This post seeks to inform people about some mental habits that might be worsening their anxiety. A lot of these are cognitive distortions.
What are cognitive distortions?
Cognitive distortions refer to exaggerated and irrational thoughts that are experienced by people who have been through some psychological events that may also cause them to have depression, anxiety, or OCD.
The people who have cognitive distortions usually do not know that their thinking patterns are abnormal. They carry on their lives with disruptive thought patterns that trigger anxiety, ADHD or OCD and they are none the wiser.
In this post, let’s take a look at some of these cognitive distortions that make your anxiety worse.
Mental Habits that Worsen Anxiety
1. All or nothing thinking
All or nothing thinking is a type of fatalistic thinking whereby you think that things should be either perfect, or completely horrendous. There is no middle ground. You go to extremes in any situation, especially negative ones. Here are some phrases used by people who engage in all or nothing thinking:
- I’ll never improve myself
- Bad things always happen to me
- I’ll always be this way
All or nothing thinking is a thinking filter that people have whenever they look at the world. It can even cause OCD to get worse. Remember that your subconscious mind is always listening to you, and if you constantly focus on the negativity, what your mind will present to you will be bad things.
Coping with all or nothing thinking: Shift your mental filter. Focus on a middle ground. Look for the positivity in life and pay little to no attention to the bad things that happen. Use phrases such as:
- I work on myself a lot, so I must be getting somewhere
- Bad things happen, but I choose to focus on the bright side
- I’m working on being a better person
2. Negative mental filtering
Similar to all or nothing thinking, is the negative mental filtering. Everything that happens is tinted with a sad, victim-y filter. Such people constantly use phrases like this:
- Sounds like the kind of thing that would happen only to me
- I was wondering when things would go wrong
- Something doesn’t feel right… why is everything perfect?
Coping with negative mental filtering: Recognize that being too negative is a cognitive distortion. There is no such thing as “bad things only happen to me.” What is going on is that you focus too much on the negativity, and fail to dwell on the good things that happen in your life. Try consciously enjoying the good things in your life.
3. “I should…” statements
People that use “I should” statements are holding themselves back from their potential. Here are some of the worst I should phrases you need to get rid of:
- I should be more helpful to others
- I should be able to do this thing
- I should have said nothing
The problem with should statements is that they contribute to unreasonable demands from ourselves. This type of pressure makes us feel that we owe it to ourselves to perform, or we are unworthy. Should statements cause us to feel guilty about not stepping up and taking on another burden.
People with panic disorder use should statements a lot and this causes them to spiral down into an anxiety attack.
Coping with “I should” statements: Scrap “I should” from your daily vocabulary and focus on more positive affirmations. It might not seem like a lot, but changing your inner talk makes a big difference. Consider using phrases such as:
- Next time, I’ll do better
- I’m going to give this thing my all, and that’s good enough
- I don’t always say the right things, but I’ll work on thinking before speaking from now on
Remember that your subconscious mind is always listening to the way you talk to yourself. Start using more lenient talk when engaging with yourself. You’ll notice an improvement in your mood.
4. Explaining away the good things
Another mental habit that worsens anxiety is when you explain away the good things. These are the phrases used by people when they explain away the good things:
- Wow, I was lucky that one time
- Things like this don’t happen to people like me
- I just know there’s a storm coming after this
This type of negative thinking is bound to trigger anxiety. That’s because you will always be waiting for the bad thing to happen once the good thing is over. People like this have a heightened sense for negative events. In fact, by explaining away the good things, you might unknowingly get yourself into tight spots – because your mind thinks that’s what you want.
Coping with explaining away the good things: Reframe your thinking by accepting and enjoying the good things that happen to you. Deflect the thoughts that make you think it was a fluke, or luck.
5. Labeling yourself based on one-time occurrences
This is a big one. A lot of people have this bad mental habit of labeling themselves based off of one thing that happened five years ago. So you left your passport behind one time – to you that means you are the person that always leaves their passport behind.
It’s not like that at all. You left your passport behind one time – that doesn’t mean you are going to do it every single time after that. Labeling yourself every time something goes wrong is bound to trigger anxiety thinking. It can also cause panic attacks.
Coping with labeling: Engage in more positive self talk and avoid labeling. Use statements such as:
I know I left my passport behind the other time, but that taught me a lesson – now I’m more careful.
It’s all about being more compassionate to yourself.
Additional Helpful Content:
- Daily Routine to Reduce Anxiety
- How to Heal Anxiety + Free Anxiety Healing Worksheet
- How to Get Rid of Anxiety in the Long Run