Anxiety is a very common mental experience. It can be experienced in a wide range of ways – from mild worry to intense panic.
Generally speaking, if you suffer from anxiety or even chronic worry, you’re most likely looking at the world with some faulty thought patterns (often called cognitive distortions). These thought patterns tend to be pessimistic (assuming a “worst-case” scenario for example) and not completely realistic (overestimating that things will turn out badly for example).
And while you may intellectually know that your anxiety is not entirely based in reality, it is often based on thinking habits that have been developed for years. Many times, these thought processes are so ingrained that you might not even be aware you’re having them.
Here is an effective 3-step method for working through and reducing anxiety:
1) Become aware of your worrisome thought/s
In order to flow through or even overcome anxious thoughts, the first step is to gain awareness. It’s essential to get out of “autopilot” thinking and to become more conscious of your thoughts.
When you notice you’re feeling worried or anxious, start by describing or (even better) writing down your thoughts. Be as detailed as possible. The more detail you can provide, the better.
2) Determine if the thought fits into one of these categories:
Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground. “If I fall short of perfection, I’m a total failure.”
Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever. “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.”
The Mental Filter
Focusing on the negatives while filtering out all the positives. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
Diminishing The Positive
Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count. “I did well on the presentation, but that was just dumb luck.”
Jumping To Conclusions
Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader, “I can tell she secretly hates me.” Or a fortune teller, “I just know something terrible is going to happen.”
Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen. “The pilot said we’re in for some turbulence. The plane’s going to crash!”
Believing that the way you feel reflects reality. “I feel frightened right now. That must mean I’m in real physical danger.”
‘Shoulds’ and ‘Should-Nots’
Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules
Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. “I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”
Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control. “It’s my fault my son got in an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.”
3) Question the thought
Rather than viewing your thoughts as facts, consider them as possibilities. Think of yourself as a scientist whose job it is to test these thoughts to see if they “hold up”.
Is this thought true? What is the evidence it’s true?
What is the probability what you’re worried about will actually happen? Are there more likely scenarios?
Is this thought helping me right now? Is there another line of thinking that could help me right now?
Is there another way of looking at this situation? Is there another possible outcome?
Often, by asking questions like these you can “break” the negative thought pattern and consciously select a more positive and helpful thought pattern.
Worry and anxiety can become a problem when negative thoughts are not dealt with. And, it can become debilitating when these thoughts and fears take over and become chronic.
The good news is that worry and anxiety can be dealt with, improved, and overcome. The tips above are a good start.
If you would like more information on overcoming anxiety, please contact our office at email@example.com. If you feel you could use additional help, please contact our office at 917-609-4990 to arrange a consultation.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff