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 because of 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, anxiety-producing thoughts can be a good first first step. Check out common scenarios and thought patterns below.

Assuming that something is going to go wrong.

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

Counter thought:

"Feelings aren't always facts. Just because I feel like something bad is about to happen, doesn't mean that it's a 100% guarantee that it will.

But in the event that the worst would happen in this situation, how would I deal? Would it really be the end of me? How could I help myself?"

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

Needing to be in control of situations at all times.

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

       Counter thought:

“It is hard for me to feel like I am so out of control. It makes me seem like I'm helpless. But I'm really not.  I’m going to find one way that I am in 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. Are they mad at me? They must be mad... Oh gosh, I really screwed up. I can't believe I messed this 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.”

Learn healthy ways of communicating and challenging assumption-based thinking. If you are naturally more sensitive and/or blame yourself frequently, catching your tendency to personalize situations 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. What if they think I don't care or that I don't really know anything? I don't know how much longer they will keep me around/I'm going to fail."

         Counter thought:

“Everybody makes mistakes, even the best of the best. Is it really true that a few errors would mean a failing grade or that I'll lose my job? What is my work/school performance overall?”

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’.

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'm so crazy.”

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.

Learn to normalize feeling of anxiety as well as challenge “labeling” (i.e. “I always feel this way,  “I am so crazy.").

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, biological make-up, and personality type make us more predisposed to certain ways of thinking. However we can always craft a more helpful second response to calm us down.