The way we think has the potential to fuel high levels of anxiety and stress. For example, you might be having thought such as “I or my loved ones are going to die” or “There is nothing I can do” or questioning how you are going to cope. Thoughts such as these can be so strong that you believe them to be true.
However, not all our thoughts are factual; many are simply beliefs that we have held for so long that we come to accept them as true. Essentially, we’ve believed so hard that we’ve convinced ourselves that these thoughts are not thoughts, they are facts. So, wow do we differentiate if our thoughts are true or just beliefs we have become accustom to in order to limit our feelings of anxiety and stress?
Here are some tools to process and challenge your anxious and worried thoughts:
- Start by identifying your thoughts. When you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious, stop and write down what you are thinking and/or feeling. When you are feeling anxious there may be multiple thoughts going through your mind (Hint: Your thought process may sound something like “I’m worried that….” and/or “What if….”)
- Once you have identified your thoughts, challenge them. Ask yourself:
- Is this thought true?
- How do I know it is true?
- Is it 100% true and always true?
- What is the evidence behind the thought?
- What is the evidence against the thought?
- Has the thing I am worried about ever happened before?
- What actually happened?
- How did I cope?
- What was the end result?
- If you are finding it difficult to let go of the worry, ask yourself “What did the worrying do for me? Is it helping me solve the problem or is it keeping me stuck and feeling anxious?
- Ask yourself if it is helpful to continue feeling this way.
- After working through these approaches, try and come up with a more balanced thought. For example, “I am elderly, and so many older people are getting extremely ill. I could die from this” could be replaced with “I am elderly, but I am also taking all of the recommended precautions, I have a good support network, and I am taking steps to stay healthy. I am extremely likely to get through this and be fine” “I am unhappy with my job, I have no time to spend with my friends and family” could be replaced with “I am employed and know I need to make money, I have friends and support and know I am a valuable asset at work and within my relationships. I will spend my days off enjoying quality time.”