A while back I posted about the subtle ways we feed anxious thinking. Here are some of the most common anxiety-fueled thought patterns, plus some specific ways you can recognize and dispute them. If some of these sound familiar to you, put them in your mental tool kit so you can take them out when you need them.
Making dire predictions as if they’re facts.
If you’re telling yourself: “I know my sales pitch is going to go badly” or “I’m sure he won’t want to go out with me.” Stop and ask yourself: “Can I really predict the future, or is this my anxiety talking? What are some other possible outcomes?”
Treating anxiety as if it’s a reliable indicator of how things are going.
If you’re telling yourself: “I’m feeling really anxious and uncomfortable. That means this isn’t going well.” Stop and ask yourself: “Is my anxiety level a good gauge of how things are really going? Do things ever turnout to have gone better than I thought they were going at the time?”
Seeing only the negative and ignoring the positive.
If you’re telling yourself: “One of the people in the audience is checking his watch. I’m failing up here” or “I forgot to chill the white wine. The party is ruined.” Stop and ask yourself: “Is my anxiety causing me to ignore anything important? What do things look like if I expand my focus and try to see the whole picture? What can I focus on that is going well?”
Deciding the causes of a disappointment or failure are permanent and pervasive rather than temporary and specific.
If you’re telling yourself: “That was a disaster. I have no talent for it, and I never will.” Stop and ask yourself: “Can I think of one specific part of it that went pretty well? What strengths and resources do I have that I can use to build on that one pretty good part so it goes even better next time?”
Deciding that the outcomes of a disappointment or failure are permanent rather than temporary and specific.
If you’re telling yourself: “Now I’ll never get a promotion. I’ll be lucky if I keep my job.” or “She turned me down. I might as well give up. Nobody is ever going to want to go out with me.” Stop and ask yourself: “Is it possible that my anxiety is causing me to over-react? Is this one event really powerful enough to determine the course of the rest of my life?”
Know It’s Not You
If you’re anxious thoughts don’t quite fit into any of these categories, that’s okay. The important thing is that you notice the specific irrational thoughts that are fueling your own anxiety, and dispute them any way you can, even with a simple: “That’s not reality. That my anxiety talking.”
The key to success with this process is to practice it consistently and keep doing it over the long term. If you do, you can a significant impact on your thoughts, your anxiety, and the quality of your life.
Cognitive psychologists have found that the process of identifying and disputing irrational thoughts is a very effective way to short-circuit the anxiety cycle so we can regain our equilibrium, think more clearly, and feel a lot better.
So the next time…
When you’re feeling anxious, try walking yourself through these three steps.
1. Remind yourself that anxiety naturally fuels irrational thoughts that then reinforce the anxiety. Ask yourself if that’s happening to you.
2. Identify the anxiety-driven thoughts. “I’m telling myself that I know the doctor is going to give me bad news. That sounds like my anxiety talking.”
3. Challenge the faulty reasoning. “Do I really have enough evidence to be so sure? What are some of the other possibilities?”