Monday, December 26, 2016

4 Ways Your Thinking Can REDUCE Your Anxiety

We all have an internal dialogue. There's the good guy on one shoulder that says you're great, and the bad guy on the other that says you're an idiot. When the bad guy drowns out the good guy, anxiety results. The bad guy offers a lot of self-criticism, like, people will think I'm stupid, awkward, selfish, or, you fill in the blank.

Instead of allowing the negativity to drown out positive self-statements, cognitive strategies for anxiety reduction help us reframe, dispute or otherwise convert self-criticism into positive or neutral self-statements. It works like this:

1.  Notice what you're thinking. This is always the first step. Sometimes you realize you're feeling anxious and you haven't even been aware that your thinking is triggering that anxiety with self-doubt. Just noticing that you're thinking something (for example, When the boss said I looked tired I said I had a late night instead of telling him I was just deep in thought, now he's going to think I'm..) may help you realize that it's no big deal.

2. Consider the alternative. Let's say you notice the thought and it still seems problematic. Maybe the boss is going to think you're blowing off your work by staying out too late, but what's another possibility? Perhaps everyone comes in tired some days and she was just expressing concern. Given your strong work record, why would she doubt you?

3.  Problem-solve. Sometimes anxiety really does have a purpose. That purpose is not to ruin your day but to alert you to something you need to change, address or otherwise deal with. So let's say you fear your boss might think you're blowing off work because you often stay out late, come in tired and aren't as productive as you could be. That's a problem that can be solved. You know what you need to do and worrying about what the boss thinks isn't it. You need to get more rest, come in energized and get it done.

4. Let go of worry. Most worries are about things that could actually happen. Your kid might get into a car accident, you might have cancer or you might become destitute. These things could conceivably happen. But are they likely? Probably not so much. This type of worry, the "what if" kind, doesn't lead to problem-solving. These are the worries you need to learn to let go. It's helpful to name the thought as a worry, note that it's not likely and remind yourself that thinking further about it is not useful. Distracting yourself from the thought by moving on to an activity that will mentally engage you is one way to let go. Acknowledging that a thought is not a fact, it's just a thought, is another step toward letting go.

These are steps to take to start working with your negative thinking, and flipping it, so your good guy drowns out your bad guy. Coupling this strategy with reducing your physical anxiety by practicing relaxation or meditation and exercise, in any combination, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet is a great start to living anxiety-free.

To learn more about cognitive behavioral approaches to anxiety and depression:
Read: Mind Over Mood, by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky

Judith Tutin, PhD, ACC, is a licensed psychologist and certified life coach. Connect with her at to arrange psychotherapy to reduce the anxiety in your life (Georgia Residents only please).

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