Q: What is possibly the worst thinking habit people with anxiety engage in?
A: The tendency to overestimate the intensity and duration of their emotional reactions to future negative events, deciding the impact will be much greater than it is in actuality.
Ouch. We punish ourselves in advance. All. The. Time.
How can you stop or at least mitigate this unhappy habit? And it is a habit–make no mistake about that.
First you have to develop the awareness that is what you are doing. You are engaging in the “What ifs.”
Second, you must back up. You must back up and take a look at what on earth sent you spiraling. What thoughts or story about some event that occurred or person in your life are you telling yourself? You might think of it as sending out a boomerang, but you have the awesome ability to catch it, and hold on to it, and examine it before you toss it out into the cosmos again and just let it hit you in the head upon return. Again, ouch.
And lastly, when you latch onto the idea that caused the anxiety you have the outstanding opportunity to examine it, step back, and question the truth of your self-told story. Is it true? Does it matter? Are you taking responsibility for someone else’s emotions or decisions? Is there action you can take besides worrying that will change the situation? Are you spending a world of time second guessing something you did or said? Will it kill you? By the way, a round of anxiety never killed anyone, nor has a panic attack, even though it sure can feel like a trip to the emergency room is in order!
But it is not. You can learn a few coping skills to help initially, and then you can get to work–the real work of changing your relationship to your anxiety. You will learn to stay in the present, with “What is” vs the “What ifs” that make you feel a little crazy. This is hard work, but worth it. Wouldn’t it be nice if you owned the anxiety instead of it owning you? That is the goal, and it is totally doable.