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The Trap of Unhelpful Thinking

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the trap of unhelpful thinking

Unhelpful Thinking

A common problem of anxiety is that it can trap you in 'unhelpful' thinking. By being afraid of something occurring, we try to reassure ourselves that the opposite is true.

When we fear that we are headed for divorce, we reassure ourselves with, "We are soulmates." When we fear that we we will fail a test, we reassure ourselves with, "Nah, I will ace it!" When we fear that we will embarass ourselves on a first date, our well meaning friends reassure us with, "Maybe it will go perfectly!"

This is a problem, because this doesn't really help us move past our anxious thoughts or teach us how to cure anxiety.

Fearing divorce cannot be remedied by believing you are with your soulmate. Overcoming your fear of divorce can only come from tackling your fear of divorce and understanding why you have these fears and what they mean. Similarly, fearing that you will fail a test cannot be remedied by acing it. This just moves your anxiety forward to the next test. Fearing a date, and then hoping it will go perfectly, just sets you up to be yo-yoing between fear of the worst and hopes for an unrealistic best. 

Create a more realistic alternative based in things you can actually control.

Instead of responding to your fear of divorce with romantic, vague concepts like your "soulmate", create an alternative: "Our marriage isn't perfect, but I believe it's worth fighting for. I will take steps to improve our communication and give this marriage a more positive space in my mind."

Instead of calming your nerves of a test with the hope you'll ace it, make a more realistic alternative that teaches your brain how to overcome test taking anxiety such as: "I will study for 3 hours every night this week and then do my best. I recognize that this test is important, but I also recognize that it is not the sole indicator of my future success."

Instead of having anxiety about a first date and hoping it goes perfectly, tell yourself, "This is a scary exciting experience and I'm going to do my best to be honest and kind, and to have fun. If I can do that, I win."

Taking the Power Away from the Fear

These alternatives are realistic and take the "black and white" aspect of your stress out of the picture.

They allow you to focus on your behavior, instead of an intended result. This approach helps you in overcoming anxiety in a more permanent way, because this way, if something goes well, it doesn't give you the temporary high of avoiding your fear while still allowing the fear to exist. What it actually does is take the power out of the fear all together.

Practice This On Your Own:

Write out your "hope" for each anxious moment this week and then cross it out and write out a more realistic alternative.  Make your realistic alternative include goals that are in your control and measurable. 

About the Author

Marlena De La Cruz

Marlena De La Cruz

I’m an occupational therapist and holistic health practitioner that is passionate about educating underserved communities about integrating holistic therapies with their current mainstream health care. Food and travel excite me; Mother Nature grounds me.

More posts by Marlena De La Cruz >
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