If there’s one thing that all of us on this earth have in common with each other, it’s that little running commentary we’ve got going on inside our heads.
That’s right – I’m talking about our thoughts.
Our thoughts usually go one of two ways: either they’re our very best friend or our very worst enemy. For those of us with anxiety, they tend to be more on the enemy side of the spectrum.
But here’s the good news: YOU have the power to change the way you think.
All you need is a bit of practice.
Just want to let ya know: The information and tips on this website are from my personal experience with anxiety and are not a substitute for any type of medical, psychological or health advice. My goal is to empower people struggling with anxiety in non-traditional ways that they can do alongside professional help.
There is always help out there, and you can find a mental health professional locally, through your doctor, or through an online directory like this one. This is a link to a great article with affordable therapy options and this is an affiliate link to a great online therapy option. If you are in a crisis, there’s a list of help hotlines here. You are not alone!!
How our brains work
Human brains are alllllll about efficiency – in fact, you may even call them a little bit lazy!
Our clever little brains are always on the lookout to find ways to simplify the world so that they can think less and expend less energy (see what I mean? Smart, but also L-A-Z-Y!).
They do this by creating something called “thinking patterns”. Ultimately, these thinking patterns mean that our brains often react to situations in life with automatic responses instead of taking time to react individually to each unique situation they comes across.
They will therefore respond to situations in the present based on the the experiences – or traumas – we’ve had in the past.
The more our brains use these pre-made patterns to look at the world, the more embedded they become in us.
As a matter of fact, by the age of 25(ish), we have SO many of these pre-existing patterns in our brain that it becomes super difficult to change them. They kind of become “stuck” in our mind!
Think, for example, of an elderly person who is just so darn set in their beliefs. No matter what you say, they don’t budge. Sure, it may be a little annoying, but in reality it makes perfect sense – it’s because their brain has been using the same thinking patterns for their ENTIRE life.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking – how does anxiety fit into all this?
Anxiety and negative thinking patterns
Some of your brain’s thinking patterns may not be harmful, but others may keep you believing something negative about yourself or the world around you. These are considered to be negative thinking patterns – and these are the pesky ones that lead to anxiety!
In order for negative thinking patterns to get stuck in your head and cause anxiety, something had to have happened in your past to make you believe them.
Sometimes, it could be because of repeated experiences.
Your parents would only give you praise when you received a PERFECT score on your schoolwork. If you did anything less than perfect, they’d be disappointed and angry with you.
Now that you’re older, your negative thinking pattern may be: “If I don’t do this project at work perfectly, I’ll be a complete failure”.
*Aaaand queue the anxiety*
Sometimes however, it could have just been ONE particular experience (or trauma) that embeds the pattern in your brain.
This is because your brain is built to focus more on the negative experiences you’ve had than the positive experiences (bummer, right?!).
Let’s look at another example:
You had many friends in school as a child. One day, you decided to introduce yourself to a new student in your class, but this new student called you “weird” and said he didn’t want to play with you.
Even though all of your other experiences with the kids in your class were positive, your brain may latch onto this one negative experience. Now that you’re older, your negative thinking pattern may be: “I can’t go up and talk to those people. No one likes me. Everyone thinks I’m weird”.
*Aaaand queue the anxiety*
Understanding your negative thinking patterns (as well as where they come from) is a CRUCIAL step in overcoming your anxiety. Something that can help with this is to learn about limiting beliefs.
Negative thinking patterns often turn into limiting beliefs when they actually start holding you back from doing the things you want to do in your life.
For example, if you STOP putting yourself forward at work for fear that you may not do something “perfectly”, or if you STOP trying to meet new people and make friends for fear that they won’t “like” you.
The first step is awareness and understanding of the problem. Now that we’ve done that, the next step is UN-WIRING these negative thinking patterns and RE-TRAINING your brain to think about the things it fears differently, which we’ll talk about in the next post in this anxiety series.
Final thoughts and reminders
Your brain thinks a certain way based on the past experiences you’ve had
Negative thinking patterns are created when your brain latches onto past negative experiences
Negative thinking patterns often lead to anxiety
Limiting beliefs are thinking patters that end up holding you back from doing the things you want to do in your life
If you want to learn more about how negative thinking patterns affect your life as well as how you can CHANGE them, I’ll be adding some worksheets on that to my free resource library that you can sign up for below!
And, like I always try to mention, it’s SUCH a good idea to go talk to a professional, because they can help with this stuff in a hands on way and they’ll be able to see and identify things that you might not have even thought of!