5 Harmful Lies Anxious People Believe
Learn How to Observe and Defeat Your Anxious Thoughts.
THE ORIGIN OF YOUR ANXIOUS FEELINGS
As you probably know, anxiety can take many forms and has many faces. It can manifest as a consistent crippling worry, other times a strong irrational fear, or maybe an overhanging threat of spontaneous panic attacks. Yet no matter what shape anxiety takes, one symptom is truly universal:
A tendency towards anxious thinking.
Maybe this fact seems very obvious now that you read it, and I made it out to be a big surprise for no reason… I hear you:
“Of course anxious thinking is part of anxiety disorders, it’s right there in the phrase, isn’t it.”
But you might be surprised to hear that most people have no idea that they engage in anxious thinking. A scary thought once you come to understand that anxiety is by and large a product of our faulty thinking.
This is why cognitive therapy has been so successful in treating both anxiety and depression, it teaches us to change the way we fundamentally think about ourselves and our surroundings. This in turn causes a radical change in our feelings and reactions.
Because thoughts create feelings.
I do not plan on going into specifics about how our thoughts shape emotions here. There will come better opportunities for that later.
Instead I will point out a few of the more harmful anxious thoughts that you probably have to some degree, whether you know or not.
1) THINKING RECOVERY IS IMPOSSIBLE
I want you to imagine that you watch a very inspirational video on YouTube. For an instant you feel motivated and ready conquer the world. The next instant your motivation dwindles, and it’s like it was never there to begin with.
For a pair of untrained eyes, this is what happened:
- You watched an inspirational YouTube video
- It made you feel motivated
- Then your motivation disappeared
Yet this chain of events is partial and flawed. What actually happens goes a little more like this:
- You watch an inspirational YouTube video
- It gives you the courage to think positive thoughts:
“Maybe it is possible for me to recover.”
“Yes, I can definitely do it, if this person in the video did!”
- You feel motivated because you think positive thoughts.
- Anxious thoughts flash through your mind:
“I am not strong enough.”
“I’m stuck with my anxiety forever.”
- Your negative thoughts cause you to lose your motivation.
Through focusing exclusively on what we are feeling, motivation and then a lack of motivation, we ignore our thoughts completely. But observing these thoughts is the very key to breaking free from anxiety.
Anxious thoughts are automatic and unconscious (unless you teach yourself to observe them), they will often flash through your mind in an instant. Even when they do stay around, they go unnoticed because we tend to focus exclusively on what we are feeling.
The truth is that recovery is not impossible, it might be difficult, but you are strong and courageous enough to take the steps necessary. Your anxious mind likes to talk smack to break you down. But if you teach yourself to observe this internal trash talk, you can give yourself a fighting chance.
2) YOU UNDERESTIMATE YOUR ABILITY TO COPE
Have you ever caught yourself feeling like you wouldn’t be able to cope with something? Then you can be certain that you were thinking “I won’t be able to cope” seconds beforehand, and you can be equally certain that some flawed reasoning followed that thought.
You will find that most of your anxious thoughts are very flawed and distorted. They are usually based on a distorted view of reality after all, it is what we get when we apply an anxious filter to everyday life. Note for example that the thought “I won’t be able to cope” is a very specific prediction of the future. Yet we treat it like fact, like something we know. I certainly can’t predict the future, and I assume you can’t either. By definition, this must be a flawed thought.
This thought is particularly dangerous because it promotes avoidance. Avoidance makes it even more difficult to cope in the future. I can illustrate this with another common anxious thought: “I wasn’t able to cope then, so I won’t be able to now”. Not only is this another example of trying to predict the future, but we also make the faulty assumption that things can never change, which is obviously wrong.
Things change all the time, we can learn abilities today that we didn’t have yesterday. Not being able to cope yesterday doesn’t mean you won’t be able to cope today. Know that you already cope with things all the time, it is an ability you already have, and one that you can definitely improve if you need to.
3) DON’T ASSUME THAT YOUR FEELINGS CAN BE TRUSTED
Anxiety can be very sneaky, completely warping our core-beliefs over time. It is not uncommon for anxiety and depression alike to cause low confidence and self-esteem. To a large degree this is because both anxiety and depression includes negative self-talk.
If you call yourself weak everyday for any prolonged period of time, you will come to believe that you are actually weak. The same goes for any other label you might place on yourself. Most will have some understanding of how it feels to be bullied by other people. Now imagine the effect it has when you are the one bullying yourself every day!
Feeling weak does not mean you are weak, it means you are someone who feels weak. Nothing more and nothing less. Feel free to insert any other label of course, the same will apply.
You can retake your confidence and self-esteem by making a shift towards more realistic self-talk!
4) THE FUTURE IS ALWAYS NEGATIVE AND BLEAK
Another common trait in both anxiety and depression is a tendency to anticipate negative outcomes, and to make predictions that are overly negative.
Would you expect someone to feel confident during a job interview if they had spent days worrying about every potential horrible outcome? I agree, I wouldn’t expect so either.
“What if my hand is all sweaty when I go to shake hands, and they think I’m gross?”
“I might go into the wrong office, and everyone will laugh at me.”
“What if I forget to put on pants?!”
At what point do we take a deep breath, calm ourselves down, and realise that it is in fact very unlikely that we forget to put on pants.
Yet that is not how the anxious mind works, it does not seem to care if something is extremely unlikely. It becomes our job to calm ourselves down, and to replace these negative expectations with realistic counterparts.
“So what if I get sweaty hands, I can just wipe them off at my pants – which I will remember to wear. But even so, they already expect me to be a bit nervous, they are not going to mind.”
“If I were to go into a wrong office, nobody is going to laugh. They will probably be happy to show me the correct one. Nobody expects me to know the layout of a place I have never visited before.”
Avoid this mental pitfall by being critical towards your expectations for the future.
5) IF IT ISN’T PERFECT, IT IS WORTHLESS
I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with perfection, and the natural consequence for me becomes procrastination.
When you see the world in more or less black and white, either something is perfect or it is completely worthless, you find very little motivation to be creative.
It isn’t entirely clear why perfectionism and anxiety tends to go hand in hand, but one thing is sure, they can feed off of each other.
Some might assume perfectionism is a good thing, because striving for perfection naturally should mean whatever you are working on ends up of higher quality. But that isn’t exactly how it works.
Striving for perfection is different from setting high goals, because even the most fantastical of goals is still within the realms of possibility. But perfection is always impossible.
If you are never happy with yourself or your work, sure, you might steadily improve, but to no avail because you will remain unhappy. If you ever want to become incredible depressed, then this seems like a great recipe.
The truth is of course that nothing is ever perfect, yet it can still be fantastic and overwhelmingly beautiful. Just imagine your favorite piece of literature, music, architecture, or even a person. Are any of them perfect? Surely not. Maybe perfect for you under certain circumstances, but not always, and never objectively.
If any of these seem familiar to you, don’t worry, even the knowledge of their existence is likely to make a difference. However, you will only be able to free yourself completely by learning how to observe, examine, and challenge your automatic thoughts. This is something that becomes easier with practice, as most things in life.
As always, thanks for spending some of your time here with me. Feel free to leave questions and/or remarks below. I love reading your feedback!