Sometimes we cause ourselves undue anxiety. This might be the things we say to ourselves or the things we hyperfocus on. It might be the way we let others treat us. Which isn’t to say that you’re to blame, and oh, what’s wrong with you?! you should know better!
Rather, it’s a reminder that we can work on our thoughts, and we can take kinder care of ourselves. Once you can identify what spikes your anxiety, you can work on reducing it.
Below, therapist Casey Radle, LPC, shared three ways we might be amplifying our anxiety — and tips that can help.
Seeing Your Self-Doubts as Facts
For instance, you just started dating someone you really, really like, said Radle, who specializes in anxiety and self-esteem at Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, Texas. You text the person to see if they’d like to go on another date. Several hours go by, and you still haven’t heard back.
According to Radle, you start thinking: “Oh my God, they’re not interested in me and don’t want to see me again. I’m not good enough for them, and I’ve ruined my chances at this relationship. How could I be so stupid to think that someone that wonderful would want to be with someone like me?”
You start feeling rejected before you even know what the other person is thinking or before giving them a chance to respond. You let your insecurities write a negative narrative without any real information. And you assume that these insecurities are cold, hard truths.
You might do this in other situations, which you (mis)interpret as evidence of how unlovable, inadequate, incapable and deficient you are.
(Remember if you do get rejected—whether by a potential mate or boss—rejection isn’t some universal or ultimate truth about the type of person you are. It’s one opinion based on many different factors.)
Assuming the Worst
Sometimes, our mind enters a cavernous dark place filled with worst-case scenarios and catastrophes. We jump to conclusions, filled with failed final exams, crashing planes and disappointed loved ones.
We may assume the worst in extreme, obvious ways—like the plane crashing—or in more subtle ways. For instance, you get to work, and your boss says they want to meet with you later in the day. But your boss doesn’t mention what the meeting is about. You start telling yourself, Radle said, “Oh no, I’m going to get in trouble! My boss is going to fire me; I just know it.”
Again, before even attending the meeting, you’ve already assumed everything that’ll occur—and none of it is positive.
Ignoring Your Needs
Neglecting your basic needs can bolster anxiety. For instance, are you getting enough sleep? Are you nourishing your body with nutrients? Are you taking regular breaks? It’s hard to be relaxed when you’re running around, fourth coffee cup in hand, powering through your to-do list, unsure about the last time you actually sat down.
The same is true for not setting or preserving your boundaries. For instance, do you let others walk all over you? Do you say yes when you really want to say no? Do you put everyone else ahead of you? Do you stay in situations or relationships that aren’t right for you?
What Can Help
Radle suggested giving ourselves pep talks and speaking with self-compassion. This piece has some examples and tips.
When you don’t know the facts, “avoid filling in the blanks that serve to craft a narrative that reinforces your anxious thinking.” Instead, entertain multiple scenarios. Radle shared these examples:
Maybe your boss wants to compliment you on the work you’re doing or assign you a new task because you’ve done such a good job on previous projects. When you haven’t heard back from someone in a while, maybe that person is busy at work or his or her phone died, or he or she is nervous and is taking a long time trying to craft the “perfect” response to you.
When you notice that you’re jumping to conclusions and trying to read other people’s minds, remind yourself gently that you just don’t know. And it’s unfair both to you and the other person to make assumptions, Radle said.
And “at the very least, if you’re going to entertain negative scenarios, you owe it to yourself to entertain positive ones, as well.”
When it comes to your needs, it’s OK and important to honor them. This includes getting enough sleep, taking breaks and participating in activities you enjoy—and responding to your other physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.
It’s also important to set boundaries and speak up when your boundaries have been crossed. Because, as Radle said, we can’t expect people to automatically know our limits. We have to communicate them clearly. “If you need additional information, assistance, time, etc., don’t be afraid to ask for it.”
Again, if you see your thoughts or actions in any of the above, know that you can change things. And if you need some support, don’t hesitate to see a therapist.
Stay tuned for a second piece with more things that unknowingly amplify your anxiety along with helpful tips.
Anxious guy photo available from Shutterstock