Do you know that experts estimate the average person has between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts in a day? Chances are, if you struggle with anxiety, you’re likely one of the individuals that experience closer to 80,000 thoughts.
But what happens when the majority of the thoughts are negative, irrational, obsessive and overall unhelpful? Imagine the impact on your psyche and your life if you had thousands and thousands of negative thoughts each day?
This amount of negative thinking is the hallmark of anxiety. Obsessive or pessimistic thinking is the voice of anxiety. What most don’t realize is that anxiety is manifested in negative thinking before it ever creates a feeling.
This is why it is imperative for those suffering from anxiety to become acutely aware of their thought patterns. If not checked, negative thinking becomes a habit, one that is the potential to completely shape your life in ways you most certainly don’t want.
Here are 4 Ways to change your thinking to relieve anxiety
1. Change How You Think
The most powerful ways people can lift themselves out of the grips of anxiety is to change their thinking patterns. This is why cognitive therapy is such a profound method of change. The approach is based on the fact that thought processing errors contribute to anxiety.
By changing how you think, you automatically change how you feel. Once you become aware that changing your thinking is important, you are presented with an active choice you can take to benefit your mental health.
Simply put, our thoughts directly affect our feelings. We cannot experience a feeling that is not preceded by a thought. If our thoughts are persistently and consistently negative, worrisome, obsessive, and pessimistic, then our feelings will be the same.
2. Keep Track of Your Thoughts
Some people are in denial about their thought patterns. They don’t want to believe they are overly negative or pessimistic. Catching yourself and recording as many negative thoughts as you can will help you to see your own thinking patterns. If you don’t increase your awareness and insight into your thought patterns, you cannot change them.
What will these thoughts look like? You could write things like “I’m going to fail.” “No one at work likes me.” “I can’t stand feeling this way.” “Something is going to go wrong.” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “I don’t feel any sense of purpose in my life.”
Be particularly mindful of making sweeping generalizations from one specific event. It’s a type of black-and-white thinking I could be particularly harmful.
3. Identify Triggers To Anxiety
Once you get an idea for the frequency of your negative thoughts, try and pinpoint the triggers for them. Your journal will come in handy here, because it will point out certain types of events that set off a chain of negative thoughts. Triggers can include feeling rejected or ignored, or having an unkind remarks said about or to you.
4. Positive Conversion
So far, we have learned that the human thinking process is the picture. But the good news is, you can create good thinking habits too.
To do this you’ve got to start converting all those negative thoughts into positive ones. This is called thought challenging. It will be hard at first, and you will most likely feel as if you’re lying to yourself and pretending to be a glass-half-full Pollyanna.
However, as they say, “You’ve got to fake it until you make it.” Changing thought patterns, specifically negative thought patters, takes time. Thinking positive may feel foreign to you and like a waste of your time, you are re-training your brain to think (and feel) good.
Every time you have a negative thought, stop, recognize it as negative, and immediately challenge the thought and reframe it with a positive thought. This could look like:
Negative thought: “I’ll never get this report done on time.”
Positive reframe: “I’m making great progress and being careful to always check my work.
The most effective way to get the hang of this is to do it repeatedly and consistently and to use a journal. Create a separate column in the journal in which you write the challenge to many of your negative thoughts.
Life is too short to feel anxious and negative all the time. If you’ve tried these techniques and still find yourself struggling, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you sort things out and find your center again.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.