Updated: Sep 29, 2019
I was the cause of all bad moods. Fact. If someone was snappy, avoidant or irritable, it was my fault. At least that’s what my anxiety would tell me. My anxiety was a cold, heartless, unforgiving monster that I had not only created but had given power to.
The moment that I would leave my house I immediately turned into a connoisseur of both facial expressions and tone of voice. It had become an obsession; one that I couldn’t help but feed. Scanning people for signs of disapproval was just part of the daily grind. Did people think I was stupid? Boring? Or worst of all…weird? I couldn’t have people finding out who the real me was because I was sure they would disapprove. If someone was short with me, I’d automatically think I’d done something terrible, or said something wrong…and then the floodgates really opened. “They hate you; everybody hates you. You’re going to lose your friends, your job, everything!” By the end of the day, I’d have drafted my resignation…best to be prepared.
I no longer think this way. Not because of that golden piece of advice that people usually offer up “Everything is not about you, they have more to do than focus on you!” Which, by the way, I have learned is probably one of the most infuriating things that you can say to someone with anxiety. Realistically speaking, yes, we know that we are not the center of the universe, however, this fact does nothing to stop the negative thoughts from circulating.
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy terms this behavior is called “personalizing”. This is where a person assumes responsibility for a negative event when there is no evidence for doing so. One quickly concludes that something that has happened was their fault and reflects their inadequacy. Basically, what ever it is that has happened directly reflects what a terrible person that they have convinced themselves that they are. Personalizing still trips me up on occasion…especially with those that I really feel like I need to please. If I am feeling particularly insecure, I can start to wonder if I said something offensive, and should I send an apology just in case.
So, how have I managed this anxiety, you ask? I have been able to learn some tried and true techniques that keep me off this vicious emotional merry-go-round that I would like to share with you.
1. Rationalization – I would write down some of the negative thoughts that I had been experiencing, i.e. “I’m afraid I came on too strong”. ‘They didn’t respond back because they are angry with me.” I call it ‘getting all of the crazy out’.
2. I listed all the emotion words that I was experiencing...i.e. worry, fear, frustration.
3. I would then write out this question in capital letters, “AM I PERSONALIZING THIS?”
4. At this point, I began the rationalization. Did I have any valid evidence to support these thoughts? Keep in mind, this valid evidence that I am talking about cannot just be another thought. Neither can an Instagram or Facebook post that has not been liked by said person be considered as valid evidence. It must be something in writing, or something said directly to me from that person.
5. I then thought of other possible explanations and I listed them. Maybe that person was tired, maybe they were having a bad day, maybe they were dealing with something that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I found that once I began to list things, there were so many more possibilities than I thought possible.
6. I made it a point to stop ruminating on the issue. As much as I may have wanted to, ruminating or thinking about it nonstop helps nothing, so I’m really torturing myself over something that I have no power over.
7. Instead, I would change my activity. Play a word game on my phone, read a book, watch something on TV…literally anything that would force me to concentrate.
8. Finally, I reminded myself of the things that I know are true. I am a good person. God created me and He has a plan for my life. I have people in my life who love me and believe in me. Anxiety does not have the power to take those things away.
These are techniques that worked for me. There are different techniques that work for different people. There are so many forms and levels of anxiety that one may not be able to manage these anxious thoughts on their own. Please do not suffer in silence…ask for help. Negative thoughts are a part of life, but obsessive thoughts can be paralyzing and steal every ounce of joy that we could ever experience. You can manage those anxious thoughts instead of them taking over your life. We all deserve to live a life where we can have moments of joy and peace, but we will have to be proactive and take action. It is possible to live a life free of the anxiety monster, and it’s so worth it.