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Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts


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Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.   Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts

Anxiety is having too much fear and worry. Some people have what's called generalized anxiety disorder. They feel worried and stressed about many things. Often they worry about even small things. Some people also may have panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden feeling of extreme anxiety.

People who have social anxiety disorder worry that they will do or say the wrong thing and embarrass themselves around others.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat and sweaty hands. It can make you limit your activities and can make it hard to enjoy your life.

Healthy thinking can help you prevent or control anxiety.

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  What is healthy thinking?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Why is healthy thinking important to helping you cope with anxiety?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  How can you use healthy thinking to cope with anxiety?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Where to go from here

What? - What is the medical information or key concepts related to the action?  What is healthy thinking?

Healthy thinking is a way to help you stay well by changing how you think. It's based on research that shows that you can change how you think. And how you think affects how you feel.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you know what thoughts of yours—both helpful and not helpful—affect problems or feelings that trouble you. With practice, you can replace negative thoughts that discourage you with accurate thoughts that encourage you.

Working on your own or with a counselor, you can practice these three steps:

The goal is to have accurate, encouraging thoughts come naturally. It may take some time to change the way you think. So you will need to practice healthy thinking every day.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help change how you think about yourself.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of therapy that can help change how you think about yourself.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of therapy that can help change how you think about yourself.


  2. You need to see a counselor to do CBT.

    1. True

      This answer is incorrect.

      You don't need to see a counselor to do CBT. There are techniques you can learn and practice on your own.

    2. False

      This answer is correct.

      You don't need to see a counselor to do CBT. There are techniques you can learn and practice on your own.


Why? - Why the action is important?  Why is healthy thinking important to helping you cope with anxiety?

Changing your thinking can help you stop the worry by replacing negative thoughts with helpful ones. It's also helpful in controlling panic attacks.

Healthy thoughts can help stop the "fight or flight" feelings that you have with anxiety. In a fight-or-flight response, your body senses danger and the need to fight or run away. Your body releases hormones like adrenaline, which makes your heart beat fast and your blood pressure rise. Healthy thoughts can calm you and stop this response.

For example, maybe you are about to have a job review. It's normal to be a little nervous. But you have trouble sleeping and have a fast heartbeat and sweaty hands. You think constantly about the review. You've been telling yourself that your boss is going to say bad things about your performance—even though you haven't been getting bad comments from her.

Or perhaps you have a doctor's appointment coming up. And you're worried that he may find something wrong.

If you have anxiety, you may worry a lot about many things. You are sure that something bad is going to happen, even though you have no proof that something bad will happen.

The more you talk in a negative way to yourself, the harder it is to keep a healthy outlook. The negative thinking makes you feel bad. And that can make you feel more anxious, which leads to more bad thoughts about yourself. It's a cycle that's hard to break.

But with practice, you can retrain your brain. After all, you weren't born telling yourself negative things. You learned how to do it. So there's no reason you can't teach your brain to unlearn it and replace negative thinking with more helpful thoughts.

Healthy thinking also is good for your health in other ways. If you feel bad about yourself, you could get depressed. Healthy thinking also can help you handle stress better. Too much stress can raise your blood pressure and make your heart work harder, which can increase your risk for a heart attack. Stress also can weaken your immune system, which can make you more open to infection and disease.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. Healthy thinking can help you stop negative thoughts that make you anxious.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      Healthy thinking can help you stop negative thoughts that make you anxious. It also can help you replace those negative thoughts with thoughts that are more helpful.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      Healthy thinking can help you stop negative thoughts that make you anxious. It also can help you replace those negative thoughts with thoughts that are more helpful.


  2. Healthy thinking can help your health in other ways.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      Healthy thinking can help you prevent or cope with depression. It also can lower stress. And less stress can lower your blood pressure and make your immune system stronger.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      Healthy thinking can help you prevent or cope with depression. It also can lower stress. And less stress can lower your blood pressure and make your immune system stronger.


How? - Learn the steps involved in taking action.  How can you use healthy thinking to cope with anxiety?

Notice and stop your thoughts

The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.

Ask about your thoughts

The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Look at what you're saying to yourself. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated.

One of the best ways to see if you are worrying too much is to look at the odds. What are the odds, or chances, that the bad thing you are worried about will happen? If you have a job review that has one small criticism among many compliments, what are the odds that you really are in danger of losing your job? The odds are probably low.

There are several kinds of irrational thoughts. Here are a few types to look for:

Choose your thoughts

The next step is to choose a helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.

Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember them at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so that you can write down any thoughts as they happen. Then write down helpful messages to correct the negative thoughts.

If you do this every day, accurate, helpful thoughts will soon come naturally to you.

But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.

If you want, you also could write down what kind of irrational thought you had. Journal entries might look something like this:

Thought diary

Stop your negative thought

Ask what type of negative thought you had

Choose an accurate, helpful thought

"I get so nervous speaking in public. I just know that people are thinking about how bad I am at speaking."

Focusing on the negative

"I'm probably better at public speaking than I think I am. The last time I gave a talk, people applauded afterward."

"I have to be in control all the time or I can't cope with things."

Should

"I can only control how I think about things or what I do. I can't control some things, like how other people feel and act."

"I'll never feel normal. I worry about everything all the time."

Overgeneralizing

"I've laughed and relaxed before. I can practice letting go of my worries."

"My headaches must mean there is something seriously wrong with me."

Catastrophic thinking

"A lot of things can cause headaches. Most of them are minor and go away."

Test Your Knowledge

  1. Which of these thoughts is an example of healthy thinking?

    1. I'll always be terrible at standardized tests.

      This answer is incorrect.

      This is an example of an irrational thought called overgeneralizing. You may have done poorly on some standardized tests. But did you really do badly on every test you took? Chances are you're being too hard on yourself. With some preparation—some extra studying and relaxation exercises—you can do well on tests.

    2. That date didn't go well. I was a little nervous, so I didn't talk much. Maybe I can learn some ways to relax before the next time I go out.

      This answer is correct.

      This is an accurate thought. You're admitting that you were nervous. But you also are thinking about how you could be less nervous next time.


  2. How can a daily journal help you have more accurate, rational thoughts?

    1. It makes you aware of your self-talk and can help you come up with helpful thoughts to correct an irrational thought.

      Both answers are correct.

      A daily journal can make you aware of your self-talk and have more helpful thoughts. As soon as you write down an unhelpful thought, you can write an accurate, encouraging thought to correct it.

    2. Writing in the journal every day will help healthy thinking come naturally to you.

      Both answers are correct.

      Writing in the journal every day will help healthy thinking come naturally to you. It takes some practice. It took a long time for negative thinking to become automatic. So it may take some time to get used to having accurate, realistic thoughts.


Where? - Other resources and organizations that can help you take action.  Where to go from here

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to practice healthy thinking to help you prevent and control anxiety.

To learn more, see:

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started.

References

Other Works Consulted

Credits for Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
Specialist Medical Reviewer Sue Barton, PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health
Last Revised August 3, 2012

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