How to Challenge Anxious Thoughts
In many cases, we worry over things that never actually happen, or our worries are triggered by very harmless situations.
This post will show you how you can take time to think rationally through things that worry us. Then we can see if our fears are valid or just a product of our very active imagination.
You’ll learn two main thinking techniques:
- How to ask yourself questions to counter negative thinking
- How to identify and avoid wrong thinking patterns that lead to worry and fear.
We’ll begin with some of the questions you can ask yourself whenever you start getting worried.
5 questions to ask yourself to counter negative thoughts
- Is this thought true? What evidence do I have to conclude whether or not it’s true?
- Is there a more logical or realistic way of looking at the situation that’s also positive?
- What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen? If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
- Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
- What would I say to a friend who had this exact worry?
By asking these questions, it’s easy to catch any unnecessary reason to worry. That way, we’ll be able to give ourselves more opportunities to enjoy our lives in the moment.
And as Paul advises us, we’ll be able to tame any negative imagination and bring every thought to obedience to God (2 Corinthians 10:5).
There are also tools that have been developed to help you identify wrong thinking patterns.
One of the most commonly used in Counselling and Psychology is the “cognitive distortions.”
Here are brief descriptions for some of them:
The 10 Mental distortions
1. All-or-nothing thinking
Categorizing things as either black-or-white, with no middle ground. For example, saying, “If everything is not perfect, I’m a total failure.”
Where we draw conclusions from a single negative experience, expecting it to be the same for all future experiences.
For example, saying, “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.”
3. Mental filters
Where one focuses on the negatives while filtering out the positives.
For example, when one notices the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
4. Discounting the positive
Where one comes up with reasons why positive events don’t count.
For example, saying, “I did well on the presentation, but that was just luck.”
5. Mind reading and fortune telling
Making negative interpretations of people and events without having actual evidence. Or predicting a negative outcome from an encounter even before it happens.
For example, saying, “I can tell she doesn’t like me.”
This is where you expect the worst-case scenario to happen.
t’s also called the binocular trick, where one exaggerates their problems and mistakes, while minimizing the importance of their good qualities.
7. Emotional reasoning
Believing that the way you feel reflects reality, when it’s not always the case.
An example is someone saying, “I feel like such a fool. Everyone must be laughing at me.”
8. Should statements
Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules.
For example, someone saying, “I should never have tried starting a conversation with her. I’m such a bad speaker.”
This is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. You end up attaching negative traits to yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings.
People with this thought pattern often tell themselves things like: “I’m a failure; I’m boring; I deserve to be alone.”
10. Personalization and blame
Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control.
For example, a parent saying, “It’s my fault my son got in an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.”
We all have had these distortions at one point or another. Maybe you are reading through them and identifying the ones that make you spin.
The good news is that for each of these lies that we tell ourselves, God has a truth in His Word to counter it. Truths found in His promises that set us free to enjoy every moment of our lives as a blessing from Him (John 8:32).
Then you can live your life worry-free and fearless, and experience the joy of living to the fullest (John 10:10b).
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