The Ticker Tape – Anxiety Metaphor

This post was inspired by a video I recently watched on YouTube by Nicola Bird who is a Three Principles author and practitioner.

See, I don’t just stick to one field. Whatever I find to be helpful and think my readers (you) will benefit from, I share. It doesn’t matter if it’s science based advice or spiritual advice, if I think it will be helpful for readers, then I feel compelled to share it. If anything, I usually merge the scientific understanding and the psychological/spiritual understanding together.

Back to the focus of this article. The ticker tape metaphor offers us a perfect example of how our psychology works and what we can do, or rather what we don’t have to do in order to return to a place of psychological and emotional wellness. Imagine your stream of thinking to be like a ticker tape. Just words flowing non-stop on a strip of paper.

Just like the thoughts we experience, we can’t do anything about these words. It’s like a powerful current. They are just moving. Lot’s of them all moving in the same direction. All of these words that appear on the ticker tape are completely neutral until we give them meaning. Nicola Bird, in her video, says that it’s only when we jump on the them and give the thoughts meaning, do they then cause us to suffer.

It doesn’t matter what the content of thought is – this will be a relief!

What if I said that your thoughts, no matter what the content is, really don’t matter? What would it mean to you? I’m guessing you would feel relief? I know I would and did when I first understood that the content of my thinking didn’t mean anything.

Just because I had the thought about my anxiety causing me to have a heart attack, didn’t mean it was connected to reality, because it clearly wasn’t. What caused further panic was the belief that I might have a heart attack due to experiencing panic attacks for so long. All it takes is a belief in the content of our thinking to send us down a road of further anxiety and panic. If you didn’t believe in the content of your thinking, then you wouldn’t react in the same way as you do now.

You wouldn’t react with further anxiety/panic. If I still believed in the thought that my anxiety/panic attacks were going to give me a heart attack, then I would have never recovered/healed. I would still be fearing and waiting for the panic attack to give me a heart attack to this day. This is how powerful our beliefs can really be.

When I fully trusted that panic attacks and anxiety was not going to kill me, then my fear gradually abated. I’ve talked about why the content of our thoughts are not the problem before.

Now I’ll talk about why it doesn’t matter what the content of thought is. Nicola talks about how we can’t change our thoughts once they have arose in our consciousness. “You can’t change the words on the ticker tape after they’ve already appeared.” I completely agree. We don’t have to try to work on manipulating our thoughts. You may have read books that tell you to imagine your anxiety as a cartoon-like character and say the anxious thoughts to yourself in a humorous manner.

If this works for you, then great, I’m all for it. However, what I’m saying is, you don’t have to do any of this if you don’t want to. All this does is show our subconscious mind that thoughts are important. Whatever we give more attention and energy to, the more of that thing grows.

If you planted a seed and watered it every single day, it would eventually grow into a tree, assuming that it had enough visibility to sunlight. When we water our thoughts and they have enough sunlight (our focus and importance), they will grow stronger and become more predominant in our experience. Meaning that they will show up on our minds more and more.

What should I do to deal with the content of my thoughts?

If you want me to be completely honest with you, then the answer is nothing. We shouldn’t do anything about our thoughts, nor should we need or have to. The more attention we give in trying to manipulate our thoughts, the more importance they will have and the more trapped we will become when we really don’t have to be.

All it really requires is an understanding. Nicola Bird mentions this in her video and I’ll explain what they are in my own words right now. It’s the understanding that nothing actually needs to be done to free ourselves from the enslavement of our thinking.

According to Nicola Bird, every single thought we have ever experienced and will ever experience is completely neutral. However bizarre this statement sounds, I agree with what she is saying. It’s only when we attach meaning to these thoughts and believe the content to be true and important do they then become a personal problem. Thoughts only become problematic when we interpret them in a way which makes us emotionally respond to them in fear.

The truth is, we don’t have to take our thoughts for the truth. They don’t have to mean anything. Whether we believe this or not and whether we agree with this or not, the truth is we are the ones who embellishing the anxiety through our own choice. This might be a hard pill to swallow because it was for me.

The other thing to understand is thought is always changing. No thought lasts forever. Before long, another thought will come to take the place of the current thought which you don’t want. However… with that being said, it feels like thoughts stick around for a much longer time when we resist the thought.

Resistance creates more suffering. As anxiety sufferers, we all know this. I was caught up in this cycle of resistance for years because even though it was causing me more suffering, I thought resistance was going to work at some point because the thought of surrendering to my anxious state never entered my mind. “What surrender to my anxiety?” “You must be joking!” “Why on earth would I do that when it would make me suffer more!”

It wasn’t until I fully understood why surrender was the answer to what I was looking for all of this time that I began to change my relationship with anxiety and began to heal. So, if we understand that thought is never static and learn to give up the fight with trying to change or manipulate our thinking, we don’t really have to do anything. Understanding changes everything.

However, just knowing this once might not be enough. Sometimes It takes a while before that new layer of learning to become fixed. Keep reminding yourself that thought is always neutral, it’s completely down to how we respond to our thoughts and the fact that thought will always change and be replaced with new thought.

I like to view thoughts like the weather. Sometimes we have excitable thoughts and sometimes we have fearful thoughts, or anything else in between. Just because it’s stormy now (anxious thoughts) doesn’t mean that it’s not going to change because it will. It always does. The trick is to not mistakenly think that the thoughts won’t change because it’s inevitable.

My personal tip here is to let go of the expectation that the thoughts should change. This process will happen when you allow everything to be as it is without adding second fear (fearing the thoughts) and resisting them (telling yourself that you shouldn’t be experiencing them).

Don’t force yourself to think positive, don’t push the thoughts away, don’t try to suppress them and don’t believe that the content of the thoughts are connected to reality because they aren’t. All of this just intensifies our suffering. Just because we have a fearful thought, doesn’t mean we have to panic over it and take it seriously.

I hope this article can help you see things from a new and empowering perspective.

As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Until next time