How to get rid of negative thinking and anxiety
Defeating anxiety, stress, negative thoughts, procrastination and fears has never been easy. And it never will be. Not because there is something wrong with us, or because we are doing it the wrong way, but because it is something that requires a lot of conscious effort, time, practice and a great deal of mental energy.
We are actually rewiring our brain: changing the neuron pathways that have existed in our brains since childhood. In order to build new pathways, we need to develop some specific skills.
Attention: don't go into "all or nothing" thinking, saying to yourself "I don't have that skill, so I will never beat anxiety". It's not "you either have it or you don’t". We all have these skills, each and every one of us, to a different degree. And we can all work on these skills, a little bit every day, and some skills more than others. There is no recipe here. No one has mastered all of them - we are all trying our best.
The ability to tolerate and accept uncertainty
There are circumstances where we don't know what will happen tomorrow, neither the outcome of our actions or what the decisions of others will be. Having control over everything is beyond our ability. Let us accept that. We are responsible for only half of what's happening around us (at times even less) and there are situations where we can only wait and see. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Ask yourself: "I cannot do anything right now to change what is. Can I let go for now and see what will happen tomorrow?"
The ability to defend your story
It is quite common for people with anxiety to ruminate over worst-case scenarios. They blame themselves for mistakes or neglect. What about we stop putting all the blame on ourselves and accept the story as it is. "Yes. I did my best." or "I am sorry but that seemed like the right decision at the time". Defend yourself and your side of the story. You are only human.
Ask yourself: "I did my best. I cannot undo it. Am I ready to defend myself if something goes wrong? Am I willing to own my decisions?"
The ability to choose your battles
Juggling with more balls than we can handle is a sure way to experience stress and anxiety. When we want to be prepared for all possibilities, it makes sense for us to try and cover our bases. The need for self-protection is very strong in people with anxiety, however, it backfires when we struggle 24/7, even with the least important tasks in our lives. Time-wise and energy-wise, it is just not possible.
Choose your battles. Prioritise tasks based on what matters right now and what doesn't. Focus only on what's important, and keep the rest on the back burner.
Ask yourself: "Are all the things I worry about right now equally significant? If I could put them in order, what would be number one?"
The ability to work on something without seeing the results
Sometimes, we are so caught up in working on an important task that we lose contact with the effort we've put in. We focus only on the result: "What if I fail? What if it goes wrong..." And all the negative scenarios flood into our minds. What if we forget about the final outcome? We cannot fully predict what will come of our effort, we only have a rough idea. The only thing we can focus on is what we do now.
Ask yourself: "If nobody sees the end product, do I still want to keep on doing it? Do I still find pleasure in it?"
The ability to let go of perfectionism
Allowing ourselves to make mistakes is a keystone in our lives. You are allowing yourself to be imperfect. You are allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and at the same time, you are "permitting" others to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to be who they are as well.
Suddenly your high -unreachable and exhausting- standards will drop and you can sigh with relief. Suddenly you don't need to change either yourself or others. You realise that there is a limit to what you can achieve right now. Perfectionism is not about delivering perfect results. It is about struggling to reach perfection and beating yourself up for failing to do so.
Ask yourself: "What is more important? Pinpointing mistakes in myself or others in order to improve myself / them or to stop judging and save this relationship by accepting human nature as it is?"
The ability to recognise your thoughts and your thinking patterns
In the rush of everyday life, we hardly ever have time to stop and reflect. However, seeing your thoughts as an observer (so-called "metacognitive skills") is a skill that will give you great insight on how you feed your brain. If you are using words like "always" or "never" (e.g. "I will never succeed", "I am always the last one", etc.), you are over-generalising and treating yourself in an unfair way. You are exaggerating your weak parts and ignoring your strengths and achievements.
Ask yourself: "Am I talking to myself in an unfair way? How is this helping me right now?"
The ability to be in the present moment
An anxious mind is hardly ever in the present. It always "travels" towards scary thoughts about the future, making up scenarios where things get worse, preparing for all probabilities and trying to minimise any possible risks for the future. There is nothing wrong with that per se. However, something is missing: the present moment, the joy, the surprise, the agony, and the unexpected moment.
Ask yourself: "What is the point of caring so much about the future, if I am missing the present moment and the opportunities that it brings?"
The ability to stop caring about what other people think
"People will think that I am sloppy", "people will talk behind my back", "people will not approve of my decisions". Everyone, more or less, tries to take the opinion of others into consideration in an attempt to behave within the "norms" of society. However, when these rules overwhelm us, and we find ourselves thinking more about other people's opinions and tailoring our lives to their standards, then we are left with anxiety, frustration and inner conflict.
Ask yourself: "I cannot always please others and be happy with my life. What do I choose?"
The ability to turn things around
Not getting a promotion is a negative experience in life. Divorce is definitely one of the worst experiences to go through. However, if you turn this around, it can be a great opportunity to see if you really fit in this company, this job or even this marriage. It may be a chance to look for other alternatives, to find a job or a relationship that really gives meaning to your life.
Ask yourself: "Can I turn this around? Can I see even a small positive outcome of this situation?"
The ability to share
The burden we usually carry is even heavier when we carry it alone. The truth is that you don't have to do everything by yourself. Asking for help doesn't mean you are weak. It just means that you don't have all the solutions to all the problems and that's OK. Nobody will think badly of you or try to diminish your efforts. On the contrary, they will be happy that you are including them and that you are sharing what is important to you.
Ask yourself: "What will I gain if I share my worries and ask for help? What will I lose if I continue to struggle on my own?"
Do you have any tips to add? What works for you? Let us know in the comments!