5 Types of Thinking That Make Your Anxiety Worse (And 5 Tools to Change Them)!

5 Types of Thinking that Make Your Anxiety Worse (And 5 Tools to Change Them)!

Ever find yourself wide awake at 2 AM, preparing yourself for the nuclear fallout you have now convinced yourself is going to happen tomorrow? 

Me too.

Turns out, there are thoughts that can make our anxiety worse. 

These anxious thought patterns create a cycle of distress in our minds and bodies and make it harder to jump off of the anxiety hamster wheel. 

Below are 5 examples of anxious thoughts as well as ways to make them stop!

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1. Catastrophization

Have you found yourself asking, "What if…?"

If so, there's a good chance you were catastrophizing.

This means you were thinking of all of the worst-case scenarios that may come from a certain situation (Hint: That's exactly what I was doing with the whole nuclear fallout thing).

Why It's Harmful:
While these thoughts are well-intentioned by trying to keep us prepared for whatever comes our way, they actually result in a lot of wasted time and energy.

I don't know about you but I have never felt better after catastrophizing.

It has also not made me any more prepared for nuclear fallout.

See, when we play out these different scenarios in our minds, we are actually signaling to our bodies that we are about to experience a real threat.

This results in increased heart rate, muscle tension, and you guessed it…anxiety!

When we do this, we are actually depleting our necessary resources to operate in the day-to-day.

Do This Instead:
When you catch yourself in the "what ifs…", try checking for evidence or the likelihood that these scenarios may actually happen. 

For example, in the scenario above, I could ask myself," How likely is it that nuclear fallout is going to happen?"

"How many have happened in the past?"

"What are the chances this would happen in the exact location where I live?" Etc.

Most of the time, you may find your worries are much less likely to occur than your anxious brain initially thought.

This can increase our feelings of safety and allow us to relax.

2. All-or-Nothing Thinking

"I always mess things up."

"I never get to work on time."

Sound familiar?

These are examples of thinking in absolutes or all-or-nothing thinking.

Why It's Harmful:

When we think this way, we put the world in black or white and don't allow for any grey.

When we categorize ourselves as being only one way, it makes us less likely to believe we can change or be any other way in the future.

For example, if you tell yourself, "I always fail math tests." How likely are you going to study hard if you believe you are going to fail anyway?

How will you feel right before your math test?

My guess is that you will have a bunch of anxious thoughts.

Do This Instead:
When you notice yourself using words like "always" or "never", try replacing them with words that aren't absolutes. 

For example, instead of saying "I always fail math tests", tell yourself "Sometimes I struggle with math tests."

Notice the difference you feel in your body when you read those two sentences.

The second sentence allows for different possibilities, whereas the first one keeps you stuck.

Let yourself relax and set yourself up for the best chances of success!

3. Mind-Reading

Ever had thoughts such as, "She must not be talking to me because she hates me"?

Or "I can tell he's getting really annoyed with me"? 

When we assume what others are thinking, this is called mind-reading.


Why It's Harmful:

Assumptions are rarely helpful, especially when it comes to what others are thinking or feeling.

Typically, when we mind-read, we are assuming negative judgments about ourselves.

These negative assumptions inherently increase our anxiety, self-doubt, and distractedness when we approach a person we're convinced already doesn't like us!

Do This Instead:

When you notice an assumption about what someone is thinking or feeling, instead, challenge yourself with another potential reason for their behavior.

For example, perhaps your friend who is not talking a lot may have had a long and challenging day at work and is feeling more tired and reserved than usual.

When we do this, we can keep our self-doubt at bay and be present in the conversation instead of worrying about what this individual thinks about us!

4. Should Statements

Another way to think of this one is that we are "comparing and despairing"

For example, "I should have bought a house by now.",

"I should be like the Smiths who have three cars now."

Why It's Harmful:

These anxious thoughts are again making assumptions. 

This time it is that everyone around us has been dealt the same level of privilege, resources, and overall disposition in life.

THIS IS NOT TRUE!

We all have different stories and backgrounds.

When we compare ourselves to others, we will ultimately find someone who is doing better than us…especially in this social media-centered era.

This can result in self-deprecation, anxiety, and an overall decreased mood.

Do This Instead:

Don't "should" all over yourself anymore!

Next time you find yourself comparing yourself to others, see if you can instead turn it into a challenge for yourself.

Is there someone who has a really cool job in your field?

Set up a meeting and talk with them about how they got there!

Your friend just bought a house?

See if they are comfortable sharing what they did in order to be prepared! 

5. Discounting the Positive

"Yeah, I got that award at work…but they probably made a mistake."

"Yeah, my friend told me I'm really supportive…but she probably says that to everyone." 

When we are minimizing our accomplishments or the good things in our lives, that is discounting the positive.

Why It's Harmful:
These anxious thoughts are like always moving the finish line farther ahead.

We can never actually celebrate an achievement if we never perceive that we've reached one!

Imagine if someone running a race came around the last corner and every time they almost crossed the line, it was moved another 100 yards?

Soon, they would inevitably lose motivation, energy, and belief that they will actually ever end the race.

This anxious thought pattern does the exact same thing!

Do This Instead:

Celebrate your accomplishments!

When you notice yourself saying, "Yeah…but…" transform that into, "Heck yes!"

Humans work off of punishment and reward.

Punishment discourages behavior and reward encourages it.

Celebrating your wins will increase your mood and even encourage more to come! 

Conclusion

Anxious thought patterns can derail us from the life we want to lead.

What if instead of them controlling you, you start controlling them?

Use this information to take back control of your thoughts and lead a happier, more relaxed life!

Resources 

https://psychcentral.com/lib/cognitive-distortions-negative-thinking#types

https://www.verywellmind.com/ten-cognitive-distortions-identified-in-cbt-22412

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