Reduce Anxiety by challenging the assumptions behind your anxious thoughts
There are a number of helpful ways to change how you think about anxiety provoking situations. One of the ways is to think of the anxious thoughts as incorrect predictions or assumptions about future events which are based upon unhelpful evidence from your past experiences. Approaches similar to this are often used in a number of cognitive therapies, such as CBT.
As you go through life your mind will automatically creates assumptions based on your experiences. These assumptions then help you to make sense of the world around you by providing meaning, and helping you predict what might happen in future situations. This can aid you in avoiding potentially difficult or threatening future situations, keeping you safe and comfortable. Whilst the vast majority of the assumptions your mind creates work very well, some of the ones responsible for intense anxieties can be so unrealistic, out of proportion, or simply out of date, that they end up restricting your life more than they help.
The aim of the simple exercise below is to help loosen up, rebalance, and change these anxiety provoking assumptions by reminding yourself about all the other times in the past when that part of your mind simply got the prediction completely wrong.
Do the preparation step a) for each of your anxious thoughts. You don’t always have to do the preparation stage, but it will certainly help you to have more positive evidence quickly to hand for step b) should you need it. Do step b) each time you find yourself worrying about a future situation. Each time you make it through a situation you previously worried about, do step c). Repetition of this exercise is very important, the more often you challenge your anxious thoughts with positive counter-evidence the better.
Note: If you are suffering from very severe anxiety then this process may not be comprehensive enough by itself, and it is highly recommended that you seek the assistance of a properly qualified and registered psychotherapist, CBT practitioner, or counsellor. They can guide you and help you to thoroughly explore and work through your anxiety in much more depth.
- Consider the anxiety you want to work on. (e.g. lifts, public speaking, interviews)
- Focus on what exactly your mind is predicting will happen whenever you feel anxious. (e.g. The lift will stop and I won’t ever be able to get out)
- Think of as many specific times in the past as you can when you’ve had similar anxious thoughts but they didn’t actually come true. If you can’t think of times when it turned out completely okay, instead try looking for situations where it wasn’t as bad as your anxiety predicted it would be.
- Write down whatever memories come up in step 3 so you can refer to them in the next stage.
b) Each time the anxious thoughts occurs
- Notice that you are feeling anxious or worrying about a future situation.
- Focus on what exactly your mind is predicting will happen.
- Tell yourself the anxiety is an incorrect assumption about the future. That a part of your mind has somehow got the prediction wrong. For example think “The part of my mind that is responsible for this worry is making an incorrect prediction about the future.”
- Provide the evidence for the incorrect predictions by reminding yourself of as many past situations in which you had similar anxious thoughts and your mind had just got it completely wrong or even partially wrong. For example “I know this because in the past I worried about it here, here, here and here, and it didn’t actually happen, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
e.g. “The part of my mind that is responsible for this anxiety is making an incorrect prediction about the future. I know this because in the past I have worried about getting stuck in a lift, and yet I have been in a lift many times and never got stuck. I worried about it at the station, and it didn’t happen, and I worried about it at the hotel and nothing happened, and I worried about it at the flat and it didn’t happen either, and I also worried about it at the airport and it was perfectly okay.”
c) When you make it through a worrying situation and it wasn’t as bad as you expected
Remind yourself that the part of your mind responsible for generating the worry has got it wrong again, because what it predicted didn’t actually happen. Or at the very least it wasn’t quite as bad as you thought it would be.
Related Anxiety Resources
- Helpguide.com – Anxiety Attacks and Anxiety Disorders
- Patient.info – Anxiety Disorders. Symptoms of Severe Anxiety. Treatment for Anxiety
- Social Anxiety Treatment in Manchester
- Fear of Public Speaking Manchester
Reduce anxiety by challenging the assumptions behind your anxious thoughts
Nigel Magowan is a UKCP and BACP Registered Psychotherapist and counsellor, who runs his own private therapy practice in Chorlton, South Manchester, not far from Didsbury, Stockport, Salford and Altrincham. He uses an integrative approach to the treatment of the various anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), public speaking anxiety, and health anxiety.
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