Faith Mackey, Director of the WL Blog
Hello all! My name is Faith Mackey and I am the new Director of the Worth Living Blog! I am so honoured to have this position and be able to share the story of my mental health journey from letting my thoughts rule me to learning to be free. Trigger warning: topics concerning mental healh challenges are lightly mentioned.
Everyone gets anxious thoughts from time to time, some more than others. Anxiety is a normal human response-but if left unmanaged it can become a problem for our day-to-day mental health. Anxiety is mainly caused by our brains registering uncertainty or danger, and then reacting accordingly. For example, you may feel anxious before performing a task, as your brain is interpreting this task as a possible threat and is trying to prepare itself to fight. But, sometimes anxiety is more than that and is experienced regularly, for example, daily panic attacks. When anxiety feels overwhelming and all-consuming this can be a turning point to try something new. Trying something new to manage anxiety symptoms can seem daunting but who knows, you might find yourself living a life not bound by anxiety with these tips.
What are anxious thoughts?
Anxious thoughts or “negative mind chatter” as it is commonly referred to, are thoughts that are irrational, negative, and likely unhelpful to your success. Thoughts such as:
- “This is all my fault.”
- “Everyone will hate what I have done.”
- “No one really wants me at this party.”
- “What if people don’t like me?”
- “I know I won’t have a good time at this event.”
The first step to challenging an anxious thought is to identify the thought you are having. Next, and this is where it gets challenging, is to question the thought and its power. For example, if you feel as though no one really wants you at a party, question why would that be true. Once you come to challenge the thoughts, you will see that they are not based on your reality and that it is highly unlikely that these terrible thoughts will occur.
To further this new practice of challenging your anxious thoughts it is important to recognize when and where you are having them. When you are doing something that is out of your comfort zone these types of thoughts can pop up without warning. Anxious thoughts often stem from our deepest worries and doubts about ourselves and others. But there is hope! Research does show those who actively challenge their negative thoughts will experience lessened anxiety over time.
What are some types of anxious thoughts?
There are many ways that anxious thoughts can take form, such as
- Fortune-telling: Predicting the future and imagining it in a negative light
- Discounting positives: Not recognizing the positive aspects of a situation
- Catastrophizing: thinking that something will be awful or life-changing in a negative way
- Overgeneralization: Assuming that because one aspect of a thought was true that the rest of it will be true as well
- Arbitrary inference: Drawing conclusions with a lack of evidence to support the conclusion
When we allow ourselves to add to these types of anxious thoughts, we are only fueling the fire and making them seem more true than they are. The key to not letting anxious thoughts take over your life is to confront them!
Some ways to cope:
- Exercise: Exercise is a great way to release pent-up stress and tension in your body, which can help reduce feelings of worry or fear. The next time you feel anxious, try going on a brisk walk while listening to your favourite music, podcast, or simply the sounds of nature.
- Talking to a friend: Talking to friends about our problems can be a great way to get validation that we are not alone in our worries. It is natural to worry and feel anxious sometimes and having the support of a friend can help calm those worries.
- Journaling: The practice of writing down your thoughts can help them to feel more manageable and gives them less power over you. By getting out everything you are feeling onto a page it has less of a hold on you because it is not stuck in your head anymore! If pen-to-paper writing is not your thing, try your hand at online journaling. Journaling is also a great way to track and see how your thought patterns are changing in real-time.
- Reading: Give your brain a break by reading a good book that brings you comfort and joy. Reading can help to stimulate feel-good hormones and lessen stress. Fantasy, historical, autobiographies, or one of our favourites: Life Worth Living: A Mental Health Anthology which is available in our website store for purchase.
If these strategies aren’t helping as much as you need them to, consider seeking professional help from someone such as a therapist or counsellor who can guide you through other techniques-you deserve all the support available!
Using Positive Psychology to manage anxiety
Positive psychology is the study of human flourishing and what makes life worth living. The focus of positive psychology is to look at what is right with us and how we can use our strengths to better our well-being. Self-efficacy is the power of believing in yourself and your ability. Research has shown that those with higher self-efficacy are more confident, have higher self-esteem, and perform better at tasks. The key is, as you may have guessed, believing in yourself! Now, this is certainly easier said than done and will take time and deliberate practice. Here are a few positive psychology-based activities that can help you to strengthen your self-efficacy.
- 3 good things: each morning, write three things that you are thankful for/looking forward to. When we start our mornings off on a positive note, we are more relaxed and more likely to remember to use our skills to lower our anxiety.
- Positive mantras: take some sticky notes and write a few positive messages to yourself, put them in a place you will see them every day and make a conscious effort to read them to yourself once a day.
- For example, A thought is just a thought, I can do anything I set my mind to, etc.
- Meditation: Meditation is an effective way to reduce anxious thoughts and feelings. Even if it’s difficult at first, keep practicing- it will get easier!
You are not your anxiety
It is vitally important to take control of your thoughts. Similar to training a muscle, training your brain to reject anxious thoughts will take time and practice but in the end, you will be stronger. Remember, anxious thoughts are just that- they aren’t real, are not held in truth, and can be overcome with conscious effort. There will always be situations in our lives that make us anxious but if a certain situation is causing stress or worry, try seeing if there is another way around it without avoiding it. Being able to overcome a situation and not letting your anxiety get the best of you will strengthen your self-efficacy skills as well.
When it comes to finding methods to help calm and soothe your anxiety, consider the list of strategies above. If one method does not work then try another one until eventually, one will stick-remember, coping with anxiety is not always a one-size fits all method.
Positive psychology is a great place to start when looking to find ways to cope with and overcome anxious thoughts. Try the techniques mentioned the next time your anxiety begins to spike and see which ones help to recenter yourself. Positive thinking can help you feel more confident in yourself, lessening negative mind chatter, which will make it easier for you to deal with future challenges.
Burke, E. (2018, November 20). 10 common anxious thought patterns & how to overcome them. Empowered Therapy. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from http://empoweredtherapy.org/10-common-anxious-thought-patterns-how-to-overcome-them/
Maddux, J. E. (2002). The power of believing you can. Handbook of positive psychology, 277-287.
|Nguyen, T. (2017). 10 surprising benefits you’ll get from keeping a journal.’.|
Rafizadeh, E., Morewitz, S., & Mukherjea, A. (2021). Handwritten Journals for Supporting Behavior Change among University Students. International Journal of Health, Wellness & Society, 11(1).
Sarason, I. G. (1984). Stress, anxiety, and cognitive interference: Reactions to tests. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(4), 929–938. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2069