Let’s face it, we’ve all had our anxious moments. However, anxiety disorders are about more than just anxious moments, and are normally characterized by excessive uneasiness and apprehension. Anxiety seems so difficult to manage, particularly when it affects us in so many ways. Anxiety involves how we think of our environment, so in this article I consider the role that negative thinking plays in anxiety and look at how we can counter this.
The Emotional Impact of Anxiety
We need to get a hold of the physical aspects of anxiety, but this is only part anxiety’s effect on our lives. The mental drain and emotional chaos that anxiety brings seem less easy to address than its physical manifestations. My clients often tell me that they can now manage their physical symptoms, but they nevertheless continue to feel out of control of themselves, or as though they don’t have the control that those who don’t suffer from anxiety seem to exhibit. This lack of control affects them in a variety of ways. However, the common element appears to be the seemingly instantaneous nature of the thought processes that they experience when anxious, which only causes them more anxiety. In their own words, they complain that their thoughts go negative and this seems to be the beginning of the end. I know how frustrating it can be for clients to learn to manage their physical panic, yet continue to suffer from spiraling negative thinking. However, there is hope and so I urge my clients to be encouraged. One can learn to progressively manage anxiety in a way that includes confronting both its physical and emotional aspects.
Automatic Negative Thoughts
It is normal for your mind to get stuck in a particular way of thinking and of processing the world. After all, your perspective is crafted and curated from your life experiences. Without outside perspectives that challenge the status quo, it is all-but-impossible to just “change your mind.” Your processing mechanism has a default mode that kicks in when you feel under threat. That threat could be triggered by a multitude of events, places, or people. But this thought process has a negative impact on your ability to feel in charge of the process. Often anxious people experience their minds going extremely negative when they are triggered or experience stress. This tendency to swing to one end of the cognitive spectrum, without the ability to balance on the other end, leads to what some counselors refer to as “ANTs” or automatic negative thoughts.
Managing Your Thoughts
Every individual on this planet has ANTs – automatic negative thoughts that run through their minds. We all have them, everyone. But when you start to view these thoughts and thought patterns as automatic, and as something natural and similar to the physical symptoms, then they become much more manageable. You realize that you are able to address the process, just as you do with physical symptoms. Just as your physical symptoms cannot be preemptively stopped, neither can your mental habits. Instead, you need to engage in a process of renewing your mind and replacing poor coping skills with healthy coping skills. People vary in their ability to interpret and internalize which thoughts are legitimate or worth holding onto, and which thoughts are to be discarded. Often anxiety sufferers tend to feel that they are handicapped in their ability to manage the distress that their thoughts cause.
The First Step is to Acknowledge Your Negative Thoughts
Christian counseling can provide tremendous help in addressing what triggers automatic negative thoughts. My clients have found new and effective ways in which to acknowledge, analyze, and address the ANTs that consume their everyday lives. The first step in addressing these anxious and negative thoughts starts with becoming aware of those thoughts. You need to allow yourself time to contemplate the fact that how you perceive your world could be upsetting your physical and emotional health.
Actively acknowledging when your mind goes negative can help you to figure out what triggered the thought. By changing your thinking, you can change how you feel. Often this is a matter of waiting and reflecting in order to lessen the distress you are feeling. By giving yourself the mental space to do this, you will find it much easier to address the situation with an effective solution that in turn helps to further disperse your feelings and symptoms.
Christian Counseling to Counter Negative Thinking
As a Christian counselor, I have seen how confronting the ANTs in their lives empowers my clients to choose their own responses. Changing your thoughts and feelings can be daunting on your own. However, a licensed counselor can provide help and support in this process, without diminishing your own unique perspective.