Anxiety sufferers are especially prone to self-criticism and negative thought patterns that only perpetuate their problems. If you find yourself entertaining any of these five thoughts that make anxiety worse, read on to find out why they’re so destructive and what you can do to stand up to your anxious mind.
Here are five destructive thoughts that can lead to worse anxiety:
1. “I should have more control over my anxiety.”
If you struggle with anxiety, you’ve likely found yourself wishing you were in better control of your anxiety; you also probably know it is just not that simple. But anxiety sufferers are notoriously guilty of engaging in negative self-talk, and much of the negativity we direct at ourselves is based in our inability to meet unrealistic or even impossible expectations.
If you’re like me, you may have found yourself thinking something along the lines of, “Why am I such a mess? I should know better. I should be better at controlling this.” These self-shaming statements are extremely dangerous to our confidence and sense of self-worth, so it is important to counter them directly.
Try to remember that anxiety is just one circumstance of your life that you must accept and learn to live with. You have done nothing to deserve it, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. With the right approach you may be able to completely banish your anxiety, or you may simply have to find the best way to manage it, but there is no clear-cut “should” or “shouldn’t” here.
Every person’s situation is different. Even when you’re doing everything right, you may still have bouts of anxiety. You may always have certain triggers, even if you learn to deal with them better than you once did. This does not mean you are a failure, and it is important to remind yourself of this often. Acknowledge your victories, however small, whenever they come.
2. “Everyone else is better at ___ than I am.”
In addition to the negative self-talk, anxiety sufferers also have a tendency to compare themselves to others. These comparisons are made even easier in today’s highly connected world, where we keep up with distant relatives, grade-school classmates, former coworkers and even complete strangers through Facebook and other social media sites.
Based on our superficial glimpses into the lives of others, it’s easy to believe that we fall short in every possible way. This mindset only exacerbates anxiety. It can be difficult to stop comparing yourself to others, but you can start by at least paying attention to how often you do it, and remembering that every single person you meet has his or her own challenges and insecurities to contend with.
3. “I must avoid my anxiety triggers at all costs.”
It’s natural to want to avoid the situations that trigger anxiety. But when we refuse to even consider facing our fears, we accept a lower quality of life than we’re capable of creating for ourselves. Hiding from anxiety triggers usually leads to more anxiety in the long run, as sufferers find themselves isolated and afraid to leave their comfort zones.
Research has shown that the more you “exercise” the part of your brain that’s activated when you do something that scares you, the better you become at it. You can actually train yourself to handle anxiety-inducing situations more effectively.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) has been successful in treating patients with OCD and phobias, and you can utilize this technique with the help of a therapist or adapt some of its principles to try on your own. (Read more about ERP and how to face your fears.)
4. “I’m a burden to everyone I care about.”
Anyone who’s dealt with anxiety knows how easy it is to withdraw from friends and family when you’re really struggling. We rationalize this in all sorts of ways: “I don’t want them to know how weak I am,” “I’ll only bring everyone down,” “I don’t deserve love and support,” “I don’t want to burden them with my problems,” etc.
But when it comes to the people who truly care about you, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people genuinely do want to support their loved ones through difficult times. They may not understand exactly what you’re going through, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be there for you. Talk to your friends and family about your anxiety and tell them how much you’d appreciate their love and encouragement. You can also point them to resources on how to help a loved one with anxiety.
5. “I’ll probably always be this miserable.”
One of the worst things you can tell yourself is that you’re a lost cause, that nothing could possibly help you. The more you repeat this incredibly self-destructive statement, the more you come to actually believe it.
Anxiety sufferers are especially prone to doing this because of our tendency to demand perfection from ourselves. This perfectionism can become problematic when you try multiple approaches to treating anxiety without seeing the results you’re hoping for. It’s often tempting to give up when that happens.
But it’s important to remember that an effective anxiety treatment plan is usually a multi-pronged approach devised after much trial and error. There is no perfect miracle cure for anxiety, so you must adjust your expectations. It is not one specific thing that will save you, but rather it’s your willingness to try new things and to persist in your path toward recovery that will ultimately get you where you want to go. There are always changes you can make and ways that you can improve, and even with setbacks, the simple act of trying to take positive steps means that you are better off than you were before.