Anxious negative thoughts play a huge role in the worries, fears, and what-ifs of all types of anxiety. In turn, the worries, fears, and what-ifs fuel anxious negative thoughts. The relationship between our thoughts and our anxiety is complex, enmeshed, and downright unhealthy for us. That said, you are neither a victim nor a prisoner of your anxious negative thoughts. Despite how it might seem, you can change how you think and reduce anxiety in the process by making one shift.
Examples of Anxious Negative Thoughts
Anxious thoughts involve statements such as:
- I can’t_____.
- What if_____?
- They think I’m_____.
- _____might get badly hurt.
- If_____then_____will happen.
- He/she/it/I always_____
- He/she/it/I never_____.
- Yes, but____.
We can have these and many other negative, anxious thought patterns when we live with anxiety. Because we have anxiety, we tend to think in this way. And because we have these anxious thoughts, our experience of anxiety worsens.
Anxious Thoughts or Anxiety: Which Causes the Problem?
When trying to quiet our anxious thoughts and reduce all of our anxiety (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors), it’s easy to get caught up in wondering what’s going on in our head. Are our thoughts at fault for continued anxiety? Or is it anxiety that is causing our negative thinking patterns?
This might be surprising, but knowing the answer isn’t important. It doesn’t matter which one, anxiety itself or the anxious thoughts, starts the cycle that makes us miserable. Trying to figure this out keeps you stuck and focused on your thoughts and your anxiety. When you’re stuck, you can’t move forward.
Change Your Anxious Negative Thoughts and Reduce Your Anxiety
Prepare to become unstuck. No longer do you have to fight those thoughts. No longer do you have to try to decide whether to work on your thoughts or on your overall anxiety. Instead, use this approach: Separate yourself from your thoughts by rewording them. This technique is called, “I’m having the thought that…”
I’m having the thought that..
Look at the difference:
- If I go to that meeting, I will make a fool of myself.
- I’m having the thought that if I go to that meeting, I will make a fool of myself.
The power of this new way of thinking (which is referred to as defusion in acceptance and commitment therapy) is that you are stepping back, away from your anxious thoughts. When you replace, “What if my partner gets into an accident?” with “I’m having the thought that my partner might get into an accident,” you take away some of anxiety’s punch.
Do you still have an anxious thought? Yes. Are you connected to it, painfully tied to it and believing it as the truth? No. Instead, you’ve created a bit of space between the real you and your anxious thoughts. You have room to think other thoughts and take different actions.
It’s not about stopping anxious thoughts. It’s about changing them and thinking of them as mere thoughts rather than absolute truths. And in that space, anxiety relaxes and you have room for new thoughts. When you change your anxious thoughts in this way, you gradually become free.