We all have pesky, anxiety-provoking thoughts from time to time, and it’s difficult to get them to quiet down. Growing up, we learn math and reading, history and science, but nobody teaches us the logic of the mind and how to navigate the internal geography of our mental landscape. So how can we learn to avoid the modern phenomenon of anxiety?
A significant aspect of anxiety arises when we don’t understand how to work with the normal and necessary thoughts that dart and dash through the mind every minute of every day. The most painful and alarming of these thoughts––the ones that can cascade into anxiety and panic and cause untold mental suffering––are what we call unwanted intrusive thoughts.
If you struggle with anxiety, then your brain is likely chock full of unwanted intrusive thoughts. You know the kind I’m talking about—all those “what ifs” and “oh my gods” that can so easily spiral out of control and make you feel even more anxious. Once a thought gets stuck in your head, it can become overwhelming, upsetting, and confusing. And then you’ll find yourself tumbling down into the anxiety rabbit hole, hellbent on finding the definitive answer to your next soul-shaking question.
When we are in a heightened state of anxiety, we are more susceptible to distorted and negative intrusive thoughts. Read on for some of the most common thoughts that fuel it, and remember that you are most definitely not alone in having them.
Fearing something could go wrong
“I am in constant fear of what’s going to happen if and when something happens to my husband! I fear I will end up homeless. I have no friends or family to turn to.”
The world is a scary place, so it makes total sense that we’d all live with a vague worry that something bad could happen. It’s totally common and completely normal to fret about occasionally.
Forgetting to do something important
“On good days I can leave the house without having to check the lock three times or making sure the fridge is closed several times. On good days I can control my thoughts and nothing comes through my mind. On bad days I can’t stop the what-ifs.”
Forgetting to do something important is another thing anxious people worry about all the time. You might worry that you’ll totally drop the ball at work, miss a meeting, forget to feed your cat, the list goes on and on. And it all has to do with being too anxious to trust yourself.
Not being able to control what’s happening now or in the future
“Every minute of every day worrying about something that is currently happening, something that happened recently, or something that might happen in the next few moments, later today or in the future.”
Living with uncertainty. We simply don’t like it. We want definitive answers. We want definable goals. We are intrinsically wired to gravitate toward a need for control and a subsequent attempt to create the illusion of control.
Not being liked by the people around you
“Why are they looking/talking to me like that? I’m sure it’s because they don’t like me.”
For anxious people, often all it takes is a snubbed Facebook post or someone’s weird side-eye and suddenly “nobody likes you,”. If this describes your life, it can really help to ask yourself if there is any truth to your worries — or if it’s just anxiety-fueled paranoia.
Wondering if your loved ones are upset with you
“Why are they taking so long to respond to my text message? Are they mad at me? I must have annoyed them.”
Wondering if your loved ones are upset with you is a super common anxious thought. This might come in the form of fearing the worst when your friend cancels plans or assuming everyone’s upset with you when they don’t text back right away. (Hint: they usually aren’t.)
Making a mistake at work that will result in someone judging you or worse — getting fired
“I had a typo in the last email and I hit reply all — now everyone thinks I’m incompetent or don’t know the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there.'”
Anxious people have a way of forgetting the praise they’ve received while remembering in vivid detail every critique they’ve ever gotten. And hey, no better place for this to crop up than at work. If you have anxiety, then you aren’t alone in constantly feeling like you might be fired at any moment.
Looking stupid in a social setting
“Are they laughing at me? I hope I don’t mess this up. I hope I don’t say the wrong thing. Was that supposed to be funny? Was I NOT supposed to laugh? Can I leave yet?”
When it comes time to go out and socialize, anxious types constantly worry that they’ll say something stupid or do something dumb. Is this you? Then you might even think this while talking or worry intensely that you have nothing of value to add. (All not true, btw.)
These thoughts can become incredibly stressful to deal with and might make your anxiety even worse. If that seems to be the case, it can be helpful to talk to a friend or better yet, a therapist. They can suggest some coping skills, as well as ways to shut up your pesky brain.
Got other thought that fuel your anxiety, share it with us in the comments section!