Anxiety and Negative Thoughts: How to Get Rid of Them
Negative thoughts are one of the hallmarks of anxiety. It’s natural to want to know how to get rid of them because negative thoughts interfere in our ability to live the life we want. Anxiety and thoughts are an evil duo that strengthen each other in order to make us miserable. They may strengthen each other, but we are stronger. When we learn how to deal with them, we can get rid of them.
Thought experts from many different disciplines, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, meditation and yoga advise us of the power of our thoughts. It’s what we think about ourselves and the world around us, not actual events in our lives, that aggravate anxiety (Bourne, 2010; Burns, 1999; Imparato, 2016; Mindell & Hopkins, 2009).
You can get rid of negative thoughts and anxiety. It starts with neutral observation (8 Negative Thoughts That Manipulate Your Mind).
Anxiety and Thoughts: Observing Your Thoughts and Yourself
Your brain both thinks and observes. With anxiety, the thinking part of the brain seems to completely take over; not only that, but thoughts are often predominately negative. Our thinking self analyzes, worries, judges, and has a host of automatic negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety (How to Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns with Ease).
We also have an observing self (Harris, 2008). That part of our brain simply exists. It watches and is aware of both our inner and outer worlds, but it doesn’t analyze, critique, or judge. It is aware of anxiety’s negative thoughts; however, it doesn’t buy into them.
Developing our observing, neutral perspective can help get rid of the negative thoughts of anxiety. This is a learned skill, and with practice we can untangle ourselves from our thoughts, thus reducing their impact and creating space to live well.
Observe Negative Thoughts That Contribute to Anxiety
Specific types of negative thoughts contribute to anxiety. David Burns (1999) shares negative thought patterns, the identification of which is part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- All-or-nothing thinking (black-or-white thinking): viewing people, events, and more as one extreme or another;
- Overgeneralization: thinking in terms of “always” or “never;”
- Mental filter: filtering out the positive and dwelling on the negative;
- Discounting the positive: noticing the positive but dismissing it as an exception;
- Jumping to conclusions: automatically assuming the worst;
- Magnification: exaggerating the negative and placing too much importance on it;
- Emotional reasoning: letting negative emotions be in charge;
- “Should” statements: imposing rules on yourself;
- Labeling: using negative words and concepts to describe yourself.
- Personalization or blame: Thinking things are your fault or someone else’s fault.
When you become aware of these, you can begin to step back and just observe the thoughts. They’re there, but you don’t have to believe them.
Words and language have a huge role in anxiety. If we want calming thoughts for anxiety, we need to pay attention to our inner language, the way we talk to ourselves. When we’re constantly berating ourselves, saying things like “I’m an idiot,” or “I’m going to fail,” or “I’m a terrible parent,” we become worried and anxious.
Observation makes us aware of the way we talk to ourselves. Once we know that negative self-talk is behind anxiety, we can become quiet and listen for it. Once we start catching that negative self-talk, we can call it out and get rid of it.
Getting Rid of Negative Thoughts and Anxiety
You now know one important step in dealing with anxiety and our thoughts: observation. The second important step is to replace your negative thoughts with positive, realistic ones.
To merely get rid of thoughts without having something to fill in the gap doesn’t work. Without something new, the brain will go right back to its old thoughts.
Try these tips for getting rid of and replacing negative thoughts that provoke your anxiety:
- Observe your negative thoughts and self-talk.
- Reflect, such as in journaling or artistic exploration, on your inaccurate beliefs.
- Question them and make changes to them, For example, you’re probably not incompetent. What are your strengths, and where do you have success (Five Character Strengths of People Living with Anxiety)?
- Create statements that realistically counter your negative thoughts and self-talk. Such positive statements are known as affirmations, and repeating them multiple times every day teaches your brain to get rid of the negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic, positive ones.
- Practice mindfulness, being present in the moment. Concentrate on what’s happening around you to distract yourself from the negative thoughts.
- Cultivate a sense of awe and gratitude. Connecting to things that are bigger than you, than all of us, is a natural way to counter negative thoughts and anxiety (Flora, 2016).
Increasing your awareness of your thoughts and self-talk is quite empowering because you no longer feel at the mercy of anxiety. When you observe what’s going on in your head and then replace it with thoughts and beliefs that are much more accurate than the automatic thoughts, you are on your way to getting rid of these negative thoughts and anxiety.
Last Updated: 17 May 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD