If you suffer from chronic anxiety and worries, chances are you look at the world in ways that make it seem more dangerous than it really is. For example, you may overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly, jump immediately to worst-case scenarios, or treat every negative thought as if it were fact. You may also discredit your own ability to handle life’s problems, assuming you’ll fall apart at the first sign of trouble. These irrational, pessimistic attitudes are known as cognitive distortions. Although cognitive distortions aren’t based on reality, they’re not easy to give up. Often, they’re part of a lifelong pattern of thinking that’s become so automatic you’re not even completely aware of it. In order to break these bad thinking habits and stop the worry and anxiety they bring, you must retrain your brain. Start by identifying the frightening thought, being as detailed as possible about what scares or worries you. Then, instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out. As you examine and challenge your worries and fears, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective. Stop worry by questioning the worried thought:
– What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
– Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
– What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen?
– If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
– Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
– What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
By Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
I’ve had a lot of worries in my life,
most of which never happened.
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