Over think this

I think it’s fair to say that if you have anxiety then you often struggle to see the bigger picture. We personalise situations, which has a negative impact on our thoughts and emotions. Something trivial such as being blanked or snapped at by a colleague can torture us for hours. My initial reaction is normally something like:

  • She obviously doesn’t like me
  • What did I do wrong?
  • No, she’s a bitch I hate her
  • Maybe I should send an email and ask if I did something wrong?
  • Why are you still thinking about this? It was two hours ago!

Have you ever found yourself caught in a vicious cycle like this? Personally I re-live the scene over and over, trying to analyse what happened. I think about what I should have said or done. Sometimes it gets out of hand and I imagine the person being hit by a bus, but we won’t go there… To accuse an anxious person of over thinking is like calling the grass green. DUH! In the depts of your mind you’re aware that the thoughts are silly, but you just can’t stop them.
Eventually the thoughts and emotions turn to resentment. The brain seeks to protect itself and anger is just as strong as worry.

This way of thinking might come naturally but the truth is it doesn’t help, it’s exhausting. The ability to take a step back and look at the bigger picture is the strongest way to achieve peace of mind. Easier said than done I know. The desire to curl up with thoughts can be overwhelming, but lets try!
I find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to be an effective way to rational situations. I won’t lie, the exercises are rather time consuming, but they work. I would recommend the app ‘Thought Diary.’ You can complete exercises in private using your phone. I sometimes do it the old fashioned way with pens and paper (I say pens because I have to use at least two different colours,) but using an app is easier. Lets embrace technology!

I will complete a ‘thought chart’ using standard CBT techniques

Situation

Sarah snapped at me earlier when we were discussing stock levels.

Thoughts

She thinks I’m an idiot and doesn’t respect me.
She thinks she can undermine me in front of our colleagues
She’s a bitch
It will be uncomfortable working with her going forward
I will never be nice to her ever again

Emotions

Hurt, humiliation, anger, shame, worry.

Evidence
Is there any evidence to prove that your thoughts are accurate? Something 100% concrete that you could put to a judge?No.

Thinking errors

She thinks I’m an idiot and doesn’t respect me. – Mind reading – Nobody can read minds, it’s impossible.
She thinks she can undermine me in front of our colleaguesMind reading
She’s a bitchlabelling – Nobody is 100% good or bad. Labelling is dangerous because it can evoke extreme negative emotions.
It will be uncomfortable working with her going forwardFortune telling – Nobody can predict the future in definite terms.
I will never be nice to her ever againblack and white thinking – What about the shades of grey in between? How can you be so definite?

New thoughts

It’s true, Sarah snapped at you and it was unpleasant, but is the situation really as dire as you believe?
It is impossible to know what she was thinking – you jumped straight to the negatives without any proof. You also have no idea what is going on in her life, there are so many variables. She might’ve had a bad day or was feeling unwell when you spoke. Nobody is perfect and sometimes people lose their patience. Perhaps she isn’t even aware that she snapped at you.
It might be uncomfortable for the rest of the day but certainly not forever. Nobody likes conflict, try and remember that she is an adult too.
Your relationship with the person doesn’t define your life’s happiness. You have lots of friends and a loving family. In the grand scheme of things this really isn’t that important. In fact, this time next week you’ll probably have forgotten all about it!

As I said, CBT exercises can be time consuming, especially the first few times you do them, but they help to rationalise thoughts and ease negative emotions.

The next time you find yourself over thinking a situation why not take yourself away for ten minutes and give it a try? They can be used to tackle a variety of things. Google ‘thinking errors’ for a full list.

Don’t be surprised if you still fall into the ‘over thinking trap,’ as I said, over thinking comes naturally to anxious people and requires a bit more effort. But when you do catch yourself feel pleased not frustrated, you spotted it!
For example, on Thursday as I typed a response to an infuriating email I suddenly stopped in my tracks. What was I doing? What did I expect to achieve from this and why was it so important? I’d let my desire to defend my ego cloud my judgement. To be honest, the person is a complete dick, (it’s true) but I was definitely personalising the situation. So I took myself away for ten minutes, completed a thought chart and then let it go. Why waste so much time curled up with anger and worry?Sometimes it’s better to go against your instincts.

I hope that everyone has a lovely weekend!

I’m thinking I’m a pillow…

Leave a comment

  1. Kathryn
    April 4, 2015 / 12:29 pm

    This sounds exactly like me. I have thoughts like this almost everyday and it’s exhausting. It Need to get better at completing a thought diary. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Ayesha
    April 22, 2015 / 7:43 pm

    Hi Clair, I recently discovered your blog and started from the beginning and catching up. Everything you describe says my story, completely!
    I find it reassuring to read your blog and it works wonder to calm me down. My general anxiety disorder has probably always existed but recently diagnosed in Feb 2015 with the onset of panic disorder. There have been weeks where I have had multiple panic attacks in one day!
    I love this post especially since it talks about how anxiety sufferers internalise everything and take it personally. I am trying to get out of this habit but it is soo hard when some things happen that really test you. Unfortunately, since my panic attacks were so frequent and scary, and since I did not know how to manage them initially (I even had a panic attack at work that I felt so embarrassed about!), I was not eating, sleeping, talking, going out, basically my whole personality changed and I couldn’t venture out of the house alone, let alone work.
    My doctor knew the severity of my condition and signed me off for 2 weeks and then another 2 weeks (total 1 month!). I was on probation at my work place but was due to pass it in April. My work place increased my probation period when I got signed off, and when I went back in to work, they fired me, JUST LIKE THAT! Due to my attendance.
    They didn’t discuss my illness with me, nor did they wait to see if my attendance improved during probation, no disciplinary. Of course I took this hard on myself and generally feeling extremely grey thinking “could I have worked and not taken the time off!”. Then I feel like smacking myself for thinking this way as I know I could NOT have worked that month as I was a zombie, I wasn’t living, simply existing. For a person who wasn’t leaving the house, how could I have worked!
    I feel frustrated that for someone fighting this (it is hard work!), there is such lack of support in the work place! I may have taken 1 month off during my probation period (6 months) but what about the 5 months I worked without any sickness and they were appreciating my work! Prior to this job I worked for one company for 4.5 years without issues!
    Sorry about the essay, just wanted to share with someone who would understand!!!

    • April 23, 2015 / 12:02 pm

      Hi Ayesha,
      Thank you for getting in touch. I am so sorry to hear about your experiences with panic attacks. I know how truly horrendous they can be. I’m also OUTRAGED on your behalf that your employers thought it was acceptable to fire you. I wonder.. would it have been the same outcome if you would have broken your leg? Anyway, you’re clearly better off not working for a company like that.
      I’m glad that you find my blog useful. The reason I write is to help people like yourself realise that you are NOT alone. I’m right there with you and I understand.
      Take care of yourself and check out this website. It really helped me – http://www.anxietycoach.com/panicdisorder.html

  3. Ayesha
    April 24, 2015 / 3:47 am

    Thank you for your kind words! I will definitely look at the website and keep in touch. It is extremely good to know someone understands!

  4. Lexi
    April 25, 2015 / 1:50 pm

    Hi again (depending if you already read my first comment ),
    I have several issues summed up as borderline syndrome, social anxiety and an overall anxiety disorder being among them. I’m visiting a so called “Skills -group ” for Borderline and Posttraumatical stress disorder and we have similar exercises there but to hear this from someone who actually “suffers ” or has suffered too, is a whole new level so thank you……thinking about it if you have to endurey lengthy comments I might as well add variety so Merci Beaucoup: )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *