Living With Anxiety: 14 Thinking Patterns That Have You Trapped

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Written by Frankie Cameron

What is anxiety? In simple terms, anxiety is excessive worrying. While worry is a universal human trait, with anxiety one size does not fit all and the disorder affects each individual differently.

People that suffer from anxiety disorders look like everyone else. They can appear calm on the outside but inside their minds race with uncontrollable feelings of worry that control their lives. It becomes mentally exhausting. Trust me, I know, I have lived with chronic anxiety my entire life.

Disclaimer: I wrote this blog from my personal experiences. I do not intend for this content to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified medical health care providers with questions you may have regarding your situation. 

There are many symptoms of anxiety, and because everyone experiences it differently, a person could have all or none of these physical symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Heart pounding
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Restless legs
  • Shaky hands
  • Shallow breathing
  • Stomach issues
  • Sweating
  • Trembling

Mental Signs of Anxiety

These are just a few of the mental signs a person with anxiety could potentially have:

  • Avoidance issues
  • Compulsive rituals
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Excessive worrying
  • Feelings of doom
  • Impatience
  • Insomnia
  • Irrational fears
  • Irritability
  • Memory issues
  • Panic attacks
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Racing thoughts
  • Social phobias
  • Trouble concentrating
Graphic of a person's head exploding with anxiety

Thinking Patterns of People with Anxiety

People with anxiety have extreme thinking patterns or mental traps. We can take an insignificant problem and turn it into something more serious. (This section was adapted from: MindsetHealth, Anxiety Canada, and TheRemoteYoga)

All or Nothing Thinking

This involves using words like “always” or “never”. Seeing everything in absolutes or extremes, but life is never black and white, negative or positive, failure or success. For example, if someone gets mad at you, your first thought is “nobody likes me”. You make one mistake and think you are incapable of doing anything right.

Catastrophic Thinking or Magnifying

This happens when you always assume the worst, that something is wrong and the only outcome you can expect is a disaster. We may take a small thing and blow it out of proportion. For example, you could get a single mosquito bite and think that you will contract malaria.

Emotional Reasoning

This involves getting worked up about something you don’t know yet or can’t prove. Just because you feel something doesn’t make it real. It is possible to get stuck in a loop of negative thinking which makes you feel worse and perpetuates the cycle.

A frustrating thing about having an anxiety disorder is knowing you are freaking out for no reason but being unable to shut the emotion down. 

Excessive Worrying

Similar to emotional reasoning, this happens when your brain gets stuck on a loop or thought patterns of “what ifs’. This can include racing thoughts or irrational fears. For example, “What if I don’t finish this report on time?” “What if I get fired?” “What if I never get another job?” “What if everyone thinks I’m a failure?”

Exaggerated Thinking

This happens when your brain automatically responds with a negative thought. You exaggerate simple mistakes and blow things out of proportion. “I’ll never be happy again”. “I’ll never get it right”.

Fortune Telling

Believing you can predict the future, and there is no hope. For example, “No one is going to talk to me if I go to the dance.” “I’ll never pass that test.” “No one will ever hire me.” “The trip will be a disaster.”

Ignoring the Positive or Filtering

You filter out the good things, determined only to see and hear the bad. “Everyone hated my presentation because James yawned and looked at his phone the entire time but Maya and Fred said it was brilliant.” When people don’t celebrate their accomplishments, it becomes hard to develop self-confidence.

Jumping to Conclusions

This involves deciding something without considering the data or evidence. It’s like your son forgetting to call and you thinking something drastic has happened. Like finding a lump and thinking it’s cancer.

Overgeneralizing

Generalization is the habit of applying the result of one incident to all other similar ones. When you take one or two situations and make it into a much bigger thing. “I scored badly on this exam so I can never pass an exam.” “I messed up my proposal, I will never get it right.”

Mind Reading

Believing you know what others are thinking and believing it is negative. “Everyone is wondering what I am doing here.” “Everyone knows I don’t belong.”

Name Calling or Labeling

This involves having a harsh inner voice that tears you down. Many people build impressions about themselves–often negative–and then live their entire lives within it. “I’m a disappointment.” “I’ll never be as good as them.”

Self-Criticism

You blame yourself for everything, so it’s impossible to build confidence. Everything that goes wrong you think is your fault. “I’m not good enough”. “I’ll never get it right”. People with anxiety have high standards for themselves and get irritated when things aren’t perfect.

Taking Things Personally

You take everything to heart and think everything is your fault. By making everything about you, you end up taking on responsibility for everyone. For example, if a thing does not happen the way it should, you think, “It’s my fault!” Somebody could just be having a bad day, and it has nothing to do with you.

Unrealistic Standards

This happens when you always think of what they should or must do. “I shouldn’t eat sugar ever again.” You cannot enjoy the present without worrying about the future. You are too busy trying to be perfect that you forget to enjoy your life.

What Helps or Triggers Anxiety

There are a lot of things that can trigger or help your anxiety. Some of them include:

Things That Make Anxiety Worse

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Eating processed foods
  • Ignoring your anxiety
  • Lack of sleep
  • Not exercising enough
  • Not getting enough fluids
  • Poor eating habits
  • Skipping meals
  • Sugar
  • Watching the news

Things That Make Anxiety Better

  • Affirmations
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercise
  • Hobbies
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Nature
  • Practicing self-love
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Proper eating
  • Proper sleep
  • Staying connected

My Experience of Living with Anxiety

My doctor diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was in my late twenties. When I grew up, there wasn’t as much knowledge on mental health as there is now. People just thought I was shy and introverted, never knowing how bad my anxiety could get, especially with my empathic nature.

When people ask me about my experience with anxiety, I describe it as having a voice in my head that doesn’t like me and tells me I can’t do anything right. Outwardly you wouldn’t notice, but inwardly my heart pounds while my mind races all the time. Anxiety makes me question everything, it makes it hard to trust myself. This quote below describes the way anxiety makes me feel.

Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it is the loudest voice in the room and the only one you can hear. – Unknown

I have had this voice in my head for as long as I can remember. I overthink, over analyze, and filter everything through my emotions. When I was younger, my anxiety would manifest itself by making me physically sick. My mother called it a nervous stomach, which would always appear whenever there was a school trip or an important event.

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was eleven or twelve, being absolutely convinced that I would not live until morning. There was no basis for this thought, but I got stuck in a negative thought loop and couldn’t shut it down, overwhelmed with an irrational thought.

Graphic showing symptoms of how someone looks on the outside but feels on the inside

Creaved in Canva; content from Anxious Moms

I have tried counseling, but I have had little luck, maybe because I don’t enjoy talking about myself. Medication hasn’t worked for me either, it always makes me feel tired and dull.

My addiction to reading and watching television began by trying to keep my mind busy and the voice at bay. And now as a writer, it helps to keep my thoughts in check by allowing me to get into someone else’s head.

As I’ve gotten older, I have learned tricks to keep my anxiety at bay. I find deep breathing, meditation, and exercise work best for me. It has taken a long time to learn how to shove down the negative voice in my head and even though it will never be silent, sometimes it can be quiet.

I write this post not looking for any sympathy or attention, but to give you an understanding that just because someone looks okay on the outside doesn’t mean they are alright on the inside. You never know what someone is dealing with, so always be kind. 

Final Thoughts

When dealing with people with anxiety, don’t tell them to “stop thinking about it” or “it’s all in your head”. We know that already and if we could stop, we would. Do you live with anxiety? Let me know in the comments.

 

Until next time

Frankie

 

Feature image by Nikko Macaspac on Unsplash.

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