Have you ever been thinking about a situation in your life and before you know it you are engaged in a full-on battle with the various players in your mind?! They launch out with the argument you expect, to which you fire back a masterfully delivered retort, and back and forth and before you know it you are worked up into a lather over a conflict with other people, over a situation that has only occurred in your own mind?
Many folks go through this mental combat on a regular basis in anticipation of a conflict that may in fact never happen. It is often a product of our own anxiety and our desire to “prepare” to protect ourselves. Often we work the scenarios over and over in our head - their attack, our response, their next argument and our next response in ways that are just as charged with anger and fear as if it were all happening live. Truth be told, my experience has demonstrated that seldom, if ever, does the actual encounter happen the way I had fantasized it would. Often the perceived antagonist doesn’t come with “guns a blazing” and the situation is not as volatile and toxic as I imagined. Those occasions when it has been somewhat heated, all my rehearsing served me very little anyways.
So what is the value in fighting these epic battles in our minds? They often only serve to get us, even more, worked up, anxious and do little in any actual preparation. So how do we deal with these interior battle fantasies?
Here is a simple strategy for winning the battles in your mind:
- The first step is to learn to recognize when we are engaged in the interior battle. Sounds silly that this would take practice to recognize it but we are typically well lathered before we know it and carried along on the momentum of the battle! When you recognize that you are engaged in the mental battle, be deliberate to stop and ask yourself if you are fighting a real battle? Does it really exist?
- If the battle does exist there are better ways to process the emotion and energy around the conflict. A brisk walk or some other form
of exercise, a mentally demanding task, listen to some happy, upbeat music or call a friend who will listen and encourage us out of the pit. Fighting a battle before there is a battle to fight will leave you spent. Focus on those things that bring you life and make you a better person. This is the best preparation for conflict - real or imagined!
- If the battle doesn’t exist, tell yourself so! Assure yourself that continuing the battle will do nothing positive or helpful and then do something different - change an activity. If you were reading a book when the fight broke out, get up and do a load of laundry - deliberately walk away from the false battle.
- For people of faith, consider inviting Jesus into the battle and allow Him to speak to you about and in the situation. It is very powerful for us to be able to see and hear Jesus in situations; real or imaginative, where we experience fear and anger. Seeing and hearing Jesus in these situations can bring peace like the calming of a storm. Jesus in the middle of these situations can help us to understand the root issues of the fear and anger, and help us begin to deal with them. I have also found that imagining Jesus in these kinds of situations gives me a different perspective on the players. We do need to be open to new vantage points we may not have considered before!
Even if Jesus is not for you, it may be a fruitful idea to reflect on the specific feeling you are experiencing and try to understand what the real issue is. Are you afraid of being embarrassed? Afraid of being bullied? Are you afraid of losing something? What might that be? Perhaps it may have something to do with another situation where you feel you didn’t have control and something painful happened? Whatever it is, by addressing the root issue, you will also deal with the symptoms.
With a little of deliberate, thoughtful action you can gain more control over the life-zapping thoughts and deal with issues in healthier ways. This will go a long way in breaking the anxiety cycle in your life and make room for more life-giving thought, dreams and hopes to flourish!