Challenging anxious thoughts
The way we think can have a huge effect on our wellbeing, and our thoughts can play a significant role in anxiety. Even though we think all the time, we often don’t notice our thoughts as they come and go. But if we take the time to think about our thinking, and notice the contents of our thoughts, we can begin to identify whether or not our thoughts are helpful.
Unfortunately, the thoughts we have when we experience anxiety are often quite negative, and can often feel very real and very scary. It is easy to get swept away by these thoughts, believing them to be true, causing us to lose perspective. But the fact is, our thoughts are just that… thoughts. They are not true reflections of reality, and they don’t necessarily have any bearing on us and our abilities.
So we need a way to identify and challenge these unhelpful thoughts, and learn more balanced, helpful and hopeful ways of thinking.
What are thoughts?
Thoughts are part of life. The automatic inner monologue that we experience everyday; what we say to ourselves in our heads (which some people call ‘self talk’ or their inner voice). Importantly, thoughts are not the same as feelings. While thoughts occur in our minds, feelings tend to be experienced in our bodies – a racing heart when nervous; an increase in energy when happy.
But while thoughts and feelings are different, they are related to one another. Research has repeatedly shown us that the way in which we think can influence the way we feel. In particular, we know that some thinking patterns are more likely to make us feel anxious or depressed.
One way to manage this, is to start to pay attention to the nature of our thoughts. Notice whether they are helpful or unhelpful, and challenge those that are problematic. In doing this, we can directly change the way we think, and subsequently feel.
Remember… thoughts are not facts – they are often wrong! And they are not set in stone. We have the power to change them.
We all fall into common thinking traps at times – telling ourselves that things are bound to go wrong, or judging ourselves or others harshly. Sometimes our negative thoughts might have some truth to them, but most of the time they don’t. Yet, we can often find ourselves falling into these thinking traps again and again, thinking similar types of thoughts over and over. It becomes almost like a habit – automatically going to these types of thoughts. Unfortunately, these types of thoughts and worries are very normal, and very common in pregnancy… but if we get stuck in an unhelpful pattern of thinking, we can end up feeling depressed, stressed or anxious.
To demonstrate the power of these negative thoughts… let’s consider an example.
Often it is the way that we think about a situation that causes us to feel anxious, rather than the situation itself. In fact, two people might feel very differently about the same situation, depending on how they interpret or think about it.
Imagine we have two people, Amy and Bella. They are both 20 weeks pregnant, and at 3pm on a Monday afternoon they feel a slight cramping feeling in their stomach. The situation they experience is exactly the same, but the way they interpret it determines their feelings and their subsequent actions (which can either help to alleviate anxiety, or make it worse).
Amy’s interpretation allows her to let go of the situation and continue about her day. However, Bella’s interpretation leads to intense worry that something is wrong. This drives her to Google what might be wrong, sending her to page after page of worst case scenarios, which only make her anxiety worse.
While, of course, sometimes our thoughts can be accurate… and if the cramping had continued, seeking medical advice would be advisable. But jumping to conclusions immediately, without good reason, can cause unnecessary distress… so it’s important to challenge our thoughts, and try to be balanced and rational when thinking about these types situations or events.
One way to do this is to actively pay attention to our thoughts, and identify whether we think they are helpful or unhelpful… as the types of thoughts we have can really influence how we feel.
CLICK HERE to learn how to recognise unhelpful thoughts.