Every individual has anxious thoughts at times. It can be trying to remember if you locked the door, worrying about an upcoming test, or feeling overwhelmed by everyday tasks. According to The Yerkes-Dodson Law, there is an optimal level of anxiety that can help us perform well. Too much anxiety becomes paralyzing and can affect our mental health.
Often, these anxious thoughts come and go. Yet when they persist, they could become difficult to manage and lead to long-term negative impacts on mental health. And while it’s normal to experience feelings of anxiousness under certain circumstances, the persistence of these thoughts can affect one’s mental health. So, in this blog, we’ll explore what anxious thoughts are, how they can affect our lives, and how anxiety therapy can support you.
What Are Anxious Thoughts?
Anxious thoughts are the cognitive component of anxiety. Which is a common mental health condition characterized by excessive worry, fear, and uneasiness about future events, circumstances, or potential outcomes. These thoughts often revolve around what our brain and body perceive as threats or dangers. Even if they might be irrational or unlikely to occur.
These thoughts happen when our brains are unable to process the current situation we are in. It allows fear to take over and trigger our fight, flight, or freeze response. As a result, our brain starts to perceive everything as a threat or danger within an incredibly short amount of time. This could be anything from a work deadline to encountering something unexpected.
What are Some Common Patterns of Anxious Thoughts?
When it comes to anxious thoughts, there are some common patterns that many people experience. Each individual and situation is unique, so a combination of these patterns may occur. Some of the most common anxious thought patterns include:
Using Feelings as Facts
When individuals exhibit this pattern, they often take their feelings as facts. If they feel like people are mad at them, they may assume that their peers don’t like them. This could lead to feelings of loneliness and inferiority. Even without evidence to support these assumptions.
For example, Jim didn’t have plans with his friends for the weekend. He felt lonely and inferior. He might then think, “No one likes me. I have a terrible personality.” Without even considering if this thought is actually true or not.
Often individuals with anxiety are hypervigilant about what others may be thinking. This can lead them to believe they know what other people are thinking. Typically, when this happens, the individual assumes that the thoughts are negative in nature. It’s important to remember that this thought pattern isn’t based on reality and is a result of anxiousness.
For example, if someone says something that the individual doesn’t agree with, they may assume it is because they don’t like them. This can be damaging to relationships and self-esteem. Such a scenario can even occur if the other person has no negative feelings toward them.
Rumination involves going over the same thoughts or concerns, repeatedly. Without making any progress toward resolution. This happens when an individual thinks about, usually something negative like an uncomfortable situation or a mistake they made. They keep replaying the situation or choices in their head but never make any progress in figuring out a solution or how to cope.
For example, imagine a cow chewing cud. Over and over again, the cow moves its jaw from side to side in a circular motion without ever actually getting anywhere. This is rumination in action.
All-or-Nothing Thinking (Black-and-White Thinking)
This type of thinking occurs when an individual views situations, people, or the self as entirely bad or entirely good – with nothing else in between. Their anxious thought jumps to one extreme conclusion without considering any of the possibilities in between.
For example, if an individual makes a mistake they might think “I’m so stupid – I can’t do anything right.” This thought disregards all the things that a person may have done correctly throughout the day and ignores any possible nuances or exceptions.
Individuals with anxiety often engage in negative self-talk. This can look like being overly critical of themselves and believing they are not good enough or capable of handling challenges. Their brain allows their inner critic to override reason, positive thoughts, and reasonable explanations for why something may have happened.
For example, if an individual is about to give a presentation, they may say something like “I’m going to mess this up. Everyone is going to see how incompetent I am.” This thought disregards all the hard work that was put into the presentation and doesn’t allow for any mistakes that may be made during it. Even though to error means to be human.
Judging is being critical of oneself or others with a heavy emphasis on the use of “should have,” “must,” “have to,” and “should not have.” This type of thinking can lead to feeling guilty for not meeting certain standards set by the individual. Or even society. This thought pattern can be especially damaging when it is directed at the self. It can lead to feeling shame for not being able to reach a certain outcome even with their best effort.
For example, if an individual forgets to do something that is important, they might think “I should have remembered. I must always remember everything. I should not have forgotten this” This thought disregards any reason they may have forgotten the task at hand such as exhaustion, lack of resources, or distraction.
How Do Anxious Thoughts Affect Our Mental Health?
When anxious thoughts become persistent they can be accompanied by negative emotions, such as fear, worry, and irritability. This can interfere with our daily life. Additionally, chronic anxiety and anxious thoughts can contribute to the development or worsening of depression. The emotional overload that anxiety causes can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair due to the lack of control.
Anxious thoughts can also make it difficult to concentrate and focus on tasks. This can make your productivity and performance suffer. Whether it’s at work, school, in relationships, or in everyday life. Plus, when these thoughts are so persistent, it can be hard to experience restful sleep. This can lead to a cycle of exhaustion from not being able to fall asleep. Or sleeping more frequently, or having difficulty staying asleep.
Anxiety Has the Potential to Result in Avoidance Behaviors.
When it comes to situations that may trigger anxiety, it can lead individuals to avoid situations, people, or places that make them feel uncomfortable. This is known as avoidance behavior and it can limit life experiences. Avoidance behavior includes activities like avoiding parties or social gatherings, not going on trips, or even having conversations with friends or colleagues. Additionally, when anxious thoughts cause emotional distress it can lead to social isolation.
This not only hinders the individual’s growth but it can also put a strain on their relationships. When they do decide to engage in social activities, they may be irritable, emotionally distant, and struggle to enjoy the activity at hand. This can leave their family and friends feeling confused or hurt due to a lack of understanding of what is going on.
What are Some Ways to Differentiate Between Anxious Thoughts and Rational Concerns?
Having strategies in place for managing anxious thoughts can help individuals learn to differentiate between the two. It is possible to identify when your thoughts are based more on anxiousness than actual reality. That being said, it’s important to remember that identifying these patterns of thought isn’t always easy. There are a few ways you can start to differentiate between anxious thoughts and more rational concerns.
- Give Yourself a Reality Check: Assess the situation objectively and gather evidence to support or challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself if your concerns are based on facts or assumptions.
- Evidence-Based Thinking: Analyze the evidence for and against your thoughts. Look for concrete evidence that supports your concerns or contradicts them.
- Impact on Daily Functioning: Consider how your thoughts affect your daily life. Anxious thoughts often lead to avoidance behaviors or excessive distress, whereas rational concerns may prompt constructive problem-solving.
- Degree of Distress: Assess the intensity of your emotions related to the thoughts. Anxious thoughts typically generate intense fear, worry, or panic, while rational concerns may evoke a more balanced emotional response.
- Future vs. Present Focus: Anxious thoughts often center on future “what-if” scenarios, while rational concerns tend to be more present-focused and address immediate challenges.
- Seek External Input: Discuss your thoughts with a trusted friend, family member, or an anxiety therapist in Coconut Creek, FL. They can offer an outside perspective and help you evaluate the rationality of your concerns.
- Reality Testing: Engage in reality testing by considering how others might interpret or react to the same situation.
Tips for Dealing with Anxious Thoughts
Having strategies in place for managing anxious thoughts can help individuals learn to differentiate between the two. It is possible to identify when your thoughts are based more on anxiousness than actual reality. That being said, it’s important to remember that identifying these patterns of thought isn’t always easy. Here are some tips you can use right away:
- Challenge and Reframe Anxious Thoughts using Socratic Questions: Questions such as, “What would I tell a friend about this?” can help you gain perspective on the situation.
- Grounding Techniques: Engaging in deep breathing or mindfulness activities can help to refocus your attention away from anxious thoughts.
- Journaling: Writing down your feelings can help you clarify what is really going on in your mind and separate the facts from what is based on anxiousness.
- Seek Professional Help: Attending anxiety therapy in Coconut Creek, FL can help you identify and manage anxious thoughts that are having a negative impact on your life.
These strategies can help you recognize when your thoughts may be more based on anxiety than reality and how to address them in a constructive way. Remember, it is possible to live with less fear and worry if you have the right tools at hand. With practice and support, this will become easier, and in time, you can learn how to manage anxious thoughts more effectively.
Having Anxious Thoughts? Begin Anxiety Therapy in Coconut Creek and Parkland, FL.
Dealing with anxious thoughts and understanding their impact on our mental health is vital for taking control of our well-being. At Invigorate Counseling, our expert therapists are committed to helping you navigate through the challenges of anxious thoughts with Anxiety Therapy in Coconut Creek, FL. With compassionate support and evidence-based techniques in anxiety therapy, we offer effective strategies to manage anxious thoughts and restore a sense of balance and inner peace. Take the first step towards a healthier and more peaceful future:
- Schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see if anxiety therapy is right for you
- Begin meeting with me, Lindsay Howard, a skilled anxiety therapist
- Calm those anxious thoughts, reclaim your mental peace, and nurture your well-being with proactive strategies!
Other Services Offered at Invigorate Counseling
At Invigorate Counseling, my goal is to help provide you with support in a safe space to help you manage your mental health needs. So, in addition to providing Anxiety Therapy at my Parkland Florida practice, I also offer Depression Counseling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Grief Counseling, and Addiction Counseling. My services are offered for clients located in the state of Florida, specific to Parkland, Coconut Creek, Miami and Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Orlando, Tallahassee, and anywhere else in the state! For more about my practice, check out my FAQs and Blog!