July 20, 2018

You feel sick.

Your mind has been racing for hours.

You can’t stop thinking about what mighthappen and how terrible things mightbe.

Your greatest foe has reared his ugly head once again—anxiety.

His main goal?

Shutting you down.

And unfortunately, he wins more often than not.

Is it evenpossible to overcome him when he strikes?

Luckily, it is.

The secret to overcoming anxiety lies in becoming the master of your own mind.

If you learn how to spot and interrupt anxious thinking patterns, you can stop anxiety in its tracks before it does more damage.

3 Thinking Patterns That Cause Anxiety (And How to Spot Them)

Pattern #1: All or Nothing Thinking

All or nothing thinking tells us that a situation has to be EVERYTHING or NOTHING at all.

For example:

One day, I was sitting across from my trusted counselor complaining about my husband.

“He made a list of ten chores to get done on Saturday, and he ONLY DID SEVEN OF THEM!” I cried.

She cocked her head.

“What?! In school, getting a 7 out of 10 is a D!” I said.

She giggled, then burst out laughing.

“Wait...is this about me?” I asked.

She raised her eyebrows.

I realized I had fallen victim to all-or-nothing thinking.

In school, seven out of ten is a “D”, but life isn’t school. We aren’t graded on everything we do.

The fact that my husband completed seven out of ten tasks was actually a reason to celebrate.

The truth is: there is value in recognizing small steps and incremental progress.

High expectations often lead to all-or-nothing thinking.

You want a:

  • Straight A report card
  • Specific salary
  • Specific body weight
  • Spotless house

High expectations are great, but it’s crucial that you don’t hinge your happiness on achieving perfection.

You’ll only end up anxious and depressed.

Be grateful for what you have and what you’ve accomplished—even if you don’t hit your initial goal.

Pattern #2: Catastrophic Thinking

Catastrophic thinking makes us think of terrible outcomes—the phrase “making a mountain out of a molehill” sums this pattern up perfectly.

When there’s a situation you’re unsure about and things could go wrong, catastrophic thinking causes your mind to assume the worst outcome will happen.

Some examples:

  1. You didn’t pay your phone bill on time last month, so your mind automatically says your credit will plummet and you’ll never be able to buy a house.
  2. You and your girlfriend/boyfriend had a huge fight last night, so your mind automatically says they will break up with you and your life will be over.
  3. Your boss calls you into their office to talk about a mistake you made, so your mind automatically says you’ll get fired.

Are these outcomes possible?

Yes, technically.

But the truth is: 99% of the time the worst outcome doesn’t happen.

And in hindsight, you often feel like you worried for nothing.

The stories you and I write in our heads about what might happen are almost always wrong.

Pattern #3: “What If” Thinking

“What If” thinking is like catastrophic thinking, but causes you to worry about possible outcomes way out in the future.

Some examples:

  • Worrying about having to find a new job in a few years because someone said you’re in a dying industry.
  • Worrying that you’ll never find a soul mate and will be alone for the rest of your life because you haven’t been on a date in a while.
  • Worrying about failing a college course because the syllabus looks like it’s in a different language.

What’s one thing each of these examples have in common?

Nothing has happened yet to cause the outcome you’re worrying about (and nothing is guaranteed to happen).

“What if” thinking will have you focusing on scenarios that are highly unlikely.

How to Interrupt Anxious Thinking Patterns

The second step to beating anxiety is interrupting these thinking patterns when you spot them.

Here are 5 ways you can stop anxiety in its tracks:

1. Identify the Lie

Anxiety writes stories in our heads that aren’t true.

You can spot the lies in its story by staying in the present.

Whenever anxiety writes its story, stand firm in the present and evaluate outcomes based on what you know right now.

This will help you spot and interrupt the lie before it takes your mind down the wrong path.

2. Lean Towards Faith and Wisdom

There’s a healthy and unhealthy way to view fear—and your view will impact your level of anxiety when you feel fear.

When your body says, “I’m in danger,” you can choose one of two responses:

  1. Resort to “What If” thinking and anxiety
  2. Move towards faith and wisdom

An example:

A woman entering a dark store parking lot feels fear before walking to her car.

She can either move towards anxiety and think about all the bad things that might happen, saying, “I’m going to get mugged. I’m so stupid. Why did I do this?”

Or she could move to faith and wisdom saying, “I have the ability to get to my car safely.”

Wisdom tells her to be intentional about her actions to keep her safe.

She:

  • Gets her keys out of her purse before walking to her car
  • Pays attention to her surroundings
  • Keeps her thumb on the car alarm
  • Maybe even asks a security guard to escort her

Instead of resorting to “what if” thinking, she moves towards faith and wisdom to find courage.

Your response to fear can either relieve or cause anxiety.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and conscious of the present moment.

It’s a simple, but powerful concept.

Next time you feel anxious, try this simple mindfulness exercise:

Close your eyes and focus on your breath.

Breathe through your nose and count to 4 as you inhale. Then, count to 5 as you exhale through your mouth.

After a few minutes, pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. List off the things you hear.

This will help you tolerate the stress and anxiety you feel. It keeps you in the present moment and helps you know everything will be okay.

4. Set Healthy Boundaries

Just like property lines determine where your property begins and ends, personal boundaries give you structure that helps you maintain healthy relationships with yourself and others.

What does this look like?

Set rules regarding your words, actions, attitude, feelings, and relationships.

If a situation or relationship causes you anxiety (or is unhealthy in another way), create boundaries that keep them out of your life as much as possible.

That means doing things like:

  • Moving away from an unhealthy relationship
  • Surrounding yourself with positive, encouraging people
  • Letting people know when they cross a boundary

Healthy boundaries will help you reduce anxiety stemming from situations in your life you can control.

5. Create More Margin

Margin is the space between our workload and our limits.

It’s simple.

We feel anxious whenever we pile too much on your plate.

The fix?

Prioritize.

Which of your current responsibilities can be given to others who can help?

Which ones can be pushed off?

Are there any that really aren’t that important and could be removed from your to-do list altogether?

Constantly monitor your workload and consider which activities are important and which are adding needless stress.

What to Do When Panic Strikes

It’s inevitable that your body will go into panic mode at times.

When this happens, you can do a breathing and mindfulness exercise to help calm yourself down.

Step 1: Take several deep breaths.

Inhale while counting to 4, then exhale while counting to 5.

This tells your body that you’re giving it what it needs—air.

Step 2: Push your feet into the floor (or pound your feet if you’re standing) and remind yourself that the ground is strong enough to hold you.

Step 3: Look around the room and name things you see.

This reduces your heart rate and moves your mind into the present.

Anxiety Is a Foe You Can Beat

Anxiety seems like a mighty foe because, after all, it has won many of the battles you’ve fought.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it.

If you learn to spot and interrupt anxious thinking patterns, you can turn anxiety away before it takes control.

And soon, you’ll learn anxiety isn’t as mighty as it seems.


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