Inverse of Anxious Mind-Wandering for dummies

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I have a foundation in Counselling and Psychotherapy, a Masters in Psychology of Mental Health, and am the author of A Suggestion for a New Interpretation of Dreams: Dreaming Is the Inverse of Anxious Mind-Wandering.
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anakimluke
00:57, 27 May 20
Hi! I see you publish this paper "A Suggestion for a New Interpretation of Dreams: Dreaming Is the Inverse of Anxious Mind-Wandering", and it got me curious what is that about.
I'm not a psychologist and I was wondering if you could briefly go into explaining that.

:)
Joshua Summers
12:57, 27 May 20 (edit: 13:09, 27 May 20)
Well I will start with anxious mind-wandering and we will get to the inverse when that has been understood.
Anxious mind-wandering is "catastrophising". This is when the brain makes up an extreme version of the future where everything goes wrong because you did what you did (or didn't do something).
Someone pushes in front of you in the queue? You want to tell them "no", but your mind makes up a future where they get very angry and beat you up.
Your friend does something to upset you? You want to tell them, but your mind makes up a future where they become very angry with you and your whole friendship breaks down.
You want to fly on an airplane? You imagine the plane having an error on take off and crashing back down to earth.  
We don't all have the same worries, so we don't all do the same anxious mind-wandering - but we all do it about something.
Does that make sense so far?
anakimluke
18:45, 27 May 20
So anxious mind-wandering is defining this thought, these extreme versions of a future, or is it defining the thought to an extent where it is unhealthy?
Joshua Summers
23:06, 28 May 20 (edit: 00:22, 29 May 20)
Well this function is very useful.
It is there to help the mind avoid what it finds scary. Even though the thoughts sound like they are very different, they share the same structure.
The thoughts are always about the *future* and the thoughts are always bad enough that it makes the individual having them want to take *protective behaviour*.
Scared of how the queue pusher will react? Don't say anything.
Scared of what your friend will do? Don't bring it up.
Scared of the plane crashing? Don't stay on it.
This is very useful if the thing you are scared about is a thing that is 'reasonable/healthy' to be scared about.
There is a crazy person with a gun... Hide from them/don't upset them. Very reasonable.
However, the HUGE problem with being a human is that what is 'reasonable/healthy' to be scared about changes over time. And whilst what is reasonable/healthy to be scared about changes, our fears don't change as the need for our fears changes.
Go back in time to when you were an infant. Back then you had to be scared about things that are not important now, because you were very different than you are now. You could not look after yourself, you needed the attention of your parents to survive. So you needed to be scared about them abandoning you, about them getting angry with you, about them being distracted and worried, about them neglecting you.
That is not true for you today. Now that you are an adult that parental attention / distraction / neglect is not a life and death matter.
And your brain is built to deal with the ugly reality of this, by having a system in place to teach you 'parebt calming' patterns of behaviour from an extremely early age.The neurological experience of stress and memory formation go hand in hand. There is a chemical in the brain called norepinephrine. When you are scared your brain becomes flooded with it. And when your brain is flooded with it, a strong memory is formed.
Let's say you are an infant and mum keeps getting upset every time you speak up in front of others, or dad gets upset every time you show weakness - POW - because your parents love, stability and attention is vital for your survival, you are scared to disrupt it - so your child brain becomes flooded with norepinephrine, and a new fear-memory forms. I should not speak up in front of others. I should not show weakness.
That is great for you to learn because it will keep your parents calm...
But when you are older, it's no longer true. It doesn't really matter what people/your parents think of you/feel about you when you can survive on your own. As an adult what you'll find is the discomfort that comes with keeping all of those reasonable feelings inside matters more. But it's very hard to, or rather it's not obvious how to, escape the fears that were programmed into us when we were very young. It's very easy to not feel comfortable standing up for yourself, or expressing weakness. These are the things that people go to therapy to deal with.
So while anxious mind-wandering can be useful if the fear is a sensible one, it is very easy for us to have fears in our head which are not sensible. And we can't help but anxiously mind-wander about them.
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