“The thing that stands between where you are and
the life you desire is your thoughts. “
Questioning your negative thoughts is a powerful tool to help reduce anxiety when it strikes. The problem with anxiety is how it seems to control our thoughts. We catastrophize, awfulize and fortune-tell frightening futures. This fallacy of thinking—and believing faulty thoughts--only adds fuel to anxiety’s fire.
The truth is, we have control over our thoughts. With keen awareness and unwavering determination, we can choose to recognize our unhelpful thinking patterns, push aside negative thoughts and make room for positive thoughts that will result in more positive feelings. By identifying, questioning, and changing our negative thoughts, we can do wonders to eliminate the impact of anxiety in our mind and in our life.
The next time you feel anxious, identify your negative thoughts and ask yourself the following:
Is this thought true or false?
Is this thought helpful or unhelpful?
Is this thought healthy or unhealthy?
Is this thought helping me move toward my goals or away from them?
Now anxiety is tricky, and it clouds your thoughts with your feelings, so you have to be careful to separate the thought from the feeling.
Here is an example of a common negative thought, and how the process works.
Say my negative thought is, “I am never going to get over my anxiety.”
1. Is it true or false that I am never going to get over my anxiety?
The number one problematic response when answering this question as true is that it feels true, but you must ask yourself is it really true? Secondary questions you can ask is, is it true all of the time, or only sometimes? Does it feel true right now because of my current emotional state or circumstance?
A more helpful replacement thought might be, “If I keep working on my anxiety, I’ll feel better.”
2. Is the thought that I am never going to get over my anxiety helpful or unhelpful?
This one is a no-brainer, of course this thought is not helpful, and therefore, it’s gotta go!
A better thought would be, “I’m going to get over my anxiety, I am committed!”
3. Is the thought that I’m never going to get over my anxiety a healthy thought or an unhealthy thought?
Well, it certainly doesn’t sound optimistic, and it sounds like a cognitive distortion (Eg. catastrophizing, fortune-telling), and it’s making you feel worse, not better, so no, it’s not a healthy thought. It’s gotta go! (For a list of cognitive distortions click here.)
A healthier thought would be, “Anxiety is a natural part of life, I can use my coping tools to manage and it will eventually pass.”
4. Is the thought I’m never going to get over my anxiety moving your closer to your goals or away from them?
Let’s think about it this way, if you have a number line and the positive numbers are leading you in the direction of your goals and the negative numbers are leading you away from your goals, which direction are you going with your negative thought?
A good replacement thought would be, “My goals are important, so I must keep going and not let anxiety get in my way.”
A few things to remember about the nature of thoughts:
Thoughts always create our feelings. So if you are having anxious feelings, then you are thinking anxious thoughts. By correcting your thoughts, your feelings will follow.
Thought are not always accurate, truthful, helpful or to be believed.
Thoughts are often negative and we think them out of habit. The good news is that we can break the unhelpful thought loops and create healthier new ones.
Working with your thoughts requires practice, patience, and a whole lot of self-compassion to retrain your brain away from anxiety and toward freedom. If you want to feel less anxious, then you have to think more helpful thoughts.
Give it a try and use the comment section below to let me know how it goes.
If you would like some coaching around this tool or want to work with me, you can reach me by: