Breathe in, Breathe Out… and relax. Hopefully what you’re about to read will help you see anxiety in a whole new light. Understanding this one hack may cut it down by alot more.
At the age of 15, I had my first anxiety attack. It was scary, ominous and made me question if I was losing my mind. It got so bad, I was suffering from agoraphobia (fear of situations that would trigger my attacks, which randomly could be anything). Several years later, after knowing what I’m about to explain, I haven’t had one since.
Ever felt like you were overwhelmed for no reason? To the point where we feel like you can’t quite pinpoint what’s bothering you? We’ve all been there, including myself. What if I told you your anxiety has a very simple solution?
One of my favorite psychological facts are the Zeigarnik Effect introduced by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.
In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. But let’s take a different approach: How does this relate to anxiety? Because those incomplete tasks are detrimental to your mental health.
Why is knowing about the Zeigarnik Effect important?
- If you ever felt anxious for unknown reasons, the highest probable cause is that you have unfinished business/unfinished tasks or deep unresolved issues from your past. When your mind is pending with “a to-do list”, your mind is subconsciously processing those thoughts and sorting them to be resolved. Ever wake up in the middle of the night because you felt that dire need to finish something you started? There’s your sign. Unknown panic attacks? That’s a very probable cause.
- When the mind experiences unfinished business, intrusive thoughts and preoccupation take place, which is why we remember that “one bad thing” so well, but forget or disregard the 378 good things we did before that. It’s incompleted, therefore the mind will annoyingly say “hey! finish what you started or i’ll keep bugging you about it!”
- You ruminate about imagined scenario’s that don’t even exist yet (this is what causes overworrying). You’re looking too far into the future of a figmented scenario that hasn’t even happened yet. Your mind will interpret this as an ‘unfinished task’.
- Ever listen to a song and have it cut off? What happens next? Your mind will repeatedly inject your thought stream with bits of the song in an attempt to remind you that you’re not yet “done” listening. But, once you listen to that song completely, your mind moves on.
- The Zeigarnik Effect creates a need for closure. Ever had an anxiety-inducing thought years later from something you experienced during your childhood? Abusive parents? Abusive narcissist? You’re not nuts. Your mind is trying to make sense of things. Forgiving is a big factor. It allows you to realize you were not the one with the issue, but they were. Forgive them and move forward. Your life should never be indicated by intrusive thoughts from your past.
- One of the most common sparks of anxiety come from text messaging and your smartphone. There’s something about sending a message, e-mail or text that creates an “ominous” discomfort of anxiety. We can’t see the person’s reaction, we can easily overthink why they’re taking so long to respond and before you know it, you’ve opened so many infinite scenarios in your mind that can be taxing on your overall mental health. The solution? Resort to real-world communication more whether it’s in person, a video chat or a phone call. These methods are effective in providing closure, it creates a better and genuine bond with someone and you’re not stuck feeling or wondering “Is this person I’m texting even a real person?”
- Finally, the dominant cause of everyday anxiety is that you are never truly sure of all the ‘things’ you’re supposed to do. When you sit with an idle mind, this tends to get worse. You know you’ve got things to take care of and haven’t. Therefore, your mind keeps incoherently revisiting all that’s important but not yet completed. These “open loops” occupy much of your cognitive effort and debilitate your attention, causing anxiety, sapping your energy, and draining your willpower.
If you’re feeling or relate to any of the above, good sleep, digital detoxes and prioritizing what’s going to help you move forward in life is a big step to taking the weight off your shoulders. Hopefully you’ll remember this part…