- Identifying and challenging anxiety-provoking thought patterns is an essential step to reducing anxiety.
- We often treat our worries as imminent or inevitable, even if they have a low probability of occurrence.
- Reflecting on how you overcame past adversity can serve as a compass to overcome current and future challenges.
A sense of dread characterizes anxiety in anticipation of a future event. Regardless if you're worried about your job performance, attending a social event, or finances, anxiety results from thinking that a negative outcome will occur and not feeling equipped to handle it.
Identifying and challenging anxiety-provoking thought patterns is an essential step to reduce anxiety and reclaim your inner peace. Asking yourself questions provides a framework to uncovering such thoughts patterns and reducing your overall anxiety.
Here are five questions that can reduce anxiety levels.
1. Why am I anxious?
This may seem like an obvious question, but I have worked with countless anxious people who were unable to tell me why they were anxious. Upon inquiry, they would say to me that “everything” was anxiety-provoking.
Such a scenario illustrates a “stacking” process in which we pile our problems one on top of the other. Like carrying an overstuffed laundry basket, we buckle from their collective weight without identifying and addressing each problem individually.
Stacking our problems implies that each one needs to be addressed with the same level of urgency. However, this is not the case. Worrying about what dessert to make for Thanksgiving dinner does not carry the same weight as having an ill family member in the hospital.
Identifying your worries is an essential first step to reducing your overall level of anxiety. This will help you prioritize them and focus on the most urgent ones. A good starting point is to write down your different worries and circle the top three that require more immediate attention.
2. What are the odds that my fear will become a reality?
After identifying your main worries, reflect on the probability that they will become a reality. We often treat our worries as imminent and inevitable. However, many have a low probability of occurrence. Understanding these odds can reduce anxiety.
For example, imagine that you detect a lump on your neck and are worried that it is cancer. You will experience a different level of anxiety if your doctor reassures you that it is most likely benign compared to being told that there is a 90% probability that the lump is aggressive cancer that is likely to spread.
3. What can I do to lower the odds?
After estimating the odds that your worries will become a reality, reflect on what reasonable steps you can take to further lower those odds, answering this question will help you focus on your sphere of control.
For example, I have worked with people who stopped driving due to the fear of getting in a car accident. Not being in or near a car may reduce the risk of zero in a car accident. However, such behavior leads to more significant problems because it trains someone to be afraid of an anxiety-provoking stimulus, in this case, driving. This interferes with one’s ability to work, socialize or meet different family responsibilities. Hence, it is paramount to tolerate some risk by returning behind the wheel to resume driving.
The odds of getting in a car accident are low. However, you can take proactive steps to further lower these odds. Such steps can include not speeding, not being distracted by electronics, driving when there is less traffic, picking a familiar route on a clear day, or having a passenger as a second pair of eyes and ears.
Taking reasonable steps within your sphere of control makes it less likely that your fear of getting in a car accident will become a reality.
4. Even if the worst-case scenario were to occur, can I handle it?
Unfortunately, there are times when the worst-case scenario is unavoidable. Despite our best intentions to be proactive and prevent a negative outcome, we are left with no choice but to face the inevitable.
Take a moment to reflect on what you would do if the worst-case scenario came to reality. Such a scenario may include a job loss, the end of a relationship, filing for bankruptcy, a pandemic, or the passing of a loved one.
Such scenarios are tragic, and I don’t wish them on anyone. However, odds are you have overcome worst-case scenarios in your past. Reflecting on such experiences serves as a compass to guide you through the present and future difficulties. They are evidence of your resilience and ability to persevere.
5. What is the cost of anxiety?
We often fixate on what can go wrong and forget to look at the other side of the coin. Not taking calculated risks is itself a risk. Avoidance behavior comes at a cost to personal growth. It holds us back and prevents us from reaching our fullest potential.
Let’s assume that you avoid pursuing a job promotion, a social event, or a volunteer opportunity due to anxiety. Such avoidance behavior prevents you from coming across experiences that can lead to personal growth.
In the words of Abraham Maslow, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”
Answering these five questions will not address your every worry or solve the riddle of anxiety. However, they can help you develop a healthier perspective on your worries which is a good starting point to reduce your anxiety levels.
Finally, if you are experiencing any difficulty with anxiety symptoms, please contact your local healthcare provider or mental health professional for help. In case of a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.
This article is not medical or therapy advice.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
LinkedIn image: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock. Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock