Many humans have the self-defeating habit of bracing themselves for imaginary disaster. Image Credit: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

How much of your day do you spend worrying about something that has yet to pass, or something that is already old news?

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn about both ancient and new ways to ‘free’ ourselves from the trappings of anxiety.

The first century Roman philosopher Seneca examined the mind’s tendency to warp reality and expedite feelings of panic and anxiety. He wrote about it to his friend Lucilius Junior, in a letter that became part of an eye-opening collection titled, Letters from a Stoic.

Discussing the self-defeating habit of humans to brace themselves for imaginary disaster, Seneca wrote: “What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come.”

Using elegant rhetoric, he then goes on to critically assess worries – both reasonable and unreasonable – and comment on how foolish it is to squander our mental energy thinking about such things.

He wrote: “It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things. What shall you gain by doing this? Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile which will serve to postpone, or end, or pass on to another person, the trials which are near or even in your very presence. A fire has opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.”

By constantly focusing on the bad that may or may not fall into our path, we are prevented from living fully. Seneca goes on to end his letter with a compelling quote from Greek philosopher Epicurus: “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live.”

So, how do you stop negative thoughts from overwhelming you? Here are a few strategies, according to US-based McLean Hospital:

1. Pause

When you feel stressed or anxious, or are stuck in a loop of negative thoughts, just pause. Stop everything you’re doing and focus your awareness on the world around you, with your five senses. Deep breaths while doing so, also help remarkably.

2. Notice and label

When you’re taking those deep breaths and have stopped the negative chatter in your mind, notice the difference. Now, you can look a little deeper to see if you were arguing with yourself, struggling to disprove critical self-evaluations, or trying to push unpleasant words or images out of your head. Ask yourself, was it worth your time and mental effort? Try to step back and label your thoughts as they are. For instance, stick this phrase to the beginning of every thought: “I am having the thought that…”. Without attempting to soften, alter or avoid your thoughts, this practice helps you place some distance, and gain perspective.

3. Choose your intention

What is the next step for you? You can choose purposefully whether you want to continue struggling with your thoughts, or to take a small step towards something that’s more meaningful and important to you. Little by little, you’ll quell the rise of negative emotions and regain control.

How do you keep negative thoughts at bay? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at games@gulfnews.com.