10 Common Anxious Thought Patterns & How to Overcome Them

Whether you struggle with anxiety or not, we are all susceptible to distorted thinking. If you’ve ever found yourself harping on the negative of a situation or blaming yourself for something that’s out of your control, know you’re not alone.

We tell ourselves stories based on experiences, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the reality. The first step in overcoming these thought patterns (also known as cognitive distortion) is to recognize them. Becoming self aware is crucial to dealing with any kind of anxiety, but it takes time and patience. As a result of self awareness, you’ll be able to catch the anxious thought before it consumes you. When you first notice yourself jumping to a negative conclusion or focusing on a negative thought, take a minute to pause. Are these thoughts based on facts? Is that conclusion absolute? Asking these questions will help you break down these thoughts and redirect them into something more positive and productive.

It’s in our nature to be hard on ourselves. Of course we want to be the best we can be (at work, with our friends and family, etc). Especially in the very instant and connected world we live in today, it’s easy to be critical of yourself. You might misinterpret something from a friend because you overanalyzed their text message. Another example would be feeling like we have to strive for perfection based on what we see on social media. Although technology has done so much to bring us together and keep us informed, it’s also done a lot of harm to our self-esteem. But here at Empowered, we’re not going to let it take us down.

So with that said, we wanted to share some common anxious patterns you may encounter. And don’t worry if you do, because we have tips for each one on how to overcome them.

1. All or nothing thinking

This is when you give yourself only two options and one is good while the other is bad. There’s no middle ground or grey area. An example this would be telling yourself you’re going to be single forever because you’ve had unsuccessful relationship. Absolute (or “polarized) thinking will get you nowhere. Therefore, remembering that middle ground or grey area will help you shift your perspective. Using words like “always” or “never” only fuel these anxious thought patterns. Try giving yourself some self-compassion. Because at the end of the day, you deserve it.

2. Over generalizing

When it seems like if one thing goes wrong, everything will go wrong. Let’s say you made a mistake at work and you start spiraling — is this going to get me fired? If I get fired, am I going to be able to get another job? How am I going to pay my rent?  Instead of getting to the point of having to ask your self all of those questions, just know that not everything in life is going to go your way. And that’s okay. It’s not what happens to you but how you deal with it. It’s important to recognize that just because an experience is unpleasant or doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

3. Relying on emotional reasoning

When you tell yourself how you feel is the way you are. “I was sad at work today therefor I’m a sad person.” Certainly, this isn’t true…but when we get wrapped up in our emotions, we tend to come to these unreasonable conclusions about ourselves. Above all, we need to remember our emotions occur as a response to conditions of the moment. They are not permanent (even if it feels like they are). Don’t let your emotions identify you.

4. Catastrophizing

This would be blowing something out of proportion or magnifying the importance of what is happening. This often occurs when we are trying to accomplish something and it’s not going our way. As a result, we make something into a bigger deal than it is, when we could be focusing our energy into something more positive. A shift in perspective here is all is takes. If these type of thoughts are something you encounter often, here’s a great article about how to put a stop to catastrophic thinking.

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5. Mentally filtering

If you got 7 compliments today but overheard one negative comment about yourself, it’s easy to focus on that negative comment. We tend to quite literally filter out the positives (or at least downplay them) and dwell on the negatives. This even goes for online reviews. If you had a bad experience somewhere, you’re more likely to write a negative review online. In contrast, if you had a positive experience, you may not be as likely to take the time to write that review. Although focusing on the positive can help counter all of these thought patterns, it’s especially pertinent for this one. We can’t control everything in our lives but we can control our attitudes, thoughts and emotions. So if you find yourself filtering out those positives, try redirecting that thought into filtering out the negatives.

6. Disqualifying the positive

While filtering ignores the positives, this thought pattern turns those positives into negatives. An example would be getting praise on a project from a co-worker —a positive, right? But you’ve convinced yourself they only told you that you did a good job because they’re buttering you up so they can be promoted. To counter this way of negative thinking, give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s is a simple way to calm the anxious mind.

7. Labeling yourself and others

Labels tend to lead to overgeneralization. “I’m irresponsible.” “He’s unreasonable.” We know that no one is just one thing, so let’s not use labels that infer that. Be sure to remind yourself that labels just make us and others feel bad and there’s no reason to fuel the fire with them.

8. Jumping to conclusions

Even those who don’t struggle with anxiety jump to conclusions. Immediately going to that negative outcome, even if it’s not supported by any facts. Like thinking someone is talking bad about you when there’s no proof of that. Simply asking yourself, “am I sure this is happening?” is one way to prevent this thought from escalating.

9. Using “should” statements

When you tell yourself you should or shouldn’t do something, what is this based off of? What is the real motivator for these actions? Realize that everything is circumstantial and just because you didn’t do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should have. Don’t let this reasoning make you feel like a failure. Instead of using “should” statements, figure about what’s truly beneficial for you. Without a doubt, put yourself first.

10. Personalization

When you see yourself as the cause of an external negative event. For example, if you don’t think your friends are having a good time when you’re all out together, it’s your fault. We tend to take things very personally. But once you’re able to separate how you feel vs. how others feel, we’re able to ease up on that self-blame. To stop personalization, put into perspective what you actually can control. And know you cannot control everything, including other people’s feelings.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is also a great way to take on anxious thought patterns and redirect them into something more useful. Here at Empowered, CBT is our specialty and we’re here to help you show anxiety who’s boss — one thought at a time. Schedule an appointment with one of our therapists today.


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