Pitfalls of Thinking That Lead to Anxiety

Reviewed Feb 28, 2017

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Summary

You can learn to identify anxious thoughts, rethink them, and lessen feelings of anxiety.

Do you tend to worry and feel anxious often? Take a close look at the thoughts you think. Consider this line from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “A thing ‘tis neither bad nor good, but thinking makes it so.”

What Shakespeare penned so eloquently is broken down into concrete terms by psychiatrist David Burns, M.D., in his book The Feeling Good Handbook. Dr. Burns’ book is based on the premise of cognitive psychology, that “your thoughts and attitudes—not external events—create your feelings.”

Thoughts can be distorted

Dr. Burns writes in his book that distorted thoughts, not realistic ones, cause anxiety. If you tend to feel anxious, perhaps you can admit to the most common distorted belief that people with anxiety share: You are convinced that something is physically or mentally wrong with you.

Psychologist Robert Miller of the Cognitive Behavioral Health Center in Charlottesville, VA, asserts, “One of the most disturbing things about anxiety is the feeling of being weak, weird, or inadequate.”

Identify distorted thoughts

Dr. Burns describes several kinds of faulty thought patterns called cognitive distortions. The next time you feel anxious, try to write down everything running through your mind. Compare your thoughts to the cognitive distortions described below. If you get a match, label it accordingly:

1. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.

  • “I feel afraid, so something really bad must be about to happen.”
  • “My heart races when I’m on the elevator, so I must be in danger.”

2. Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly.

  • “I feel out of control, so I must be about to go insane or die.”
  • “This bad circumstance will result in disaster.”

3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively.

  • Obsessing on a body sensation such as “butterflies” in your stomach or on a bizarre, socially unacceptable thought that flits into your mind.

4. Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings.

  • “It is catastrophic if others don’t approve of me.”
  • “Feeling anxious is so unbearable, I can’t survive it!”

Thinking alternative, realistic thoughts

Once you identify a distorted thought that makes you feel anxious, rethink it. This takes practice. Don’t just accept that all your thoughts are true—be willing to write down the ones that upset you and dispute them:

1. Examine the evidence: Is there any proof that your thought is valid?

  • Since anxiety does not cause anyone to go insane or die suddenly, there is no basis for catastrophic thoughts about your symptoms. They just feel threatening.
  • Research what the actual symptoms of cardiac arrest or insanity are.
  • Dr. Miller suggests that you “sit with” anxiety symptoms, without judging them, breathing deeply and objectively, noting what and where they are.

2. The experimental technique: Is there a way to test whether your thought is really true?

  • If your doctor has determined that your heart is healthy, put your racing pulse and thoughts of near death to the test by strolling around the block—a person in cardiac arrest can’t do that.
  • To disprove your fear that you're insane or losing control, try standing up on a park bench and belting out a tune, or waddle around making duck noises. Your mortification upon thinking of doing this shows how sane you are!

3. The double-standard method: What would you say to a close friend who had a similar problem?

  • Would you believe it’s catastrophic if someone disapproved of your friend?

4. The survey method: Ask those you trust if they believe your thought is valid.

  • You will learn that everyone has random, bizarre thoughts on occasion.
  • You will discover that everyone has felt anxious before.

Practice and be patient

As you consider your thoughts and how the distorted ones cause you misery, Dr. Burns advises you to be patient and keep working on recognizing which thoughts are robbing you of peace. Perhaps some of your most distressing thought distortions have been around a long time. The mere commitment to believe that your thoughts could be inaccurate is a huge step in the right direction.

As for the physiology of anxiety and all its irksome symptoms, Dr. Miller points out that the emotion-producing system in the brain is “quick to learn danger and slow to learn safety.” As you retrain your thoughts, the physical feelings of “threat” will become more manageable over time.

Be sure to tell your doctor or a mental health professional about anxiety and other symptoms that concern you. Look for someone trained in cognitive-behavioral psychology if you want to try the above suggestions but need help getting started.

Resources

Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Edmund Bourne, PhD, and Lorna Garano. New Harbinger Publications, 2016.

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 6th edition, by Edmund Bourne, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 2015.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, MD. William Morrow and Company Inc.,1989; Dr. Robert P. Miller, The Cognitive Behavioral Health Center, Charlottesville, VA.

Summary

You can learn to identify anxious thoughts, rethink them, and lessen feelings of anxiety.

Do you tend to worry and feel anxious often? Take a close look at the thoughts you think. Consider this line from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “A thing ‘tis neither bad nor good, but thinking makes it so.”

What Shakespeare penned so eloquently is broken down into concrete terms by psychiatrist David Burns, M.D., in his book The Feeling Good Handbook. Dr. Burns’ book is based on the premise of cognitive psychology, that “your thoughts and attitudes—not external events—create your feelings.”

Thoughts can be distorted

Dr. Burns writes in his book that distorted thoughts, not realistic ones, cause anxiety. If you tend to feel anxious, perhaps you can admit to the most common distorted belief that people with anxiety share: You are convinced that something is physically or mentally wrong with you.

Psychologist Robert Miller of the Cognitive Behavioral Health Center in Charlottesville, VA, asserts, “One of the most disturbing things about anxiety is the feeling of being weak, weird, or inadequate.”

Identify distorted thoughts

Dr. Burns describes several kinds of faulty thought patterns called cognitive distortions. The next time you feel anxious, try to write down everything running through your mind. Compare your thoughts to the cognitive distortions described below. If you get a match, label it accordingly:

1. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.

  • “I feel afraid, so something really bad must be about to happen.”
  • “My heart races when I’m on the elevator, so I must be in danger.”

2. Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly.

  • “I feel out of control, so I must be about to go insane or die.”
  • “This bad circumstance will result in disaster.”

3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively.

  • Obsessing on a body sensation such as “butterflies” in your stomach or on a bizarre, socially unacceptable thought that flits into your mind.

4. Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings.

  • “It is catastrophic if others don’t approve of me.”
  • “Feeling anxious is so unbearable, I can’t survive it!”

Thinking alternative, realistic thoughts

Once you identify a distorted thought that makes you feel anxious, rethink it. This takes practice. Don’t just accept that all your thoughts are true—be willing to write down the ones that upset you and dispute them:

1. Examine the evidence: Is there any proof that your thought is valid?

  • Since anxiety does not cause anyone to go insane or die suddenly, there is no basis for catastrophic thoughts about your symptoms. They just feel threatening.
  • Research what the actual symptoms of cardiac arrest or insanity are.
  • Dr. Miller suggests that you “sit with” anxiety symptoms, without judging them, breathing deeply and objectively, noting what and where they are.

2. The experimental technique: Is there a way to test whether your thought is really true?

  • If your doctor has determined that your heart is healthy, put your racing pulse and thoughts of near death to the test by strolling around the block—a person in cardiac arrest can’t do that.
  • To disprove your fear that you're insane or losing control, try standing up on a park bench and belting out a tune, or waddle around making duck noises. Your mortification upon thinking of doing this shows how sane you are!

3. The double-standard method: What would you say to a close friend who had a similar problem?

  • Would you believe it’s catastrophic if someone disapproved of your friend?

4. The survey method: Ask those you trust if they believe your thought is valid.

  • You will learn that everyone has random, bizarre thoughts on occasion.
  • You will discover that everyone has felt anxious before.

Practice and be patient

As you consider your thoughts and how the distorted ones cause you misery, Dr. Burns advises you to be patient and keep working on recognizing which thoughts are robbing you of peace. Perhaps some of your most distressing thought distortions have been around a long time. The mere commitment to believe that your thoughts could be inaccurate is a huge step in the right direction.

As for the physiology of anxiety and all its irksome symptoms, Dr. Miller points out that the emotion-producing system in the brain is “quick to learn danger and slow to learn safety.” As you retrain your thoughts, the physical feelings of “threat” will become more manageable over time.

Be sure to tell your doctor or a mental health professional about anxiety and other symptoms that concern you. Look for someone trained in cognitive-behavioral psychology if you want to try the above suggestions but need help getting started.

Resources

Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Edmund Bourne, PhD, and Lorna Garano. New Harbinger Publications, 2016.

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 6th edition, by Edmund Bourne, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 2015.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, MD. William Morrow and Company Inc.,1989; Dr. Robert P. Miller, The Cognitive Behavioral Health Center, Charlottesville, VA.

Summary

You can learn to identify anxious thoughts, rethink them, and lessen feelings of anxiety.

Do you tend to worry and feel anxious often? Take a close look at the thoughts you think. Consider this line from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “A thing ‘tis neither bad nor good, but thinking makes it so.”

What Shakespeare penned so eloquently is broken down into concrete terms by psychiatrist David Burns, M.D., in his book The Feeling Good Handbook. Dr. Burns’ book is based on the premise of cognitive psychology, that “your thoughts and attitudes—not external events—create your feelings.”

Thoughts can be distorted

Dr. Burns writes in his book that distorted thoughts, not realistic ones, cause anxiety. If you tend to feel anxious, perhaps you can admit to the most common distorted belief that people with anxiety share: You are convinced that something is physically or mentally wrong with you.

Psychologist Robert Miller of the Cognitive Behavioral Health Center in Charlottesville, VA, asserts, “One of the most disturbing things about anxiety is the feeling of being weak, weird, or inadequate.”

Identify distorted thoughts

Dr. Burns describes several kinds of faulty thought patterns called cognitive distortions. The next time you feel anxious, try to write down everything running through your mind. Compare your thoughts to the cognitive distortions described below. If you get a match, label it accordingly:

1. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.

  • “I feel afraid, so something really bad must be about to happen.”
  • “My heart races when I’m on the elevator, so I must be in danger.”

2. Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly.

  • “I feel out of control, so I must be about to go insane or die.”
  • “This bad circumstance will result in disaster.”

3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively.

  • Obsessing on a body sensation such as “butterflies” in your stomach or on a bizarre, socially unacceptable thought that flits into your mind.

4. Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings.

  • “It is catastrophic if others don’t approve of me.”
  • “Feeling anxious is so unbearable, I can’t survive it!”

Thinking alternative, realistic thoughts

Once you identify a distorted thought that makes you feel anxious, rethink it. This takes practice. Don’t just accept that all your thoughts are true—be willing to write down the ones that upset you and dispute them:

1. Examine the evidence: Is there any proof that your thought is valid?

  • Since anxiety does not cause anyone to go insane or die suddenly, there is no basis for catastrophic thoughts about your symptoms. They just feel threatening.
  • Research what the actual symptoms of cardiac arrest or insanity are.
  • Dr. Miller suggests that you “sit with” anxiety symptoms, without judging them, breathing deeply and objectively, noting what and where they are.

2. The experimental technique: Is there a way to test whether your thought is really true?

  • If your doctor has determined that your heart is healthy, put your racing pulse and thoughts of near death to the test by strolling around the block—a person in cardiac arrest can’t do that.
  • To disprove your fear that you're insane or losing control, try standing up on a park bench and belting out a tune, or waddle around making duck noises. Your mortification upon thinking of doing this shows how sane you are!

3. The double-standard method: What would you say to a close friend who had a similar problem?

  • Would you believe it’s catastrophic if someone disapproved of your friend?

4. The survey method: Ask those you trust if they believe your thought is valid.

  • You will learn that everyone has random, bizarre thoughts on occasion.
  • You will discover that everyone has felt anxious before.

Practice and be patient

As you consider your thoughts and how the distorted ones cause you misery, Dr. Burns advises you to be patient and keep working on recognizing which thoughts are robbing you of peace. Perhaps some of your most distressing thought distortions have been around a long time. The mere commitment to believe that your thoughts could be inaccurate is a huge step in the right direction.

As for the physiology of anxiety and all its irksome symptoms, Dr. Miller points out that the emotion-producing system in the brain is “quick to learn danger and slow to learn safety.” As you retrain your thoughts, the physical feelings of “threat” will become more manageable over time.

Be sure to tell your doctor or a mental health professional about anxiety and other symptoms that concern you. Look for someone trained in cognitive-behavioral psychology if you want to try the above suggestions but need help getting started.

Resources

Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Edmund Bourne, PhD, and Lorna Garano. New Harbinger Publications, 2016.

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 6th edition, by Edmund Bourne, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 2015.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, MD. William Morrow and Company Inc.,1989; Dr. Robert P. Miller, The Cognitive Behavioral Health Center, Charlottesville, VA.

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