Nicole Ambrose, LCSW
Lies Anxiety Tells You and Ways to Overcome Them
The anxious mind will have you believing things about yourself, your circumstances, and your future that are just not true. Anxiety lies. Plain and simple.
Once you can acknowledge that your mind plays tricks, you’ll be able to get back in the driver’s seat and regain a sense of control of yourself and your life. Let’s take a look at some of the most common lies that your anxiety will try to convince you of…
1. Worrying about the future is an effective method of problem-solving.
Endless worrying is NOT helping you! You might try to justify your worry by telling yourself that this is how you avoid surprises in the future, but let’s be real for a second… worrying about situations that have not occurred yet doesn’t necessarily prevent anything from happening. In fact, it just becomes a major hindrance to your ability to be your best in the present moment because it creates more opportunities to beat yourself up and perpetuate fears.
Worrying boils down to a need to feel in control. That makes you feel safe and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, you have to accept that you cannot control everything. Once you can come to terms with that, you can develop a healthy sense of control and do a better job of managing those parts of your life and experiences that you have a real influence on.
2. You should fear everybody sensation you get.
Those of you with health-related anxiety struggle with this one the most. Every flutter, tingle, and twinge triggers a reaction for you that often throws you into an anxiety attack or even a panic attack. Our bodies are made of complex systems that are constantly operating to keep us going.
Sometimes we feel things, but that doesn’t always mean that something is wrong with us. If you’re a person that has a fear of death; maybe because you’ve witnessed others suddenly pass on or have experienced medical issues that were traumatic for you; you might have become overly aware of bodily sensations. This hyper-awareness could be fueling your anxiety and causing you to believe that there is a problem where there isn’t one.
3. You’re weak.
Anxiety is rooted in fear and as such has little faith in your abilities most of the time. It will cause you to feel incapable in many different ways. This is a bald-faced lie! It’s one of the most debilitating lies because it makes you feel shitty about yourself AND interferes with your ability to ask for help from others in fear of their judgment or perception of you.
You might feel like a burden on others to ask for support or be concerned that if they know you need help that they may view you as incompetent or defective. By dispelling this belief you can build your confidence and become more aware of your strength.
4. You’re not safe.
A feeling that you are not safe is the essence of anxiety. It all starts with your amygdala, the most primitive part of your brain. Its job is to initiate the fight-flight-freeze-fawn response in your body. While its motive is simply to ensure your survival, those of you with anxiety have an overactive amygdala. It's the ability to recognize true danger is all out of whack.
When you live with heightened anxiety, your brain is perceiving threats EVERYWHERE and this will steer you away from a lot of things in life. You may avoid social gatherings, job opportunities, conversations, and new adventures because they all feel unsafe to you. But living in isolation out of fear is NOT benefiting you either. You can retrain this part of your brain to recognize real danger and learn to create safety for yourself.
5. You’re going to be stuck like this forever.
That’s a terrifying thought… forever is a long time! Feeling stuck is one of the most common reasons folks find their way to my therapy office. When we feel stuck we start to question everything... what’s my purpose, where am I going in life, have I made the wrong decisions for myself? These kinds of questions for an anxious person can cause you to feel completely trapped.
Being stuck comes with feeling hopeless a lot of the time, so I encourage you to change your language. Let’s use the word immobilized instead. This means you’ve stopped moving, and there are loads of factors that cause us to slow down or stop. By bringing awareness to those factors we can develop strategies to get the wheels moving again. Just because the vehicle has stopped doesn’t mean it’s broken down never to move again.
How to Overcome The Lies Anxiety Tells You
1. Ground Yourself and Observe
As a person with anxiety, you know that sometimes you feel unable to move but other times you have so much energy that you just want to jump out of your skin. A good way to get grounded is to get out that excess energy first. Do a bunch of jumping jacks, vigorously shake your body, arms, and legs, or go up and down your stairs for a couple of minutes.
Once you’ve expended the extra juice, find a comfortable place to sit down. Allow gravity to pull your weight down and focus on how it feels to be completely supported by whatever surface you are sitting on. Relax your arms and legs. Relax your face by releasing any tension in your forehead, loosening the grip of your jaw, and dropping your tongue from the roof of your mouth. Now just focus on your breaths. Inhale and exhale. That is the only objective until you feel settled and still.
Once you’re grounded in that space, the next step is to begin to observe your thoughts. Imagine yourself as an outsider watching your thoughts flow through your mind on a film reel or slideshow. They come in just as easily as they move back out. Don’t worry about giving any thought that much attention, we’ll get there soon. Spend some time getting comfortable here before you move on. Be patient with yourself, it might take a little time.
2. Challenge Distorted Thoughts
Now that you’ve successfully distanced yourself from engaging every thought that comes through your mind, you’re ready to acknowledge and work through any distorted thoughts and information contributing to your anxiety. It can help to write your thoughts on paper as you go to get them out of your head so you can see them clearly.
There are several ways that our brains distort information; these are called cognitive distortions. Some of the most frequent cognitive distortions associated with anxiety are polarized thinking (also known as dichotomous thinking), catastrophizing, personalization, and filtering.
Polarized thinking will have you believe that there are only two outcomes; one is right and the other is wrong, one is good and the other is bad; it can also be an all or nothing scenario. Many life circumstances don’t benefit from this kind of thinking. If you’re locked into polarized thinking, try to find the middle ground. Find the grey between the black and white.
Catastrophizing is exactly what it sounds like, jumping to the worst-case scenario. This kind of thinking really throws you into anxiety and panic. It’s hard to stop yourself from doing this, so instead acknowledge when you’re doing it, bring yourself back to the present moment, and focus on the facts of the situation. Remember you can’t control everything and worry about things outside of your control is not going to help you.
Personalization is essentially taking everything personally. Sometimes when you’re anxious you might find that you are assuming every other person’s negative attitude or action is because of something you did or said. That’s not true. The best way to challenge these kinds of thoughts is to avoid jumping to conclusions and recognize that there are a lot of other reasons someone may be in a bad mood or acting differently that may have absolutely nothing to do with you.
Filtering happens when you “filter” out all of the positive events, outcomes, or information and focus solely on the negative. Coupled with catastrophizing, this way of thinking becomes really problematic because you are limiting your perspective and not seeing the full picture. Take a minute to check in with yourself and review ALL of the facts.
3. Practice Self-Compassion and