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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Litton PsyD

The Overly Anxious Mind

Anxiety, and the spectrum of issues that tend to surround it, is one of the most common complaints seen in our practice. Anxiety takes many different forms, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) being the most common. When someone is struggling with GAD, they often describe a constant state of anxiousness or worrying. People living with GAD will often complain of an inability to control anxious thoughts, and they tend to worry excessively. Although they often understand that their worry is disproportionate, they feel they have little ability to stop. It is frequently described as a constant state of feeling “on edge.”

Fortunately, anxiety responds very well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy seeks to help people understand the complex relationship between how someone’s thinking impacts the way that they feel, and as a CBT therapist, I am always on the lookout for something called a “cognitive distortion.” Put simply, a cognitive distortion is a belief or thought pattern that causes someone to feel poorly.

Typically, people that struggle with anxiety often succumb to catastrophic thinking. This thinking pattern always assumes the worst-case scenarios, and increases feelings of anxiety. In turn, the increased feelings of anxiety will increase the likelihood someone will succumb to catastrophic thinking. In addition, this will cause behavioral changes that will reinforce the negative feelings and thought patterns. CBT gives us the tools to break this negative pattern through changes in both behavior and thinking patterns.

To combat these concerns, we try to teach people how to engage with their anxiety in a healthy way. Anxiety often presents the absolute worst-case scenario for whatever they are worrying about, but I encourage people to also consider a more “realistic” worst case scenario. Frequently, this realistic worst-case scenario is something that is much easier to manage. I also encourage people to trust in their own abilities to manage the unexpected, as well as their innate ability to correct life’s problems as they arise. I remind everyone that they have survived every “worst day of their lives” and they will surely survive whatever situation they present to me in therapy.

The stories we tell ourselves often become reality, and constant negative/catastrophic thinking has a corrosive impact on someone’s life. This thinking will make people resistant to taking the necessary risks that often lead to positive change. We work towards helping someone craft a healthier story to tell ourselves, and helping someone learn to stay focused on positive outcomes is the ultimate goal. Change should not always be viewed as a risk, but rather an opportunity for a better life.

In addition to helping someone sort through their thinking patterns, I will also recommend lifestyle changes. A physically active lifestyle has a notable impact on anxiety, and I always recommend some sort of safe exercise. Going to the gym is a fantastic way to “burn off” excessive stress; however, I also understand that not everyone enjoys working out in this way. A simple walk or other low impact movement can achieve the same result.

Therapy is helpful because it gives someone the opportunity to “process” their emotions in a safe way. Someone does not simply tell me about their worries, but rather we work through them together. It is my hope to give someone a safe environment to explore their often overwhelming feelings. With this unbiased exploration, coupled with constructive feedback, the goal is to help someone gain a deeper understanding into their own thinking patterns. With this new insight, the hope is the person will grow past the perception that their anxiety is uncontrollable.

Everyone, regardless of their presenting problem, is strongly encouraged to take fantastic care of themselves. I repeat “You are no good to anyone else until you are good to yourself first,” multiple times a day. Sometimes, anxious thinking is our mind’s way of letting us know that we might have been neglecting this important part of life. We all give ourselves permission to work hard and take care of our various responsibilities. We must also give ourselves permission to schedule rejuvenation into our routines as well. It usually does not take much to rejuvenate yourself, but it has been proven to be a necessary and vital part of a healthy lifestyle.

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