How to cope with anxiety without drugs- part 5 -Think Realistically.

Our mood and feelings about a particular situation are largely determined by what we think. If for example you are stuck in a traffic you can either say to ourself I am going to be stuck here all evening and start worrying about how you will never get all the things you need to get done before tomorrow or you can accept that you are going to be stuck there for a while and take this time to relax before you have to tackle the tasks you planned for the evening. It is the same situation but depending on how you viewed the situation the mood to do the tasks when you get home will be totally different. On the one you could arrive home all anxious and stressed out or you may come home relaxed and ready to tackle the jobs you had lined up for yourself.

Here we are going to look at how our distorted thinking can spark anxiety in us and learn how to  recognize the distorted thinking and replace it with more realistic thinking. Anxiety prone people are quite often engaged in fearful self talk. When they face any perceived difficulty they immediately start thinking “what if  such and such happens?”; what if I panic, then people will laugh at me or what if I am awkward and embarrass myself, that would be horrible etc. Just noticing when you fall into “what if” thinking pattern is the first step towards gaining control over it. But the real benefit come when you start countering the negative – what if thinking – with more positive thoughts which are supportive and reinforce your ability to cope;  such statements as “so what “- “these are just thoughts” or ” this is just a scare talk”.

Type of distorted Patterns of Thoughts which provoke anxiety:

Catastrophizing thinking is when one imagines that some disaster is imminent, and this is based on very little convincing evidence; for example, if cough goes on for more the two weeks then I have a lung cancer, or if I am tired it must mean I have a cancer, or on an exam paper one question was left unanswered means I am going to fail badly or pain with urination means I have sexual transmitted disease etc. Here the bad stuff is over estimated and the your coping ability is under estimated. What are the odds that if you are tired it means you have a cancer. There are lot more other plausible reasons why you maybe tired, not sleeping well, not eating healthy, viral illness, diabetes, hypothyroidism etc. To correct this kind of thinking you have to first identify the distorted thinking, then ask what is the possibility of it being true, almost certainly it going to be very low, then replace it with more realistic thoughts.

Filtering is when you focus on the negative features of the situation and ignoring all the positive ones; for example you do a presentation on the latest product your company has developed and you get a feed back what was good about the presentation and how you can improve it by making minor changes. You just focus on the negatives and decide the presentation wasn’t any good. To counter this kind of thinking one has to stop this pattern of thinking, which is usually habitual and focus instead on the solution to the problem. Stop seeing the glass half empty but focus on the glass being half full.

Polarized Thinking is when things are either black or white ,good or bad, you are perfect or you are a failure – there is no middle ground. You have to stop making black or white judgement, think in term of percentages if you like;  65% good and 45 % bad.

Overgeneralization is an exaggeration. Counter it by quantifying it instead of using words like huge, awful, massive  or minuscule; for example instead of saying massive debt , you could say I owe $24000.

Mind Reading is when you assume what the other person is thinking without actually checking it out with them; you might think your friend didn’t smile at you because he or she is mad with you when in actual fact your friend is having a bad abdominal cramps from eating something that didn’t agree with him or her. You have to counter it by checking it out with the party involve or regarded your assumption as a hypothesis until further confirmation or refutation is available.

Magnifying is another form of exaggeration, where degree or intensity of the problem is overinflated; like minor criticism become scathing criticism, minor obstacles become overwhelming barriers etc. However , your ability to cope with the problem is minimized.This pattern creates a feeling of doom and pessimism which give rise to anxiety. You can counter this kind of thinking by convincing yourself or saying to yourself that ” I can cope” and “I can survive this”

Personalization thinking is when you frequently compare yourself with others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking  and so on. You view your own worth as dependent on how you measure up to others. Then you become anxious worrying whether you can actually do measure up to others. You have to catch yourself comparing yourself to others and remind yourself that everyone has strong and weak points. By matching your weak points to someones strong points would be very demoralizing and anxiety provoking.

“Shoulds” are when you have rules about how you and other people should act. If other people don’t follow the rules it angers you and if you don’t follow the rule then you feel guilty; ” I should be a perfect friend, parent and spouse ” , “I should act nice and never display anger”  etc. The personal code of conduct is so demanding that it is impossible to live up to it.  When the you fall short of this demanding conduct it is anxiety provoking. Counter this kind of thinking by avoiding words like should, ought, have to or must. Try to use words like prefer. So you prefer to be a perfect friend , parent or spouse etc.


Coping with Anxiety

Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano

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Leave a comment


  1. Cathy Edmundson

     /  December 23, 2011

    Mind Reading… I have learned to never assume what a person is thinking because not everyone thinks the same way and what you think and what I think are two very different things. I also have to tell myself to stop using the “should” word on myself so much. Instead I use the word “maybe” but now I will use the word prefer. Love this post!!!

    • The buddist call it “being mindful” of what we say and what we think. It is indeed good habit to get into. I know I have to do more of it myself.

  2. Wilma

     /  December 23, 2011

    I’ve been “guilty” of every one of these distorted patterns of thought!
    But I have also discovered that doing the positive self talk is just as powerful as doing the negative self talk and it is certainly a lot more enjoyable and beneficial to myself and others to do the positive thinking!


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