What is that odd feeling in your belly, dry mouth, narrowed vision, feeling jittery when going through a new experience, meeting new people, going to a new place? It is anxiety. Sometimes it hits right out of the blue! Who gets it? Nearly everyone…
Stress and anxiety are becoming a part of our daily experience in this fast-paced world. Sometimes anxiety is a good thing. Performance anxiety gives us that “sparkle” when we get up to give a speech, for example. It doesn’t feel very good before the performance, but after there is relief. Anxiety can be debilitating when it prohibits/inhibits us from doing activities that are good for us, like going to the Doctor or Dentist.
There are physical symptoms, such as upset stomach (nausea), sweaty palms or head, rapid heartbeat to name a few. But, anxiety is likely to be produced in our brain/mind by thoughts called cognitive distortions. When we are anxious we have a great ability to believe things that have no basis in reality. David D. Burns, MD lists several in his classic book FEELING GOOD:
1. All or Nothing Thinking: Life is rarely one way or the other and sets you up for perfectionism.
2. Overgeneralization: You arbitrarily conclude that because one thing happened to your one time it will occur over and over and over.
3. Focusing on the Negative: “selective abstraction” is only focusing on a negative detail of the situation and that is all that you let enter your mind.
4. Disqualifying the Positive: Thinking that anything positive said about you doesn’t count because “they” don’t really know how awful you are.
5. Jumping to (Negative) Conclusions: Mind reading or fortune-telling. You call or text a friend and they don’t call or text back in a reasonable amount of time and you conclude they must not like you anymore or be mad at you.
6. Emotional Reasoning: I feel like a dummy, therefore, I am a dummy.
7. Magnification and Minimization: Blowing things out of proportion or shrinking them.
8. Should Statements: (One of my personal favorites) Should statements create a lot of turmoil in your life when applied to yourself or others. I prefer to use the word COULD instead. A long time ago someone told me I should stop shoulding on myself!
9. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization by creating a completely negative self-image of yourself based on your errors.
10. Personalization: Dr. Burns says this cognitive distortion “ is the mother of guilt”! This means taking whatever happens and assuming responsibility for a negative even when there is no basis to do so. You can influence but not control others.
When we consider that anxiety comes from outside of ourselves, we are wrong. A deep sense of fear of whatever we fear causes our brain to distort reality and produce symptoms based on our thoughts. A special boost of self-confidence can help combat cognitive distortions when we recognize them. Our self-talk can remind us of reality.