Over the years, we tend to get into unhelpful thinking habits. We might favour some over others, and there might be some that seem far too familiar. Once you can identify your unhelpful thinking styles, you can start to notice them – they very often occur just before and during distressing and anxiety provoking situations. Once you can notice them, then that can help you to challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts, and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.
Anxiety is the body’s way of responding to being in danger. Adrenaline is rushed into our bloodstream to enable us to run away or fight. This happens whether the danger is real, or whether we believe the danger is there when actually there is none. It is the body’s alarm and survival mechanism. Primitive man wouldn’t have survived for long without this life-saving response. It works so well, that it often kicks in when it’s not needed – when the danger is in our heads rather than in reality. We think we’re in danger, so that’s enough to trigger the system to go, go, go!
People who get anxious tend to get into scanning mode – where they’re constantly on the lookout for danger, hyper-alert to any of the signals, and make it more likely that the alarm system will be activated.
THOUGHTS THAT OFTEN OCCUR IN ANXIETY
Include our overestimating or exaggerating the actual threat, and underestimating or minimising our ability to cope. Thoughts such as:
I’m in danger right now
The worst possible scenario is going to happen
I won’t be able to cope with it
Mental Filter; When we notice only what the filter wants or allows us to notice, and we dismiss anything that doesn’t ‘fit’. Like looking through dark blinkers or ‘gloomy specs’, or only catching the negative stuff in our ‘kitchen strainers’ whilst anything more positive or realistic is dismissed. This mental filter can cause us more difficulties, affecting overall wellbeing and pulling us away from a more fulfilled and positive outlook.
Judgements. Making evaluations or judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for
Negative thinking styles; the following typical negative thinking styles.
• Mind-Reading. Assuming; We know what others are thinking (usually about us), making assumptions about how other people see us.
• Emotional Reasoning; I feel bad so it must be bad! I feel anxious, so I must be in danger
• Prediction. Believing;, We know what’s going to happen in the future, predicting from a fear from an earlier experience.
• Mountains and Molehills; Exaggerating the risk of danger, or the negatives. Minimising the odds of how things are most likely to turn out, or minimising positives
• Compare and Despair; Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others, and comparing ourselves negatively against them
• Catastrophising; Imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen
• Critical self; Putting ourselves down, self-criticism, blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not (totally) our responsibility
• Black and white thinking; Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything in between or ‘shades of grey’
• Should’s and musts; Thinking or saying ‘I should’ (or shouldn’t) and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves, and sets up unrealistic expectations
• Memories; Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, leading us to believe that the danger is here and now, rather than in the past, causing us distress right now.
Which ones do you notice when your anxiety kicks in?
Even thinking about situations we find anxiety provoking can lead us to experience our anxiety symptoms. They can also reinforce our desire to avoid particular situations and keep our anxiety going by strengthening our already negative perception of a situation.
How to recognise a negative thought:
Negative thoughts can be like a bad habit, that may have formed over many years, be entrenched and, difficult to shift. Recognising that you are having a negative thought is an important step in beginning to be free of them.
Negative thoughts are:
AUTOMATIC They just seem to come into your mind without any effort.
DISTORTED They are not always supported by the things you know to be true.
UNHELPFUL They keep you feeling low, and make it difficult to change.
PLAUSIBLE You accept them as facts and do not question them.
INVOLUNTARY You do not choose to have them and they are very difficult to stop.
To conquer negative thinking styles, its best to identify where or which ones have a stronghold over you. Everyone is different and some styles are more prevalent than others. By looking over the list, you can begin to take back control of your wandering and sometimes controlling mind and replace them with a more helpful, positive frame of mind. Challenging ourselves and the way we think is one of the best tools we can give ourselves, helping us to overcome anxiety, helplessness and feeling like we can’t move forward to fulfilment and enjoyment.
Challenge yourself every time you notice your negative thinking patterns emerge out from the shadows of your mind, take back your control to increase wellbeing and your quality of life.