“Negativity is cannibalistic. The more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it grows”
Anxiety and panic attacks are driven by your negative emotions and these emotions are powered by your thoughts.
The number one culprit for your negative emotions comes from unrealistic negative thinking.
This is a distortion of your thoughts through subconsciously learning to always ‘fear the worst’.
To beat anxiety and panic you must tackle its route cause………your thinking.
When you think about your problems with a positive and realistic thought process you change your emotions for the better. You then feel better because your anxiety no longer has the fuel it requires to exist.
In this 3 part series we will be looking at the following:
- What is unrealistic negative thinking and how do you spot when you are doing it
- How to stop your unrealistic negative thinking and change to a more realistic positive way of thinking
- How to use your new realistic and positive thoughts to achieve what you want
To get the most out of this series you will need to read the posts in order. However, just reading all 3 articles will not be enough, you will need to have understood and carried out the practical side numerous times before you are ready to progress to the next article.
In short, it requires time and effort on your behalf.
What is unrealistic negative thinking?
Throughout our lives we will all face situations which cause a high level of worry and distress.
The loss of someone close, the break up of a relationship or losing your home due to debts, to name but a few.
This can lead to negative thinking about your current circumstances and the future.
These issues are all things which are perfectly normal to feel stressed, worried, anxious and even panicked about.
A low level of worry about smaller things can also be a good thing. It is there to remind you that there might be bigger issues ahead if you do not get something smaller done now.
It’s the ‘level’ of worry over normal everyday occurrences that is the problem for most people facing anxiety.
Worrying incessantly over every little problem, disappointment or set back is not healthy. It’s how we allow our thoughts to interpret these events that create our negative emotions and therefore how anxious we are going to feel.
Unrealistic negative thinking is when we allow most if not all of our problems to make us feel bad. Problems and situations which a non anxious person would not feel has any (or very little) effect on their emotions.
It’s known as catastrophising, and anxiety and panic sufferers do it very well.
Here are a couple of examples:
Is it normal to be annoyed when a friend drops out last minute from your planned evening out?
Is it helpful to still be wound up and feeling frustrated or even angry with them five hours later?
No, of course not.
But if all you’ve done in those hours is constantly think about it, letting your thoughts of annoyance continue then that is exactly how you’re going to feel.
Is it normal to feel concerned about a meeting with your boss the next day because your sales have been down?
Is it helpful to worry so much you end up telling yourself you’re going to lose your job, that no one else will employ you and that you’ll have nowhere to live if you cannot pay your bills?
No, it’s not.
But if you allow your negative thoughts to spiral out of control you can make any situation feel like the end of the world.
By overplaying every problem you are simply causing your anxiety to grow. Eventually your negative thoughts and emotions get to such a point that they can then cause you physical symptoms of distress.
Why is it important to quickly spot your unrealistic negative thinking?
To reduce your level of anxiety you must either stop your current thought processes or alter them in to better ones.
However, before you can do that you must learn to spot when you are having the unrealistic negative thoughts in the first place.
This is easier said then done because those thoughts, no matter how twisted, feel very real at the time.
I am calling them ‘unrealistic negative thoughts’ rather than just negative thoughts, because many people with anxiety know their thoughts are negative, but they do not feel they are unrealistic.
In other words, they believe what their thoughts are telling them is true, no matter how absurd. They often also feel these thoughts are helping to protect them………..they of course are not.
All they are doing is creating the negative emotions which feeds the anxiety and feelings of panic in their lives.
If you can relate with one or more of the following, then learning to spot your unrealistic negative thinking is a must:
- You worry about a large variety and number of things
- You spend an excessive amount of time worrying about things
- You worry so much you experience physical symptoms of anxiety
- You feel anxious most of the time, even when there is nothing specific on your mind
- You worry about the physical symptoms of anxiety – that you’re ill or losing your mind
By learning to spot your negative thinking you can then take the next step to untwisting those thoughts. You’ll be able to stop them, or even better to replace them with positive and productive thoughts.
These positive thoughts not only make you feel better, but they also help you do and achieve more. This is key to not just being able to stop your unrealistic negative thoughts when you get them, but stopping them happening to begin with.
The number one way to spot unrealistic thinking
I have found there is one clear way to spot unrealistic negative thinking, no matter what the thought or worry is about.
What is this?
The speed of your thoughts
This incorporates 2 parts:
- The speed at which your negative thoughts are triggered in response to a situation or event
- The speed at which your negative thoughts lead to new negative thoughts and so on
I call it having a rushing mind and it’s often coupled with that impending sense of doom.
When everything is flowing through your brain at such a speed that it’s impossible to make any real sense of your thoughts. All you know is that you feel under threat.
Even when you are just feeling lower level general anxiety for no apparent reason, as soon as you start to think about why you’re feeling bad the thoughts start to flow.
Each new thought then leads to another more negative and unrealistic thought and often, no matter what the initial trigger is, you are left with the same result:
The feeling you will be unable to cope.
When you do this you are using the part of your brain responsible for emotional thinking and behaviour. This part of the brain fires up quickly when it feels under threat and is responsible for triggering the flight or fight response.
It is also much stronger and overrides the part of your brain you use for logical and rational thinking. It is this that makes it very difficult to break out of a spiral of unrealistic negative thinking.
When you are feeling little or no anxiety and you are faced with a challenge, a complex task or a puzzle you use your logical and rational mind to tackle it.
Think about a time you did this, perhaps it was doing a crossword, learning to drive or a new skill you needed to learn for work.
As you did this were your thoughts rushing through your head, or were you slowly and methodically working out the problem?
I already know the answer.
If you were not in anyway already anxious at the time, you were thinking slowly and methodically. Using a logical thought process to help you.
Anxiety is brought about by the rapid and illogical thoughts rushing through your mind. Those thoughts and feelings they give you feel very real., you believe them.
But by continuing to allow them, you create the stress they put on your mind which can make you feel physically ill.
Dizziness, shaking, sweating, racing heart, bad vision to name but a few.
By now you are too concerned with how you feel to be able to use your logical mind to spot how unrealistic your thoughts have become.
It’s almost as if the anxiety is being clever, able to not only make you feel bad, but also capable of stopping you being able to use your logical mind to dispel its lies.
Why is this so useful?
When you are in the grip of anxiety or panic it is very hard to compose yourself and think logically about a situation.
Your thoughts are coming thick and fast and you need something which despite this is very clear to spot.
Noticing the speed of your thoughts is something which can do just that. As soon as you start to get that overwhelming feeling of anxiety you must stop for just a second and ask yourself………….are these thoughts slow and methodical, or are they just rushing through my mind?
It takes time and practice to be able to do this, but once you have you must then tell yourself the following:
When I’m feeling anxious and my thoughts are coming thick and fast they are almost certainly going to be negative and unrealistic – they are not the truth!
This can even be true of positive thoughts. When you are all worked up and excited about something your mind often flies off thinking this and that. It’s not until later that you realise you might have got ahead of yourself and it’s not actually as straightforward as you thought.
In the mind of an anxious person the feelings of anxiety rise when we allow our thoughts to run too fast. They become unrealistic and negative because we are not allowing ourselves time to be logical about what our thoughts are saying.
My advice is to write down the rule above and have it to hand so that you can read it the next time you spot your racing mind.
The first step to reducing anxiety is being able to spot the unrealistic negative thoughts which drive it.
The more you do this, the quicker and easier it will become to spot them each time they occur.
You must practice, practice, practice. It is no good just to read this, nod your head in agreement and forget it.
To be able to move on to the next step you must be able to spot yourself doing it. Not afterwards thinking back a few hours later, but when you are those thoughts.
Once you can do that you will be ready to learn how to stop those thoughts and replace them with more positive ways of thinking. This is what we will be talking about next in part 2 of this series.
Part 2 is now available HERE
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