Have you ever wondered why you're having negative thoughts? It might be your anxiety influencing them. I often hear clients say “oh, I play ‘devil’s advocate’ with myself”, which is great to try to challenge yourself and gain a different perspective, but when it comes to yourself, it might be dismissing how you are feeling and make you feel guilty about thinking a certain way or even lead to you doubting yourself.
Let’s pause for a moment and look at symptoms associated with anxiety:
Worrying or experiencing fear
Feeling restless or on-edge
Feeling like you are always thinking 10 steps ahead
Irritability or agitation
Panic attacks or sudden episodes of intense fear
Avoidance of certain situations, people, or activities
Difficulty with decision-making
Self-doubt or negative self-talk
Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
Feeling nervous or tense
Feelings of impending doom or danger
Thinking the worst is going to happen
Difficulty concentrating or focusing
Nausea or stomach upset
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Chest pain or discomfort
Muscle tension or muscle aches
Sweating, trembling, or shaking
Increased/rapid heart rate or palpitations
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Feeling weak or fatigued
Insomnia or difficulty sleeping whether it is falling or staying asleep
Feeling detached or disconnected from reality or being in the present
So let’s explore why this happens… Anxiety influences our thoughts in several ways. When someone is experiencing anxiety, their mind can become overwhelmed with worries, fears, and negative thoughts, which can be difficult to control. This recurrence of anxiety can lead to experiencing cognitive distortions (like putting on prescription glasses that aren’t for your eyes, you can’t see objects now well), an example of a cognitive distortion is catastrophizing (assuming the worst-case scenario) or all-or-nothing thinking (seeing things as either all good or all bad), which can further exacerbate anxious thoughts.
Anxiety can cause physical sensations like a racing heart or shallow breathing, which can be mistaken for signs of danger or a threat. This can trigger a "fight or flight" response in the body, leading to more anxious thoughts and feelings of unease. This can lead to a cycle of negative thoughts and physical sensations that feed into each other, making it difficult to break free from anxious thinking patterns.
Let’s check out what can help break this cycle with some helpful strategies:
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce anxiety and negative thoughts by calming the mind and relaxing the body.
Challenge negative thoughts: Negative thoughts can be challenged by questioning their accuracy and evidence. Asking yourself questions like "Is this thought true?" or "What evidence supports or refutes this thought?" can help you gain perspective and reframe negative thoughts in a more positive light. When you hear the statement “you are not your thoughts” really this is saying that you are not your anxious or negative thoughts cause it is not the real reflection of who you are.
Engage in physical activity: Physical activity such as exercise, walking, or other outdoor activities can help reduce anxiety and negative thoughts by releasing endorphins and promoting relaxation.
Connect with others: Social support can be a powerful tool in managing anxiety and negative thoughts. Talking with a friend, family member, or therapist can help you process your emotions and gain perspective on your situation.
Practice self-care: Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally can help reduce anxiety and negative thoughts. This can include getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy, and setting aside time for relaxation. Often anxiety makes us put others or other things first and our self-care goes to the wayside, prioritizing and making that time for self-care will help you feel replenished and reduce “feeding” your anxiety.
All these strategies take practice and you won’t be perfect on your first or possibly tenth time practicing it. That is okay, cause you are trying to change what you had been doing. A mental health therapist or an anxiety therapist (who specializes in treating anxiety) can help you navigate these strategies and find specific ones just for you!
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.