Is Your Anxiety Keeping You from Feeling Thankful?

Woman Waiting For Family to Arrive

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.

Anxiety is focused on the future and assuming that “bad” things will happen. A tremendous amount of time and energy is spent on worrying about things we have no control over, thinking that if we could control these things we would “feel” better. The reality of anxiety is that when we focus on things we have no control over, we increase our sense of helplessness and, thus, our anxiety.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Regina tucker

    Regina tucker

    November 12th, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    I cannot let my day to day stress and worry ruin the one time of the year that I actually look forward to! Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season should be about our family and the things in life that we are grateful for and I refuse to let the negativity of the other days of the year drag that away from me.

  • Jonny

    Jonny

    November 13th, 2013 at 4:37 AM

    I have been through the holidays, or every day, like this and it isn’t fun when anxiety is in control of everything that you do and everything that you think about. You tell yourself to come on, snap out of it, there is nothing to worry about but then all you can do is dwell on all of the bad that could happen, and that leaves you without the ability to focus on anything good at all.

  • carroll f

    carroll f

    November 15th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    Not sure, is it the anxiety that keeps you from being thankful, or do you think that for many it is just the whole hustle and bustle of the holiday season? And thinking about having to spend time with a lot of family whom they may think have bad thoughts about them or who may not understand them? I get it that whatever the reason there are people for whom the holidays just don’t offer up the healthiest scenario for their well being. But I would like it more if they could focus more on all of the good things that in likelihood they do have instead of always feeling this worry over things in life they can’t control.

  • carolyn

    carolyn

    November 25th, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    It’s backwards to think that reducing anxiety will make you more able to be thankful/grateful. Focusing on gratitude has been shown in many studies to increase happiness. Happy people aren’t anxious. We take so much for granted. I recently heard a yoga instructor say that most of us carry 10 things with us everywhere to remind us to be grateful–your 10 fingers. They’re right there in front of you all the time, hopefully. Can you imagine not having one of them, more than one or none of them? Next time you’re feeling anxious, just pay attention. There’s small things around us everywhere that we can be grateful for.

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