The Anxious Mind

Avoid your fears and they will grow, move towards them and they will subside.

Written by Sara Nasser

With anxiety we have far more imaginary worries than real ones. Yet somehow every little thought or feeling we have begins to feel incredibly real and magnified when we are in an anxious state. We begin to ruminate over and over in order to find a magical cure to stop these uncomfortable feelings and disturbing thoughts but the truth is, with anxiety, there is no magical cure. All the tools you need to live with and overcome anxiety are already within you. I think it’s best if we start from the beginning. Anxiety usually occurs during a period of time of excessive stress and/or unrealistic worry. In a way, anxiety is our body’s way of talking to us. It is a way to let us know that we are overworking our body/mind and are in desperate need of a break. Unfortunately, many of us don’t listen to this message and continue to worry further about our external circumstances as well as the discomfort and irrational thoughts that anxiety may bring. In order to free yourself from this cycle of worry and panic, it is essential to understand first and foremost that your thought patterns and attitude are incredibly important on your journey to overcome anxiety. Some common thinking patterns that an individual with anxiety may have are:

  • All-or-nothing (Black and White) thinking: You view situations in extremes rather than as a realistic whole.
  • Catastrophizing: You tell yourself that the very worst is happening or is going to happen.
  • Emotional Reasoning: You think something must be true simply because it “feels” true.
  • Overvaluing Thoughts: You give credibility and meaning to senseless or random thoughts.
  • Overvaluing Sensations: You misinterpret bodily sensations as being exaggerated, life-threatening or dangerous.
  • Should Statements: You think in terms of how you, others, or the world “should” be. This type of thinking usually accompanies perfectionism and/or a rigid style of thinking.
  • Discounting the Positive: You minimize or discount any positive feedback or perspective while maintaining a familiar, negative outlook.
  • Beck’s Negative Triad: You have a negative view of the self; negative view of the world; and negative view of the future.
  • Foreclosure: You focus on the possible ways that a situation might end, because it feels too hard to be in a state of uncertainty.

All of these thinking patterns are quite detrimental to not only our happiness but our peace of mind, both of which go hand in hand. Just one negative thought from an anxious mind can send your body into a panic. When you give respect to an anxious or worrisome thought, it can activate your fight or flight response. Your body and mind have been tricked into thinking you are in danger and are preparing you to protect yourself. This is where the other uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety come to play such as a racing heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, blurred vision and feelings of pins and needles. Now you’re probably asking “how can I stop myself from thinking in these negative patterns.” If we’re being honest, you can’t just stop yourself from thinking certain thoughts or control thoughts from coming. This is why it is best to come into this with the mindset of not necessarily stopping these thought patterns, but more so to actively try to practice healthy thought patterns which will eventually overwrite the old negative ones with time.

Having the mindset to try and “stop” these thoughts gives the impression that the thoughts are something to fear or hide away from even though in the grander scheme of things they really amount to nothing. Have you ever wondered why when you try to actively stop an anxious thought from occurring that it often at times comes back louder with more force? That is because anxiety lives off your fear of it. So the next time you have an anxious thought, I don’t want you to try to divert your attention away from it. I want you to welcome it. Sounds impossible right? But look deeper…

When you welcome an anxious thought, you are making the first step to remove the fear from it. The more you welcome an anxious or worrisome thought the less respect you are giving it. I even encourage you to laugh at the irrational thoughts you may have! When you do so, you are seeing them for what they really are, just thoughts. With each moment that we face our thoughts we are giving our body and mind the much needed rest it deserves to eventually bring us back to a healthy and “anxiety-free” state. The reason why I decided to focus on thoughts on this post is because I believe that they are one of the main factors that keep us in the anxiety cycle. Example: You have an anxious or worrisome thought, you panic at the thought, you panic that you’re having a thought like this, you increase your anxiety, you worry about the anxiety that you are having, you have an anxious or worrisome thought again and the cycle continues.

BREAK THE CYCLE. Imagine this: You have a worrisome thought, you invite it, you observe it, you see that it is an irrational thought only magnified in your anxious state, you carry on with your day or the task at hand, you diminish your fear of it, and it comes back with less force each time. Like most things, it is easier said than done and requires consistent practice and effort in order to see change. It should also be warned that the journey to recovery in any aspect isn’t simply an uphill battle. You will make great progress some days and have set backs during others. However, I encourage you to weather the storm because the reward will be more than you could hope for in terms of your happiness and quality of life. You can’t put a price on a peace of mind. Don’t let anxiety control yours.

“This is also the way to get past anxious thinking, allow space for your anxious thoughts to be there. Don’t expect instant miracles or use this as a tool to rid yourself of them, just allow them as much space as need be without expectation for as many times as need be. It is all about being more at peace with yourself, people become anxious about being anxious, worry that they worry, anxiously think about their anxious thinking and then wonder why they never break out of the loop. Anxious thoughts and feelings just want a chance to be there and then they will go quietly, if you keep pushing them away and go into struggle mode, then they will keep knocking to get in and you will constantly keep trying to keep them at bay. It is this constant struggle the causes the problem. Just learn to give your feelings the space to be there whilst living your life and being you, don’t feel the need to be on guard for them or work them out, whatever may come just be at peace with it and give your feelings and thoughts space to be there. How you feel now is totally natural in the circumstances, so stop struggling with yourself and leave it be.”
– Paul David

About the Author

Sara Nasser

Sara is currently a first-year graduate student in Wayne State University's Art Therapy program. She is passionate about all things creative and spiritual, which is why she decided to combine these two passions into her future career.

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