Anxiety and Thinking Patterns

Anxiety and panic attacks seem to be a common thread for people who access counselling.

They are conditions that can come upon you really quickly with no warning, or otherwise constantly sit with you like a second skin. Generally these conditions can present themselves as a tightness in the chest, shallow breathing, tears/anger, or most often a barrage of negative thinking.

What causes Anxiety?

Many things, is the short answer. It can be because we feel emotionally or physically unsafe and don’t know what to do, we are worried about our children, we find socialising difficult, or we are feeling overwhelmed with our work or home life responsibilities.

But what Really causes it?

Our thinking patterns. Thinking negatively about either a situation or about ourselves is the fundamental cause for anxiety.

Research has shown that we can ‘think ourselves sick’. It also shows that people who are more positive are likely to protect themselves against the physical impact of stress. (The Power of Positive Thinking, John Hopkins University 2019).

How often do you walk/drive down the street and realise ‘Oh I am already here’. This is because we are not mindful of where our thoughts have gone. Our thoughts take their own little journey meandering through the unconscious worries and beliefs, and that internal voice inside of us – and is not usually even noticed until we feel some physical symptoms. Too often in our thoughts we over-estimate the ‘problems and worries’, and under-estimate our own inner ability to combat it!

Creating New Habits

There are some simple keys to short circuiting our negative thinking patterns and feelings of anxiety.

Practice mindfulness: At the first sign of feeling anxious, slow your breathing down. Focus on your breathing, notice it as you breathe in slowly, hold for a few seconds, notice where you can feel it, then let it out. Ensure you are not just still thinking about the problem, but actually the mechanics of breathing!

Ask yourself ‘What is making me feeling like this? What am I thinking about, what is the cause of this?’. Getting curious teaches us to notice our thinking patterns.

Acknowledge how you are feeling: Don’t just dismiss it. What you are feeling is real so acknowledging it for what it is, is a great step.

Identify if it’s something that is in your control or if it’s not:

  • If you are thinking about something that is out of your control (such as someone else’s behaviour, past events etc):
    • Acknowledge how you are feeling;
    • Slow your breathing;
    • And remind yourself with some statements such as: ‘This is nothing that I can control’, or ‘I have done my best’. Get into a habit of having a few key statements you can draw on for these moments. Remember it’s a waste of valuable energy when you are focusing on things outside your control. We can only solve what’s in our Sphere of Influence, everything else we can only control how we respond to it. Shifting the way you think about something will help you to develop a new habit that is more beneficial to your wellbeing.
  • If you are thinking about something that is in your control, here are a couple of key steps. Firstly write it down, put it as a task. If you keep thinking about it remind yourself ‘it’s under control’, or ‘nothing I need to worry about now’. Secondly, manage your negative thinking about yourself, do not get stuck in a pattern of beating yourself up over things.

In Summary

Remember it takes a habit and time to change how we think about things. But key points such as identifying what is the real thing causing the anxiety, identifying if it’s something in or outside of your control, and then ‘flipping your thinking’ to more proactive thoughts, will help send those negative thoughts running.