Have you ever felt anxious? Maybe you had a job interview or an important presentation and it made you nervous. Can you imagine feeling that way all day long, or at least for portions of the day – everyday? This is the burden carried by those of us who suffer from anxiety disorders.
Here’s some of the things we think when we’re anxious. Bear in mind this list is not exhaustive and it is different for every one of us. But these are some common themes.
- We Don’t Want to Be Alone
Many of us with anxiety fear being by ourselves. It leaves us in a vulnerable position as we’re then free to worry endlessly. These anxious thoughts can in turn escalate into a full blown panic attack. None of us want to be alone when that happens.
- We’re Afraid of Messing Up
After some time, anxiety can begin to affect your self-esteem. We start to believe that we are not capable of carrying out tasks that once came so easily to us. Something simple like making dinner for the family can become an enormous feat.
- We Hate Our Lives
When we experience chronic illness, we can become desperate. We feel negative about everything and depression often develops for people with anxiety. People who have anxiety with depression get caught in a spiral of negative thinking and need a lot of support to help manage their condition.
- We Fear Having Panic Attacks
This fear is so real for many of us. Not knowing when the next one is going to strike makes it all the more difficult to manage.
- We Avoid Situations and People
Not being able to face people is a stark reality of anxiety. We fear being found out and we fear not being able to take part in the conversation. Sometimes we avoid certain situations like going to the pub or out for dinner. We fear not being able to find a parking space, getting lost, being left on our own – the list is endless. It’s just easier to stay in and read a book.
- We Think We Are Sick
Worrying about having cancer and other serious illnesses is a common feature in generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes we can’t be convinced that we are healthy despite medical evidence to prove it.
- We’re Afraid of Dying
Most anxious thoughts are completely irrational and are not based in reality in any way. The fear for many of us with anxiety is that death is imminent – we worry for our families who will be left behind and we worry about all we have to do before our time comes.
- We Worry About Fires
Many of us anxious people spend an inordinate amount of time checking and double checking locks, sockets and light switches. Trying to function on too little sleep is often the result of these obsessive thoughts.
We worry ourselves into knots over things that will probably never happen. We avoid situations that really aren’t a big deal and we isolate ourselves in the process.
- Saying something that could offend someone.
“Did I say that the wrong way? Did trying so hard not to offend that person actually make it more offensive?”
- Getting stuck on public transportation.
“When a subway train is stuck, or stalled, and I don’t have information about why, I get a bit freaked out and contemplate taking a taxi even if I know it’ll cost way too much and take the same time. This is because at least I’m able to see what is holding me up and feel like I have some control of my surroundings.”
- Arriving somewhere late (or on time, for that matter).
“What time do I have to leave work to get to where I’m going? What is traffic going to look like? Will parking be hard?”
- Fearing something could go wrong.
“I am in constant fear of what’s going to happen if and when something happens to my husband! I fear I will end up homeless. I have no friends or family to turn to.”
- Forgetting to do something important.
“On good days I can leave the house without having to check the lock three times or making sure the fridge is closed several times. On good days I can control my thoughts and nothing comes through my mind. On bad days I can’t stop the what ifs.”
Sound familiar? Here’s what you can do about it:
- Realize that it’s your brain doing this. According to psychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, our brains have a natural negativity bias, or a tendency to automatically default on the worst possible outcome. This is particularly true for those who suffer from anxiety. If your brain is going to a negativity spiral, don’t tear yourself apart with self-blame.
- Accept that the thoughts are happening. Don’t put anxious thoughts out of your mind, but rather face them head on. “The biggest concern is when anxiety starts to create an avoidance cycle,” psychiatrist Mickey Trockel, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, previously told HuffPost. “When something is provoking those emotions, then avoiding it feels good — and because that feels good, it’s reinforcing the anxiety.”
- Ask yourself questions. Put your thoughts into perspective by asking questions that help reframe your fear. This method allows you to step outside of yourself, so to speak. “Evaluate the evidence for and against that thought,” explained Peter Norton, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston. “Weighing the evidence back and forth will help you come to a more rational view of the situation.”
- Engage in a calming activity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little meditation or going for a walk, both of which have mental health benefits. Just do something to help calm and distract your mind. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is excellent for anxiety. It helps us to stop our negative thoughts and replace them with a more positive and rational alternative.