Negative thinking is the cornerstone of an anxiety disorder. Many people with anxiety have severe problems with anxious and irrational thinking - thoughts that many know are irrational, and yet they struggle to convince themselves of the more logical and reasoned response.
In many ways, anxiety is specifically a problem with irrational thoughts. Anxiety is, in many ways, a fear of irrational things. At its heart, those that deal with anxiety are often trying to control and contain severe negative thoughts that can have a drastic impact on their overall quality of life.
Are You Thinking Irrationally?
Anxiety is a devastating disorder, with worries and fears that you know you are overreacting to, and yet you cannot help but still continue those concerns.
If you feel like your irrational thoughts are going out of control, take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety, compare it to others, and find out how to stop irrational thinking.
Anxious Thoughts Are Behavioral And Genetic
Anxiety is a condition that's prone to both physical and emotional consequences. It causes you to feel as though there are things you cannot control, and fear various problems that may not even exist, and worry about things more than they deserve.
There are many different types of irrational thoughts with anxiety, and each disorder tends to be more prone to some than others. Our free 7 minute anxiety test will determine the type of anxiety affecting you and help you understand irrational thoughts more
When we talk about irrational thoughts, we're talking about thoughts were the fear, the degree of importance, and the chance of occurrence are all disproportionate to what they deserve. For example:
- Health Fears - "My heart's beating fast - I may be having a heart attack!"
- General Worries - "I haven't heard from my mother. I hope her heart hasn't given out."
- Social Concerns - "If I go to the party, I am going to embarrass myself and become an outcast."
- Incorrect Beliefs - "I touched a doorknob. I am going to get sick!"
- Phobias - "That spider may kill me!"
Most are much more subtle than this, of course. A common health fear, for example, may be convincing yourself that you might have a serious disease like multiple sclerosis based on a few mild symptoms. Or worrying that if you wear a certain type of shoes people are going to judge you and this will have an effect on your life. Any thought that is overblown or not based in rationality is an example of an irrational thought.
Where these thoughts originate is a bit harder to understand. The common belief is that they are some combination of genetic and environmental.
Genetic Cause of Irrational Thoughts
By genetic, we're not talking about something you can't change. More like something that you were more prone to. Not everyone with a genetic predisposition to anxiety and irrational thoughts is going to have them.
But yes, it does appear that many people are genetically prone to irrational thoughts. The most likely culprit is neurotransmitter balance in your brain. As much as human beings would like to believe that their thought processes are only affected by intelligence, the truth is that neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) affect a way a thought is received, processed, and saved. If your neurotransmitters are out of balance, your thoughts may genuinely change as a result.
Environmental Cause or Irrational Thoughts
Irrational thoughts are likely also caused by your environment as well. By environment, we're talking about everything you've ever experienced, seen, heard, etc.
For example, news reports of premature deaths could lead to fears over health. An embarrassing moment in front of your friends may lead to fears of social embarrassment. A bad relationship may lead to incorrect assumptions and beliefs regarding other relationships.
It may not be that simple either. Studies have shown that long term stress (ie, working at a place you hate) can actually create anxiety, and thus create irrational thoughts. Something must go on in your body or with your thought processes as a result of this type of stress. It's likely that experiences create negative thinking, which in turn causes irrational thinking.
Irrational Thoughts Can Be Mild or Severe
Finally, it's important to note that anything can be an irrational thought. Some people simply worry over minor things they expect to occur over the day. Others have extremely irrational thoughts, like the belief that they may hurt someone even though they don't have any desire to cause anyone harm. All of these are likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and all of them can be caused by anxiety.
How to Overcome Irrational Thoughts
The first step in overcoming irrational thoughts is being done simply by reading this article - recognizing you have irrational thoughts. One of the problems with anxiety is that it changes your thoughts to such a degree that they don't feel irrational at the time. They feel completely normal.
By recognizing they're irrational, you are successfully telling your anxiety that you know it's affecting you. Sometimes the simple act of recognizing that you have irrational thoughts is all you need to see changes taking place.
Of course, the problem is that at the time, these thoughts often seem rational. It's not usually until later that you realize how incorrect they likely are. That's why you need to also make sure that you stay aware in the moment.
Mindfulness to Overcome Irrational Thoughts
Experts recommend starting with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of recognizing when you have anxiety and then trying to also recognize all of the symptoms and thoughts that go with it.
For example, when you have anxiety and then suddenly you have a negative thought, don't act on it right away. Instead, sit and write the thought down and try to understand how likely it is. Focus on both the thought itself and the more likely and plausible reaction you should have had to the event.
Perhaps you cannot stop thinking about the negative thought. That's okay - you have anxiety. If you didn't, you wouldn't have these thoughts in the first place. So even if the act of writing it down and coming to the more logical conclusion doesn't work, reminding yourself that it's okay for you to have these fears because you have a disorder that causes them to occur is perfectly acceptable. Trying to fight yourself and feel shame will only make it worse.
You'll also need to commit to some treatment designed to cure your anxiety forever. I've helped thousands of people with irrational thoughts completely reduce their anxiety through my anxiety test. It will look at your symptoms and draw you up a plan to control them.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.