Irrational Thoughts Causing Anxiety

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Hi, I’m a college student. Lately, I’ve been constantly bombarded with short periods of intense anxiety and worry. It started when my friend told me of a young pre-teen girl who posted nude pics of herself on the internet, and how her actions came to haunt her.
Then I started to worry about myself. Four or five years ago, before I started high school, I lost my cell phone, most likely to theft. Recently I’ve been speculating and wondering – what if I took dirty and explicit photos of myself on that cell and forgot to delete? Of course, I know for sure that at some times during my adolescence, I took dirty and explicit photos on my camera and camcorder. I never showed these photos to anyone else as they were for my own, brief, sexual gratification, and I would always delete the photos a minute or two after I took them. I don’t know the time I took these photos, and these vague memories are haunting me. I’m not sure if I took dirty photos on a later cell phone. Since then, I’ve checked all my phones, memory cards, cameras, usb sticks… everything has come up CLEAN.

So, knowing myself, I most likely did not have any horrible photos on the cell phone I lost at 13. I know that I was conscious that people would look through my cell phone, and I even took photos of trendy bands, celebrities, and art on my phone, hoping to impress anyone who looked through my pictures. I definitely did not want ANYONE to see my nude photos. Also, if I DID have explicit photos on my cell phone, wouldn’t I have worried IMMEDIATELY after I lost my cell phone? After all, I’ve NEVER worried about this before. These thoughts have only been bothering me recently – 5 years later after said cell phone was lost.
Still, my imagination has run wild with images of people posting the pics they found online and my pictures being all over the internet for perverts to enjoy. These thoughts are deeply upsetting. I cannot sleep. I lost my appetite. I have lost weight. I panic in the middle of the day, heart pounding, hyperventilating, and light headed.

Am I being irrational? Should I seek therapy? Medication? What should I do to help my worry?

A. To answer your question, I do believe that you may be overreacting. You listed several reasons for why your fear is likely unfounded. You seem to be very much focused on the most unlikely outcome and have ignored all of the other, more realistic possibilities. This makes your view of the situation unbalanced.

In the beginning of your letter you describe having intense periods of anxiety and worry. It would have been helpful to know more about these experiences such as:

  • How long have these experiences been occurring?
  • How long do they last?
  • What are they prompted by?

Sometimes individuals with early signs of an anxiety disorder such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can become fixated on a particular thought. An individual begins to believe and can become obsessed with ideas they fear are true. This may be what is happening in your situation. Your fear is causing severe distress and significantly disrupting your life.

I would suggest being evaluated by a therapist. It is abnormal to have intense periods of anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, you may be experiencing early signs of OCD or another type of anxiety disorder.

If you find yourself beginning to worry, try to analyze the reality of the situation. Focus on the facts. Analyze the evidence behind why you believe something to be true. Try to force yourself to be as logical as possible. Do not allow yourself to believe in ideas that are untrue, are not supported by facts or have no basis in reality. If you feel that the anxiety is becoming overwhelming try to distract yourself by watching TV, reading a book, calling a friend or engaging in some activity that helps you to relax. Do not try to avoid anxiety but when it arises realize that it will eventually subside.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions. They can be treated effectively with therapy, specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication can be helpful as well. You can learn to control your anxiety. Click on the find help tab at the top of this page to locate a therapist in your community. I wish you well.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Jul 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Irrational Thoughts Causing Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/07/31/irrational-thoughts-causing-anxiety/