Habits of the anxious mind

We all see reality through the filters of our beliefs. We interpret experience in-line with what we already believe, we pay attention to things that fit with what we already think, and ignore or explain whatever doesn’t fit. This is often necessary because there’s too much information coming into our little minds, and this helps us deal with it. Obviously there are downsides.

A mind suffering with anxiety filters all experience through the assumption that things are dangerous. It will see threats where other minds would not. It hears criticism and setback, hazard and risk. This is often because the anxious mind has previously been overloaded with stress and/or trauma and is acting in a perfectly reasonable way to try and protect itself. It cannot see the world as anything other than hostile.

Anxiety may well have shattered a person’s ability to believe in themselves and have confidence in their skills and abilities. This means that the slightest setback or criticism can look like disaster to an anxious mind. It’s also why a response that tells off the anxious mind for overthinking and panicking actually makes things worse. It can simply confirm to the anxious person that they are stupid, over-reacting, useless. The anxious mind can latch onto that criticism instead and see themselves as a failure.

It is not easy for an anxious mind to consider the evidence in a non-anxious way. However, stopping and having a good look at a situation – however scary that seems – does help. Affirm to yourself that you are not irrational – there are perfectly good reasons why you feel as you do. From there, it’s that bit easier to just consider whether your perfectly good reasons are totally applicable in this situation. A tiny margin of uncertainty can make a lot of odds, and thus can allow a bit of reconsideration. Was it meant that way? Is it definitely doomed? Well, maybe not, and the uncertainty allows a tiny step down from the panic.

When any single way of relating to the world becomes normal, it’s really hard to challenge and change it. Be that fear, or depression, entitlement, arrogance, or a belief that your positive thinking will make everything magically come out for the best. It is not an easy thing to notice the mechanics of your own thinking, much less to change them, but it is possible. If you can’t make reasonable predictions about what’s happening around you, the odds are you have a dysfunctional filter of some sort. The emotions you most often feel will indicate what sort of filter you have running.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Habits of the anxious mind

  • garycohenblog

    I wanted to compliment you on this post. I think it is a clear and helpful explanation of what many people experience on a daily basis. This is an area I work on with my clients everyday. I often find when I share with them the details you have explained so well here, most people experience a sense of relief and understanding, which often starts the process of empowerment and change.

  • soniyaagrawalblog

    Hi, Great Post! You can catch my work on short poems at https://soniyaagrawalblog.wordpress.com/ Would love to hear from you. Looking forward to your feedback – SA

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I have noted over time that the things that I was most worried over rarely turned out to be a major problem. whereas the things that nearly killed were often things that I had never considered as a possibility.

    However considering a number of things that nearly killed me, with me still being here, has suggested that my continued survival is not completely dependent on my personal ability to survive. In other words until I actually get around to dying, I will likely survive anything that happens to me,whether I know what I am doing, or I am in total terror with fear. So I am far less afraid of my survival than I used to be. [Grin]

  • jrose88

    Great post! Though I do have a question I’d like to hear your opinion on.

    “Affirm to yourself that you are not irrational – there are perfectly good reasons why you feel as you do. From there, it’s that bit easier to just consider whether your perfectly good reasons are totally applicable in this situation.”

    What if the worry is completely irrational, and trying to track down the rational reasons behind it turns into a stressful cycle of overthinking? For example, OCD anxiety.

    • Nimue Brown

      I would say at that point a short cut might be in order – recognising that something comes from wonky chemistry (I have to do this with bouts of depression, too) can work the same way. It’s not irrational, a thing is happening in my body, and its happening for reasons, and then I switch into treating it like a cold rather than a mind thing, and that can work well. I had to do this in the middle of last night as my brain was set on panicking. Recognising that it is a thing, and accepting in that context that don’t need to know the reasons, I just need to take it seriously and steer away. working out self-care strategies when not in the thick of it can be helpful. It’s not irrational, it’s a thing and i shall deal with it accordingly…

      • Rick Finney

        It’s often hard to remember in the midst of an anxious or depressed state of mind that there’s fresh air and open space on the other side. Your advice here is the most practical and helpful that I’ve seen yet.

  • lornasmithers

    I know this feeling. It takes me many many deep breaths and steps back to make sensible decisions and not take criticism to heart! I’m still awful for obsessing over minutiae that others would forget in a second…

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