As the year winds down, our focus seems to shift from day-to-day routine to family traditions and things that we are thankful for. This time of year brings more chaos to individuals who struggle with anxiety. I was asked the other day, “With my anxiety, will I ever be able to be thankful?” My answer was yes, with a little work.
One common symptom of anxiety is negative thinking. Anxiety affects the way you think and can cause destructive thoughts. An anxious brain defaults to what didn’t work or wasn’t good about something you said or did, before it thinks about anything remotely positive. As we think these negative and debilitating thoughts, we create more anxiety, making it feel impossible to imagine a cure or even make changes. It is important that you realize that trying NOT to have these thoughts may actually increase the number of such thoughts you have. Have you ever been on a diet, swore off junk food, and then junk food was the only thing you thought about? Same concept.
So what do you do? Think about something else. “WHAT? That won’t work.” At least, that is what I tell myself when I have anxiety.
Individuals with anxiety and worry feel like their anxiety rules their life and relationships. A sense of helplessness consumes them. Stopping or even changing their thoughts seems virtually impossible. Thinking about something positive is foreign and sometimes very uncomfortable.
Start changing your negative thoughts by taking the following steps:
- Identify when you are having negative thoughts. Consciously tracking your thoughts every day can help you gain awareness of the quantity of your thoughts that are centered on negativity.
- Write them down. You can either keep track of the theme of the thoughts (e.g., I’m fat/incompetent/lazy) or you can keep track of the number of thoughts you have (perhaps by making marks on a piece of paper that you carry around).
- Assess the truth in your negative thoughts. Often, our thoughts are outrageous and unbelievable, yet we react to them as if they are factual. Assessing if your thought could be true is the next step to changing negative thinking.
- Look for the exception. If we come up with rationale that our thoughts are in fact possible, then has there ever been a time when this wasn’t true? Looking for the exception can help you build a case in your mind that your negative thoughts might not be true.
- Develop a plan to change. Now that you have found an exception, you can start to look at what you might possibly do to change the thought. In this step, you are just creating a list of possibilities (without editing).
- Employ the plan. Now that you have options to create new thoughts, take one of these possibilities and put it into action. Just try it. Then note what comes up or changes about your thought.
- Reassess. After you have gone through all these steps, reassess as new negative thoughts arise.
Repeat these steps every time you have a negative thought and want to change it. The more you can engage in these steps, the more you can reduce your negative thinking.
It is said that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Are you willing to dedicate the next 21 days to changing your negative thoughts? Thanksgiving is just around the corner. What are you willing to do for the possibility of being thankful this year?
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, therapist in Silverdale, Washington
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