, and it’s keeping us on alert to be safe. Okay? But the problem is it goes into hyperdrive, and now it’s just on high alert all the time, which is exhausting. It’s exhausting to live going in and out of fear and heart racing. It’s exhausting to live having worry every day. It’s exhausting to focus on everything so uncertain and I don’t know what’s going to happen. And it could be terrible. Something terrible could happen at any minute. Now. What do you want to do? Do you want to stay living in that hypersensitized looking for dangerous state? Or do you want to give yourself a break? So the tool I landed um on is to tell a boring story. Tell a boring story. We’re in a society where we’re always trying to be more interesting, right? I’m telling you, let’s get more boring. That person I was talking with about her husband hunting and her story that he was hit by a stray bullet and he was alone in the woods dying. 


The reality was he left his phone in the cabin or wherever they were staying, and he was out enjoying his day hunting and forgot to put his phone in his pocket. But that is not a version of the story her brain went to. Her brain went to. He’s in the woods bleeding out. He could be dead by now. We’re going to have to have a funeral. I wonder what I’ll do with his things. Am I going to donate them? Will I sell them? Will I keep them? I don’t know if I’m going to want to stay in this house without him. Maybe I’ll move into an apartment, but I don’t want to live alone. Maybe I’ll get a roommate. Drama. Her story was filled with fear, pain and drama. But the reality didn’t have any of that drama. The reality was he was hunting all day and forgot his phone. Boring. So boring. He was out in a deer stand all day by himself. He didn’t even see any deer. She found out later it was cold, and he didn’t even have his cell phone to entertain him. Boring day, boring story. And the brain has nothing to solve with a story like that. And even before she knew that that was the reality, because she ended up talking to him later that night and she found out, she might have been able to guess that sometimes people forget their phones. It happens. Nothing to solve here with that. And she also could have just made up a bunch of other boring stories. Maybe they decided not to hunt and they went to the local movie theater for a movie marathon, probably some boring dude movies. And you don’t have your phones on the movie theater because that’s rude. And so he forgot about the call and he didn’t answer, and they were just sitting watching movies. Boring. Maybe he did take his phone with him, but he dropped it in the snow and he didn’t even know it. Boring. Maybe he and his buddy decided to play cards all day and forgot about calling his wife and he left his phone in his room, and he was in his buddy’s room. 


Boring. The boring stories you can tell are endless, but they’re boring. And the brain likes to be stimulated and solve problems and keep you safe. And it wants to light up and get to work so it goes down the path, oh, he got hit by a stray bullet. That’s dramatic. That’s exciting. Now the brain can try to get to work and solve the problem of him not answering his phone. So I asked this person, how often does your husband go hunting? And she said, at least half a dozen times each season and for many years. He’s kind of an avid hunter. And I asked, well, how often does he get hit by a stray bullet? And she said, never. I also asked, does he come home safely most of the time, like, not even just hunting, but in general work or out with people or visiting a relative. Does he just pretty much come home safely? Usually? And she said, he always does. And we noticed what was more likely to actually happen was for him to be safe and return home safely. No bullet wounds. Sorry. Statistically, this is far more likely than getting hit by a stray bullet. Hunting and dying, probably. 


The odds of that happening are well below 1%, but let’s just go with that. Like, it’s just 1%. There’s a 1% chance of that happening, and 99% odds are he’s totally fine. But you want to think about the 1% and feel worry and fear and all that goes along with having a dramatic story in your head. We can even notice that there’s other stories that have, like, a 1% chance of happening, but maybe they’re a good story. 1% chance. He shot a 30 point buck, and the local news showed up when they heard about it. And he’s not hearing his phone ring because there’s all these people around and they’re so distracted by this incredible 30 point buck and they’re filming an interview for the evening news and he forgot to call. That’s probably a 1% chance story too. But at least it’s a good story. It’s fun and it’s exciting. Like if we’re going to tell a 1% story, why not tell that story? It’s unlikely, but you could tell a good one for a moment though. Back to the negative 1% story. If we want to give air time to the stories in our brain based on the likelihood of them happening, you’d want to spend 1% of your time thinking about the fear filled story and 99% of your time thinking about the boring likely story. But even if that’s hard for you, if you’re the kind of person who goes down this rabbit hole, I know a lot of us do it. 


You’re normal. Remember that’s the brain trying to keep you safe and solve problems. It’s fine. But now you’re going to be a little bit in charge of the stories going on in your brain. And if it’s hard for you to do 1% of your time on the worried story and 99% on the other time, at least make it 50 50. Like, fine, I’ll think about the fear story for ten minutes, but now I’m going to think about the boring likely story for ten minutes. Equal airtime. Even that feels like a relief compared to heading down the rabbit hole, of going to the funeral, moving into a condo and living life as a widow. And after coaching this client, I found this coming up with my daughter and it was a great opportunity to do this with her. So this is what happened today and this is why I’m talking about this. It’s so on my mind because I just walked through this with my daughter last night. I told her that today I’m going to my life group at church. I haven’t been there for a while. It’s my first time going there since last year because of COVID and shutdown, um, and other things going on in my life. So she’s at home. She’s twelve and she’s in virtual school for the majority of the day. So I told her I’m going to be going to my life group and nobody else is going to be here but you. She just hasn’t been home alone for a while because of coronavirus stuff. We just seem to be together a lot, so it hasn’t been this way. And her brain started freaking out. She’s like, oh my gosh, what if something goes wrong? How do I down 911? What if I, uh, don’t need 911, but I need to talk to you? What if I need somebody else here? Something’s going to go wrong. 


Maybe I’m going to have trouble breathing. Maybe there’s going to be a fire. Maybe a strange person’s going to knock on the door and I won’t know what to do. What am I going to do? And she was feeling panicky and afraid about me going to church for my life group and being gone for 2 hours. So I said, well, that is really interesting, all those stories that you have going on in your brain about what could happen. I see your brain is hard at work trying to prepare itself for danger. It’s doing a really good job. Your brain is supposed to do that. So I’m so glad it is. It’s totally functioning well. I said, but also, that story is kind of making you feel stressed and freaked out, isn’t it? She’s like, yeah, I’m kind of panicking and I don’t want you to go. Like, can you be here? Can you not go to your bible study? Things like that. And I’m like, no, I’m going to go because my life group is important to me and I want to be with those women and I want to hang out with them. And so just because you have a story going on in your head that something bad’s going to happen and it probably actually won’t happen, I mean, I need to go live my life, sweetie, and I think that’s okay. And she agreed with me, right? She wanted me to be able to go. 


So we thought, well, what else can we do here? I’m like, do you want to keep telling stories about all the dramatic, terrible things that could happen and how hard it’s going to be and scary? She’s like, no, but they might happen. So I don’t know how to stop. I’m like, oh, okay, well, let’s just think about the times you’ve been home alone before. Tell me what happened on those times. It’s like, well, really not much. I mean, time goes slow, so I try to keep myself busy. I like it better when people are here, so sometimes it just seems long and I just wish you guys were home. And I’m like, all right, but what bad happened? Anything bad happen? Did you get sick? Did you need to call 911? Did something burn? Anything? And she’s like, no. What do you think the likelihood is of what’s going to happen this time? For real? I know your brain is telling you it’s going to be scary, but what do you really think is going to happen? And she said, it’s probably just going to be boring like the other times. I’m like, yeah, probably is. It’s probably going to be kind of lame sitting here alone in a quiet house, just you and your cat doing schoolwork boring. She’s like, yeah, that is pretty boring. And I’m like, that’s probably going to happen, don’t you think? And she agreed. So I said, I know your brain is going to be like, uh, something bad might happen, okay. Like, I hear your brain. I teach her to talk to her brain. I encourage it. You guys should do that too. I hear your brain. I hear you telling me something scary might happen, that’s you trying to protect me. Thank you. Thank you for doing that. I appreciate it. And also just want you to know, brain, probably what’s going to happen is what usually does. It’s going to be kind of boring. And she calmed herself down. She got through it. She was fine. She wasn’t freaked out when I left today. She was calm. I know she was kind of going back between the stories. And that’s going to happen to you too, right? Like that night with my kids driving home from Madison, I started telling my brain what I thought was the real situation. I’m like they were probably out till the end of the concert, left late. That’s probably true. They’re probably driving slow and careful because the roads are a little slippery. In fact, I kind of like that. I’d like them to do that. I’d like them to take 2 hours to get home instead of one. That would be great because then they’ll be slow, methodical and careful in the snow. Good. Boring. 


What else is probably true? Well, my teen boys, they leave the house and they do not bring their phone chargers or external batteries. And if they were taking video and if they were snapchatting their friends and all that kind of stuff, it’s probably likely that their phone batteries went dead. Yes, both of them. And I decided to stay up and wait for them and not worry. But just I thought, you know what, I don’t want to go back to bed till they’re here. I would like to know they’re home and welcome them home and tell them I love them and I’m glad they’re safe, but I’m also not going to freak out. And I stopped planning their funerals in my head. And I just waited and I told myself the boring story. They stayed late, didn’t bring their chargers, and their phone batteries went dead and they didn’t think any creative ways to contact me. And that’s exactly what happened. So I did tell them, hey, by the way, the driver of the car, your friend, did he have his phone? They said yes. I’m, um, like, did his phone go dead? Battery too? And they said no. Like, well, next time you could just ask to borrow your friend’s phone and send me a text. Because they were like thinking that maybe I was worried. And they were right. I was, at least for a little bit. So they learned. But the truth is kind of boring sometimes, you guys. So here it is in a nutshell. 


When you are having fearful thoughts, it could very well be that your brain is functioning properly to keep you safe. But also your higher brain, the critical thinking brain that can kind of weed through what your lower instinctual brain is offering you can be like, hang on, I know you’re trying to protect me here. You’re doing a great job. You’re functioning well, but the reality is probably boring. And then at least give equal airtime to the boring story and give yourself some relief. And if you want to get even better at it or challenge yourself more, go more to the actual percentage. My crazy dramatic story, what is going to happen that’s terrible is probably only 1% chance. So I’m going to think about that for 1 minute, and then for 99 minutes, I’m going to think about the boring likely reality story. That would be the real honest ratio if you want to do that. But just start at 50 50 and you can work your way up. All right, you guys, that’s what I have for you today. Isn’t that fun? I’m telling you to go tell yourself a bunch of boring stories. It really works. Don’t let yourself just stay in a freaked out spin with stress and fear and worry. It’s not useful. It’s uncomfortable for you. It’s suffering for you. Give yourself a break. Step into the reality of what’s a little more boring and a little more likely and get a little more peace and some relief. All right? As usual, if you guys have any questions, I’m pretty accessible. Just go on Instagram and send me a DM or join the Facebook group and make a post or chat with me. Let’s keep the conversation going about how we can renew our minds and feel better. In fact, I want to tell you guys this. I don’t want to, um, end it without mentioning this. In that Facebook group, I’ve decided something amazing for March. 


I decided I’m going to go live in the Facebook group for five days in a row. Dates coming soon, and I’m going to teach five lessons from my coaching program for free. And the value of this is that I will be there live for you to interact with. So instead of just hearing me talk on a podcast, I’m going to teach you the concepts. There will be printables like worksheets and templates that you can walk through and apply these tools in your life with guidance, asking questions. And I can help you right where you’re at with your specific situation. I really recommend you come give this a try. Pretty sure you’re going to be blown away by how quickly I can help you feel better, have more peace, get some relief, more contentment, more joy. It is possible. I will give you all the tools you need to get started. So that is the renew your mind Facebook community. If you just go to Rympodcast.com, that’s the best place to find it. There is a link on there request to join, and I will see you guys there. All right, that’s what I have for you this week. I will talk to you soon, take care of you. 


As an advanced certified life coach, I help Christian women trying to live their best lives, but they still feel unsatisfied and stuck. I teach thought management skills that work so you can enjoy life again and step into who God has created you to be. Don’t forget to head on over to Rympodcast Um.com to get my free resources or a free coaching call.

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