Common Anxiety Provoking Thoughts (And How to Deal With Them)

We all get stressed and anxious at times making it hard to see a situation for what it is really is due to unhelpful, yet common thought patterns. Learning to challenge the notion that all thoughts are completely true (even if you swear that is the case in the moment) is one way of being able to calm yourself down.

While managing anxiety long-term oftentimes takes a holistic approach addressing mind-body-spirit, being aware of some common, yet anxiety-producing thoughts can be a beneficial first step. Check out common scenarios and thought patterns below.

Predicting that something is always going to go wrong.

“I’m so anxious. Something is going to go wrong; I just know it! I can feel it. ”

Counter thought:

“There are ups-and-downs to life, but just because I feel like something bad about to happen, doesn't mean that it's a 100% guarantee that it will. What’s the worst thing that could happen in this situation? If that did happen, how would I manage? Now that I’ve decided that, all I can do is focus my attention on what’s happening now."

Naming your worst fear in a situation as well as how you will cope in the event that it would actually happen, helps to instill confidence and quell anxiety. Then, incorporating mindfulness or grounding techniques that bring yourself back to the present moment helps move you from those pesky anxious thoughts of doom and gloom.

Needing to be in control of situations at all times and feeling helpless when you are not in control.

“I can’t handle being out of control. I literally cannot stand this. I don’t know what’s going to happen and I absolutely can’t bear it.”

       Counter thought:

“It is hard for me to feel like I am so out of control, because it makes me feel helpless.  I’m going to find one way that I am in control, and I know how I react is my decision and within my control. I can acknowledge this is hard for me, and also find one way to deal with this (i.e. get outside or for a walk to get my mind off things, talk to a friend, book a session with my therapist, etc.)."

Instead of staying stuck in feeling helpless, focus on how you can reduce your distress and find more practical ways to cope with anxious feelings. (Because let's be honest, overthinking constantly just isn't practical or helpful.)

Assuming your loved ones are upset with you.

“_______  isn’t answering my texts or phone calls. I really shouldn’t have shared what was truly on my mind. Are they mad or disappointed with me? They must be mad... Oh gosh, I really screwed up."

Counter thought:

“I am not sure why ______ isn’t responding. It could be for a number of reasons. I can wait a reasonable amount of time (end of work day, etc), and then always ask what is going on. I will not assume or pretend to mind-read.”

Learning healthy ways to communicate and clarify as well as to challenge a tendency to personalize or assume can ease anxiety. Mind-reading gets us in an unnecessary tizzy, and if you are naturally more sensitive and/or blame yourself frequently, catching your automatic personalization response is important.

If by chance you have made your loved one upset, then you can work to understand both you and your partner's experience, have compassion and understanding for what is/was going on with you that made you act that way, choose to learn from the interaction, and move forward.

Making a mistake in the school or work setting.

“I’m so stupid. I can’t believe I sent that paper/report out with all those errors. Now everyone thinks I’m incompetent or that I don’t care to do a good job. I don't know how much longer they will keep me around."

         Counter thought:

“Everybody makes mistakes, and in the grand scheme of things, the content of my paper/report was on point. People will recognize that. Next time, I can take time to review carefully and/or have others review. Still, I’ve got to think of the big picture, and the content that I produced is what matters most. I have produced other quality work, and that matters.”

When stuck in self-critical thinking and perfectionism, it is more constructive to see what you can learn from situations and look for the bigger picture .

It is helpful to remind ourselves that we hold onto our criticisms longer than anyone, and that people generally forget any perceived ‘‘mistakes’ others make quickly.

Being anxious about feeling anxious and judging yourself for it.

“Gosh, I don’t know why I’m so anxious all the time. What is there to be anxious about? Nothing too terrible has happened. I must be a screw up.”

Counter thought:

“I notice that I am anxious, and I can recall times in the past where I wasn’t as anxious as I am now. Being anxious is also normal and can be helpful at times; it affirms that I care and want things to turn out.”

Being judgmental and critical makes anxiety worse; studies show this type of continual thought pattern can lead to elevated stress levels in your body and increased anxiety/depression. Learning to normalize feeling of anxiety as well as challenge “labeling” (i.e. “I always feel this way,  “I am a screw up’) is one way to begin to help you realize that you are not your anxiety or your perceived flaw.

Embarrassing yourself in a social setting.

“I can’t believe I just said/did that! Are they laughing at me? Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I made such a stupid move. I'm such an idiot! I have to get out of here ASAP!!”

Counter thought:

“I am my own worst critic. Others won’t remember in a week/month/year from now what I did... And if they did for some reason remember and they did hold it against me, they aren't people I want to care about. I’m sure they’ve embarrassed themselves at some point. If I don’t make it a big deal, others won’t either.”

Remember, we are not responsible for our initial thoughts, and sometimes our past experiences make us more predisposed to ways of thinking. However we can be responsible and craft a more helpful second response to calm us down.