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When It Comes to Your Anxiety, Are You a Thermometer or a Thermostat?


You probably haven’t thought much about the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer. Let’s review their differences.

A thermometer measures your temperature. If you have a fever, it reacts to your temperature. A thermostat is something we place on the wall of our homes and purposely set the temperature where we want our environment to be. Let’s say, in wintertime we may want the temperature to be 72 degrees and the number doesn’t change at all. When the thermostat detects it’s getting colder than 72 degrees, the signal is sent to the heater and yes, the heater clicks on. However, the thermostat does not react and the temperature remains steady unless you change it. Thus, the thermostat responds to the temperature, where as the thermometer reacts to the temperature immediately.

You can decide today if you want to be a reactor or a responder. What does it take?

It takes planning and most importantly it takes a mindset to decide whether you want to be a thermostat when anxiety shows up.

You can create the space between your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and what you do with those internal experiences. Sometimes the urge to react is so strong that you may not think about it. You may react instinctively to your mind’s advice.

Learning to be a responder is a process, but it is possible. An excellent way to begin is to start watching what is happening inside you –your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges—by getting back to BASE. You can learn to notice instead of reacting right away.

Getting back to BASE

  • Body Scan – Gently scan your body from head to toe. Start with your head and slowly move downwards. Pay attention to how your head, face, throat, and neck feel. Then notice your chest and abdomen. Move your attention to your back and then notice your glutes. Gently notice your hips, legs, feet and toes. Scan your shoulders, your arms, hands and fingers.
  • Awareness of your thoughts – It is difficult to get untangled if you are not aware of your thoughts. Notice what your mind is saying. Watch your thoughts as if they were clouds moving gently in the sky. Don’t push them away. Just notice the thoughts as if you were the sky looking at the clouds. If you are the sky, you are not the clouds. When you watch your thoughts, remember, you are not your thoughts either. Watch your thoughts as if they were clouds slowly passing by.
  • Sensations – Describe the sensations that you notice. For example, you may notice that your heart is pounding or racing. Say, “I’m noticing there is a sensation of rapid palpitations in my heart.”
  • Emotions – Name the feelings and observe how they come and go when you don’t push them away. For example, you may say, “I’m noticing the feeling of anxiety.” You may add, “I don’t like the feeling, but I don’t have to get rid of it. I can notice how anxiety comes and goes.”

Continue getting back to BASE for 5 minutes at a time. It is best to practice getting back to BASE when you are not experiencing high anxiety. This will enhance your understanding as to how to practice this exercise effectively. Then as needed, get back to BASE when you feel anxious.

Remember, this exercise is not meant to help you get rid of anxiety. The goal is to help you feel grounded while the anxious windstorm goes by.

Do your best to embrace your anxiety as a thermostat and not as a thermometer. You can do it!

Photo by Moja Msanii

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