3 Simple Strategies To Challenge Anxious ThoughtsFeb 25, 2022
Stuck anxiety can be a nasty little beast. Not only does it keep looping in a vicious cycle but it is easily fuelled by negative, anxious thoughts. In fact, those "what if" questions you keep asking yourself about an unwanted future outcome are high octane fuel for your anxiety. So here are 3 simple strategies to challenge anxious thoughts.
What Are Anxious Thoughts?
Anxiety is not an emotional response that is focussed on the present. It is very rare that we feel anxious about something happening in THIS moment.
More often than not, the anxiety is about something we anticipate happening in the near or distant future. And it generally comes with a negative outcome.
"Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly experiencing failure in advance" - Seth Godin
So anxious thoughts are usually those that start with "What if?" and end in an unwanted outcome.
They haven't occurred (and maybe never will) but we tend to get caught up in them as if they are inevitable. And all this does is fuel anxiety.
Your Brain Cannot Differentiate Between Real VS Imagined
When you engage in these anxious thoughts your brain responds to the thoughts as if they are happening NOW.
Your brain doesn't stop you and say "Hey! This isn't a fact".
Your brain goes right along with the thoughts and starts freaking out with you. And so the two of you (along with your anxious thoughts) continue to create more anxiety.
Attaching To The Thoughts Makes Them Feel Like Facts
There is a term in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy "Cognitive Fusion", which really means attaching to thoughts.
When you become cognitively fused with your thoughts then you behave as if those thoughts are the basis for all reality. You begin to make decisions and take actions based on the thoughts, rather than the information you obtain from your 5 senses and the world out there.
The problem with cognitive fusion is that the anxious thoughts you're having become your reality and this is exactly how anxiety gets stuck.
This is why we need to learn to challenge anxious thoughts.
3 Simple Strategies To Challenge Anxious Thoughts
Before embarking on any of these strategies it is first necessary to separate yourself from the anxious thoughts.
1. Realise thoughts are just thoughts.
This is rule number one. Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are simply evaluations and judgements, beliefs, attitudes and self-talk. But they are never facts. The problem is that your thoughts have the power to affect your reality so it can begin to feel like they are facts. But first things first: Keep reminding yourself that your thoughts are just that: Thoughts!
2. Your thoughts are for sale
Imagine that each thought you have is for sale. Every time you have a thought you should ask yourself "Do I want to buy this thought?". And then ask yourself "What will this thought cost me?". Evaluating your thoughts in this way allows you to view them as useful or not. It also puts you back in control of your thoughts - deciding which ones you wish to keep or discard.
3. Ask "So What?"
"What if" questions don't ever come with an answer. They are always rhetorical - have you noticed? We tend to ask the question but never follow through with answering what would happen if the unwanted outcome were to occur. So there is this black hole at the other end of the question. And it feels frightening. To be avoided.
However, when we go a little further and ask ourselves "well, so what? What will we do if x, y or z actually happens" you may be surprised. You see, more often than not, there isn't actually a catastrophic event that will befall us if this unwanted thing happens. In fact, you might find that you are more than able to cope with it and just move on.
So the next time you are wrung up in "what if" questions, challenge the anxiety and ask it "so what?" and see what happens.
Your anxiety becomes stuck when your thoughts become stuck. And when thoughts begin to feel like reality then we have a breeding ground for stuck anxiety.
The only way to stop the vicious cycle is to take a critical look at those anxious thoughts and use strategies to challenge them.
If you are interested in stopping the vicious cycles of anxiety then be sure to grab the new e-book "Overcoming Anxiety With E.A.S.E." available by clicking here