Anxiety affects more than just the way you feel. It affects the way you think. It alters the way you see yourself, and it changes the way you view your thoughts and your experiences.
What anxiety does is damage your internal dialogue. In a way, it's like a form of self-sabotage. You go about your day putting yourself down and insulting your own inner character. Anxiety has a profound effect on inner dialogue because anxiety naturally makes you less hopeful and less content and relaxed with the things around you.
Below, we'll take a look at the most common negative thought patterns that occur in those with anxiety, and how to stop them.
Top 5 Negative Thought Patterns
"They'll Think I'm a Weak Person."
Often one of the most negative internal dialogue patterns is about how other people will view your anxiety problem. People worry that if others knew of their anxiety, they'd judge them as weak or overly fearful.
The reality is that you're not a mind reader. You have no idea what someone's thinking or how, and often what you infer from the look on someone else's face is completely inaccurate. In addition, how someone else views you should never be your concern. Some people may actually like you more, knowing that you're dealing with something they've dealt with. Others may like you worse because they're overly judgmental and not people you want to consort with anyway. Regardless, caring too much about what others think can only cause you grief, and is the enemy of curing anxiety.
_The Solution_: There are two parts to controlling this type of thinking. The first is to stop being shy about your anxiety. If you're suffering from a panic attack or feeling anxious, tell the person you're with and don't worry what they think. Doing so will take you out of your own head and actually reduce your anxiety. Secondly, if you're worried what someone else thinks, ask them. Talk to them about it. Those that matter will be supportive, and many will actually know where you're coming from.
"I Am Not Normal, and Will Never Be Normal Again."
Anxiety is the enemy of hope. Long-term anxiety can make you feel as though the rest of your life is going to be filled with anxiety symptoms, and anxiety itself tends to create a feeling of hopelessness. You're not different - you're completely normal - but you're suffering from this one, curable condition that at the moment hasn't gone away. It may not feel like there is help out there, but there is, and you're taking the first steps towards finding it right now.
_The Solution_: There is no such thing as normal. Think about the strange things many of your friends do. Maybe they don't suffer from anxiety, but many of them are still "weird" if you really stop and think about who they are as people. "Normal" doesn't exist, and if it did, you would still be normal, because who you are isn't any different just because you deal with anxiety. Talk to your friends about their stresses and you'll find that you have a lot in common with more people than you think.
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"Everything is Going Wrong"
Extreme negativity is a common component of powerful anxiety. It often occurs during and after an anxiety attack and may affect those whose anxiety has become so powerful that they have started to suffer from depression as a result.
Anxiety creates a cycle. It makes you fear to live your life the way you want to live it, and it confirms those fears when you go out and experience anxiety. This internal dialogue is all the fault of anxiety though - these are thoughts that anxiety creates because that's what having an anxiety disorder does to you.
_The Solution_: Teach yourself to notice the positive things that happen every day in your life. No matter how stressful your life is, there are always positives. Did your favorite TV show get renewed? Did you have a nice barista and the coffee shop? Did you have a good breakfast? Every day you're confronted with both positives and negatives. Anxiety causes you to focus on the negatives, but training yourself to notice the positives is the first step towards reducing this negative thought pattern.
"Something Must Be Wrong With Me."
A huge problem occurs when your internal dialogue tells you that something is wrong with you. For some people this is related to anxiety - they become convinced that their anxiety says something about their brain or mind, or about who they are as a person. For others, it's about health - some people tell themselves that it can't be anxiety. They grow to be extremely fearful of their health, convincing themselves they have MS or Lyme Disease or something more serious. All of these make you feel worse about yourself, scared for the future, and inactive in the present.
_The Solution_: Go to the doctor. Check yourself out. See that nothing is wrong with you and that you're in great health. Then, train yourself to take action - to see anxiety as a disease that you can cure. With exercise, behavioral changes, coping strategies, and smart decision making, anxiety is something that you can reduce every day, and by committing to a plan to get rid of it, you'll quickly notice how much less it affects you.
"What If "
Finally, there is the "What If" way of thinking. "What if I die tomorrow?" "What if my boss fires me?" "What if I develop a very serious disease?" This type of thinking has several consequences. It both scares you about the future, causing you to focus too much on the present. Yet it keeps you inactive and nervous in the present because the thoughts are often so overwhelming and so draining that it is hard to do anything else.
_The Solution_: Create plans and goals. Learn how to keep yourself active for today so that you're living without regrets, but also planning for the future so that you're never without hope or the potential for accomplishment. Keeping yourself mentally and physically busy will ensure that you never stop moving forward, and every day you live in a way that makes your life better. You can't control tomorrow. But wasting your day worrying about it accomplishes nothing.
Improving Your Internal Dialogue Takes Time and Effort
Remember, improving your internal dialogue is not something that can be done without effort. Your internal dialogue is what has been coming naturally to you, meaning that unless you start to notice the way your mind focuses on the negatives, you're bound to allow your thoughts to run wild.
But you can control it, and once you do, you'll be taking the first steps towards ridding yourself of anxiety.
To find the next steps, take my free 7-minute anxiety test. The test is designed to help you learn more about your anxiety so that you can come to terms with it and make smart decisions in how to deal with your anxiety symptoms.
Living With Anxiety. Boston University, n.d. Web.
Skinner PT. Skills not pills: learning to cope with anxiety symptoms. J R Coll Gen Pract. 1984 May;34(262):258-60.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 06, 2017.