Thought challenging tool for anxiety

Want to learn how to control your anxiety, conquer your fears and put a stop worrisome thoughts? 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. Research has shown it to be effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias, among many other conditions.

CBT addresses negative patterns and distortions in the way we look at the world and ourselves. The following situation shows how our thoughts contribute to anxiety, which affects our reactions and behaviour. 

Example situation: Your friend invites you to a big party 

Thought #1: This party sounds like fun. It will be great to go out and meet new people!

Emotions: Excited, happy

Thought #2: I don’t really enjoy parties. I’d much rather stay in and watch Netflix.

Emotions: Neutral

Thought #3: I find parties overwhelming. I never know what to say or do at big gatherings. I’ll probably make a fool of myself if I go.

Emotions: Anxious, sad

The same situation can provoke different feelings and emotions in everyone. We can be influenced by our expectations, attitudes, and beliefs we hold. 

For people with anxiety disorders, negative thoughts fuel the negative emotions of anxiety and fear. The goal of CBT for anxiety is to identify and correct these negative thoughts and beliefs. If you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.

Thought challenging for anxiety in 3 steps

Thought challenging—also known as cognitive restructuring—is the process in which you challenge the negative thinking patterns that contribute to your anxiety, and replace them with more realistic and positive thoughts. 

Thought challenging involves three steps:

  • Identify your negative thoughts

With anxiety disorders, situations are perceived to be more dangerous than they actually are. Ask yourself what you were thinking when you started feeling anxious. 

  • Challenge your negative thoughts

Evaluate your anxiety-provoking thoughts by weighing the pros and cons of worrying or avoiding the thing you fear. Assess the realistic chances that what you’re anxious about will actually happen and ditch the unhelpful beliefs.

  • Replace negative thoughts with realistic thoughts

Once you’ve identified the irrational predictions and negative distortions in your anxious thoughts, you can replace them with new thoughts that are more accurate and positive. 

Consider saying calming statements to yourself when you’re facing or anticipating a situation that normally sends your anxiety levels soaring.

Thought challenging for anxiety review

To understand a little further how thought challenging works in cognitive behavioural therapy – let’s look at the negative thought reaction to the party invite again. 

Party invite situation:

Negative Thought: I find parties overwhelming. I never know what to say or do at big gatherings. 

Emotions: Anxious, sad

Cognitive distortion: I’ll probably make a fool of myself if I go –  I will probably freeze and not know who to chat with or what to even say. This is so awkward!

More realistic thoughts:

  • I could go to the party for a short while and can always leave when I feel uncomfortable. I will not be stuck. I’ll aim to go for an hour and assess how I feel afterwards. 
  • There will be other people, like me, who don’t know each other. They too may feel nervous in approaching others for the first time- I’m not alone in my feelings. I’ll aim to be open and friendly in chatting with new people. 
  • This will be a chance to meet new people and possibly others who share my interests and passions in life. I find it easier to talk about my interests and hobbies.
  • This is a great opportunity to do something out of my comfort zone. I will make a game out of it and challenge myself to approach and introduce myself to three new people. I’ll ask them how they know my friend and try to learn about their interests — people enjoy talking about subjects they feel passionate about. 

Replacing negative thoughts with more positive and realistic ones is easier said than done. Often, negative thoughts are part of a lifelong pattern of thinking. It takes practice to break the habit, but you can do this! 

Thank you to Positive Psychology for the great inspiration.