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A quick look at the headlines in the news can be a little shocking these days. Inflation. War. The never-ending pandemic. A sane person might be tempted to say — if you’re not filled with anxiety then you don’t understand what’s going on. As the old joke goes, even paranoid people have enemies.
Still, even though there are many things to be deservedly anxious about, there are mindsets that can make things worse. Fortunately, there are also steps you can take to avoid negative ways of thinking. Writing for Psychology Today, Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., says “You may not be able to stop being anxious, but you can stop your anxiety from taking you down a dark tunnel, wasting your energy, and causing you to make unwise choices.” She lists several common tendencies that people have that are likely to raise your level of anxiety — and offers tips to overcome them.
Imagining the worst. Brains are funny things — they can be trained to reinforce good habits… or bad ones. “The problem,” says Greenberg, “is that the more you focus on something threatening, the more you reinforce brain pathways linked to worry and anxiety, making them stronger.” The solution? Make an effort to focus your attention on pleasant things you encounter in your daily life. If you find yourself worrying, consciously direct your attention to something non-threatening.
Ignoring the odds. Of course there’s a possibility that bad things can happen. But if you evaluate situations rationally, you’ll probably admit that in most cases the odds of a favorable outcome are highly in your favor. Counter this tendency by stepping back and looking at the big picture, or gathering more information.
“Catastrophizing.” Greenberg coins this word to describe the tendency to think of a simple setback as a disaster. Yes, you lost five percent in the stock market last week. Were you going to use that money in the next month? Of course not — you’re saving it for retirement. Relax… it’s not the end of the world.
Ignoring “safety signals.” These are signs that are actually closer to reality than the fears that are gripping you. Often, people carry baggage from childhood or previous relationships that mar their thinking about the present. If you’re overreacting to a present situation, reflect on whether something in your past is unduly influencing your perception.
Avoidance. Much of the time we know exactly what it is that makes us anxious — an upcoming presentation to a group of people, for example. In response, we avoid the situation that induces the anxiety. Unfortunately, this can stunt our growth, or worse. If a fear of rejection makes you anxious, you may give up dating. The truest path to conquering the tendency to avoid is by confronting things you fear. You can learn not to avoid important situations by confronting little things that you’re afraid of.
Or you may wish to seek professional help. Through therapy you can learn techniques to overcome your fears and anxiety.