Anxiety and worry go hand in hand like hot fudge on an ice cream sundae. If you are a chronic worrier or perpetual overthinker, then chances are you have experienced the joys of the worry-go-round that is an anxious mind. You know what I’m talking about, right? You don’t remember buying a ticket to this ride but here you are, going around and around and around. You mull over your thoughts like you are chewing a tough steak, ruminate about the itty bitty details, and analyze with great intensity.
One thing to understand when it comes to anxiety: Your thoughts, body, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. This may sound complicated, but understanding these connections inside yourself is actually your way to hitting the breaks on this anxiety carnival ride from hell!
What are Worry Thoughts?
Worry thoughts, like “what if” and catastrophizing are a few of the thought patterns that can trigger anxiety. By understanding these common thought patterns, we can catch those worries in their tracks.
“What If” thoughts are basically your imagination gone wrong. They can start off as little harmless thoughts that get your brain running through a million scenarios, big and small, important and insignificant, until it sufficiently has got the anxiety juices flowing.
Catastrophizing take those sneaky little “what if” thoughts up to the Red Alert level. Catastrophizing is imagining the WORST POSSIBLE SCENARIO. The stuff that nightmares are made of, the stuff that destroys relationships, and the stuff that may make a good plot twist in a Lifetime movie but isn’t doing you any favors when your anxious mind creates these scenarios and gets stuck on them.
We all have worries and everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. Worries can often start on things that seem small or insignificant. Nothing brings out the worry track of my brain like packing for vacation. I am a recovering overpacker, always the one with the gigantic suitcase of clothes and other assorted items for every possible situation. While this has improved now that I have three kids (and really, there is only so much space, even in a minivan!) those pesky worry thoughts can easily rev anxiety up. Let’s take a look at how some common worry thoughts can set off anxiety in our feelings, body, and behavior.
My WORRY THOUGHTS might be:
What if I forget something important?
What if our toddler won’t sleep?
What if it rains while we are there and the vacation is ruined?
What if we all die in a car accident on the way there?
Or worse, what if we all die and then when they come to check on the house, they judge me on how messy it was!??!
Those worry thoughts might trigger FEELINGS like anxiety, irritability, more worry.
My BODY might begin to feel restless, tense, on edge, with a heavy feeling in my chest.
My BEHAVIOR might be evidence of the anxiety that is starting up on the inside. I’ll get snippy with my husband. The more relaxed he appears with the whole packing thing, the more my anxiety elevates, almost to compensate for his apparent lack of worrying.
How dare he be so chill while preparing for our demise, ahem, I mean vacation!?
As you can see, a little anxiety can start to unravel things quickly, including my intentions to have a nice, relaxing vacation with my husband, who I am now bickering with, and my children, who are now ducking for cover because I have slowly become “grouchy mommy,” grumbling and stomping around as I prepare for the zombie apocalypse to occur while we are on our vacation.
Getting off the Worry-Go-Round
Ok, so now that you can see how some teensy worries over vacation can cause some ripples in your general pool of contentment, I’m sure it is easy to imagine how this can play out in much more damaging ways depending on when and how your anxiety flares.
Tackling Your Anxious Thoughts
It is so easy to let worries carry us away, but with a few questions, you might be able to simmer that anxiety down rather than continuing to amp it up with more worrying!
What is the worst thing that could happen?
This question allows you to really focus on what is bothering you. Answer the question no matter how silly or dramatic the answer would be. It doesn’t matter if your biggest fear is that your baby won’t sleep or the zombie apocalypse will happen. If you have created a truly elaborate situation in your head, it might help you realize how extreme that scenario is.
How likely is it to happen? (Draw from your own knowledge of the facts and previous experiences)
This question allows you to tap into the part of your brain that is rational and logical. Instead of thinking in extremes (ex. It is 100% likely that we all will die on the car ride) it directs you to think a bit more practically. Bringing in your rational side will even out the emotional thinking that is happening.
What would you do if that happened?
When we are anxious and irrational, we tend to forget about our own ability to handle stuff. When we imagine the worst thing that could happen, we don’t recognize our own strengths and capabilities that would help us handle that situation.
For example, whenever I am fretting about forgetting something on vacation, my husband just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Hon, they have stores there.” Duh. You mean if I forget something, I would just go to the store and get it? Ok, anxiety is successfully stopped!
Name three other possibilities of things that could happen?
Catastrophic thinking makes us filter out all other possibilities except the biggest and baddest ones. This question challenges your anxious mind to come up with some alternative scenarios. Some of these alternatives might be positive or just neutral.
Anxiety can manifest in many ways. Remember- it is not just a feeling but a sequence of thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors! Paying attention to these sequences gives you more options in managing your anxiety. When you notice yourself hopping on the worry-go-round, tackle those worry thoughts with the questions in today’s post and see if you can take that anxiety down a few notches!