Anxiety and Brain Chatter

Do you ever keep thinking about something or someone, even though there is diddly you can do about it now? Do you wish that brain of yours would hush up? Welcome to mind chatter. It happens to the best of us from time to time, usually during periods of stress. If it continues for long periods of time, it can leave a person feeling utterly exhausted and miserable. It makes it difficult to focus and can cause lost sleep.

In my experience as an art therapist, people who feel anxious have thoughts that roll around in their head. They brood over things and anticipate the future. They predict what negative things may happen, to protect themselves. This leads people to over plan for things that may or may not happen. They use up a lot of mental effort. In reality, no one can predict the future and life is not perfect. However, some people's mind chatter leads them to feel like they need to plan, and they fear negative events, harm or being wrong.

This type of mind chatter comes from the "old tapes". (I am going to apologize to whoever came up with the term old tapes. I learned it in my psych classes in the 80's and I cannot find the reference). These are messages you tell yourself now that you learned throughout life, from events or people. They may be picked up from your parents. For example, a mother micromanages their child, so they look and act perfectly. They learned that they will be criticized if an error is made, so they strive to not make mistakes. Later in life this child grows up to be a perfectionist. They may even use the same words in their head that they heard as a child, for example, "I am an idiot, I cannot even do that right." The old tape for them is what they do is not good enough and they beat themselves up for making a mistake. Perfectionism is a form of anxiety where a person tries to be perfect to be praised and avoid disapproval. The disapproval used to come from their parent and in time it becomes part of their own self talk.

People with frequent mind chatter may have had trauma of some type, such as financial loss, grief, divorce, abuse, or illness. They may brood about a traumatic event. They try and control what is going on, to prevent re-experiencing feelings related to their bad experience. Everyone's story is unique. Old tapes are replayed voices from people in our past or experiences.

An art therapy exercise may be to draw a cassette tape and your ear. (I know I am dating myself. For those youngsters, google cassette tape). Use any materials, colours or images that represent your feelings and emotions. On the ribbon, write some of your anxiety provoking mind chatter that may be linked to your old tapes. Circle the ones that affect you most and then reflect on them more deeply. Think then, how you can reframe your messages that don't serve you in your old tapes. If it is hard, say the opposite statement with because after it, and finish the sentence.

For example, Mary the child of the micromanaging Mother has a presentation at work. She was anxious and sleepless thinking about standing up in front of her work colleagues. Yet she was one of their best employees and very competent. She worked on her speech for a week straight, stayed up late and even planned answers to questions she may be asked. Mary was exhausted, drinking a lot of caffeine to cope and she developed heart palpitations.

On deeper reflection of Mary's old tapes, she discussed openly and honestly that she worried she would look foolish and incompetent in front of her colleagues. She worried that her clothes may not be right with her older figure. She was asked to think about when she first worried about seeming foolish, incompetent, and not looking well. She linked it to ongoing criticism growing up. We reflected on how she could lean into self compassion. She was not incompetent because she was clearly doing well in her job. She also wrote that she was doing her best, trying and worthy.

These old tapes may be rewritten completely, or their volume turned down in time. Bringing these internal messages out help people to challenge what they are saying to themselves and learn to reword their self talk.


1 thought on “Anxiety and Brain Chatter”

  1. Great post. The tips and the ideas given in the post seems to be very much informative and useful for the job seekers. Thank you for such a good post.

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