Those suffering from anxiety have a dark cloud of doom perennially hanging over their head, following them close like a shadow, plunging them into despair at a moment’s notice. There’s usually no apparent rhyme or reason for them to feel distressed over a particular situation. You are plagued with constant worry and fear, mostly over a perceived potential threat, which can be quite crippling for your day to day life.
Here’s what you need to understand about anxiety attacks – it comes on gradually, builds over a period of time in anticipation of a stressful event or experience. And most important of all – much of the anxiety is self-produced via compelling thoughts that make it seems like you have no other choice but to panic. Understanding anxiety and how it stems from your thoughts will help in managing it better.
Vicious Cycle of Anxiety
Anxiety is fostered on a cycle of thoughts → feelings → behaviour. Your thoughts play a crucial role in feeding your anxiety. They are so automatic, sneaky, negative, and habitual that it will take quite a bit of skill in determining what they are. Over time, your brains get wired to think in a certain way and your feelings and behaviours follow a set pattern that maintains your anxiety.
Intrusive thought or worry is common for most people, wherein a random thought ‘pops in your head’ that makes you anxious. It could be ‘out of the blue’ or something specific owing to a particular situation. A normal person who doesn’t suffer from anxiety resolves this in time and moves on. Alternatively, a person suffering from anxiety continues to dwell on the intrusive thought, turns it inward – focussing on self, and blows it out of proportion until this thought progresses into an obsessive worry or fear. This is when their blinkered view takes precedence and their thinking biases are activated.
Identify your Anxiety Provoking Thoughts
If you are someone who suffers from anxiety, here are a few of your thinking bias – anxiety provoking thoughts you should pay heed to from now to challenge the way you think. You can take the help of your supportive partner to assist you in identifying these anxiety provoking thoughts.
* Negative self-talk
Most of what we tell ourselves is negative and counter-productive. “I am such an idiot.” “I am a fool.” “I can’t do it.” “I am not good at my job.” These are all self-defeating statements that grow like poison tree engulfing your entire life with negative effects. Being self-aware is the first step to counter negative self-talk.
“I can’t do anything right.” “I am a failure.” “I suck at everything.” These are classic cases of blanket statements used to over-generalize, well, everything. If one thing goes wrong for you, nothing goes right for you.
Every negative thought and emotion is intensely magnified to an extent where everything else especially logic and what’s real fades into the background.
* Ignoring the Positives
The glass is always half-empty. After a while, you don’t even see or acknowledge the water in the glass anymore. The negatives take the limelight and the positives lose their appeal and ultimately, your focus.
* Taking it personally
It’s all about you. Internalising everything is second nature to someone suffering from anxiety. Everything, even those unrelated to you, becomes about you. The focus shifts from the issue at hand to it in relation to you which can be quite stressful.
* Black and White Way of Thinking
It’s either this way or that – there is no middle ground, ‘anxiety-ridden you’ will never see the greys. It’s all or nothing, which makes it quite taxing, for life usually, happens in the greys.
* Idealistic Expectations
Unrealistic expectations are the root cause for your high levels of anxiety. Set realistic expectations of yourself and the world around you and you will not be so easily disappointed or discouraged.
* I ‘should’ way of thinking
The thought that you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do something adds immense pressure to your day to day life and ups your anxiety levels several notches. Repeating ‘I should or else’ is a similar to saying ‘I am not good enough unless…..’ “I should lose weight to feel good about myself.” – No, you don’t. You are good as you are.
* Anticipating Disaster
You tend to assume the worst, always on a ‘disaster alert’ mode. Anything and everything is potentially harmful and hence you perpetual live on the edge of fear looking over your shoulder, just in case.
Actionable Items to Manage Anxiety Provoking Thoughts
* Spend a few days jotting down all your negative, self-defeating thoughts in a journal. Spend the next few days crafting alternative thoughts – compassionate and loving ones to counter each of those negative messages.
* Describe a recent situation in which you were anxious and list out as many thoughts as you can remember about that particular situation including those that you had in anticipation of the event, during the event, and after the event.
* Maintain a thought diary to identify your negative thought and challenge it. This can be done my recording the situation, how you felt, your automatic negative thought, and an positive alternative thought and how it worked to your advantage.
* Problem Solving Approach – You identify and the problem that causes anxiety and list out all the possible solutions. Pick the one that suits you best and then work with it to help you achieve an anxiety-free approach to life.