Recent research tells us that the average person has more than 6,000 thoughts per day! Yikes. From the moment you wake up to when you fall asleep, there are thousands of thoughts flooding your mind and thousands of situations that cause us social anxiety. Most of the time, we don’t even recognize negative thoughts because they’re on autopilot or have become all too familiar. We’re good at automatically believing them, particularly when we’re dealing with stress and anxiety.
The Vicious Cycle of Anxiety
You’ve experienced the vicious cycle: the more negative thoughts you have, the more anxious you feel, and the more anxious you feel, the more negative thoughts you have. In this post, you’re going to learn why you have negative thoughts and how to stop them so you can feel less anxious from my perspective as a therapist at Care Therapy.
Why do we have anxious and negative thoughts in social situations?
Science tells us there’s reasons why our brain tends to focus more on negative thoughts. One of these reasons is known as the negativity bias, this tendency to focus on the negatives more than positives. It serves as a critical function passed on from our ancestors to keep us safe from threats.
Fight or Flight Response
From a survival standpoint, focusing on the negatives helps us to stay away from threats or not repeat it. Whenever our brain senses a “threat,” whether it’s real or imagined, our flight/fight response is activated. Think of this as the alarm system that warns of a possible danger and prepares you to run away or fight off the threat. When this happens, negative thoughts come more easily than positive thoughts. And this is super helpful when it’s a real threat that requires your attention. For example, let’s say you’re driving and the car next to you is driving erratically. You start to feel stressed and anxious. Negative thoughts unleash helping you respond either by slowing down (run away/avoid) or speeding up (fight) to get away from the car.
The Need to Rewire the Brain
The problem for a lot of us is that we don’t live in the same time as our ancestors did where they were exposed to more life and death situations. Generally speaking, we don’t have the same threats they did such as getting attacked by a wild animal walking down the street. Our threats are more related to social anxiety and social situations. Yet, the negativity bias remains the same and our brains are defaulted to that pattern. To change the negativity bias, you’ll need to learn new strategies to rewire the brain to stop focusing on the negatives and teach it to focus on the good more.
How to stop negative thoughts
I won’t sugarcoat it. Positive thoughts are harder because they take more work and the negativity bias is always fighting back. Consistency matters if you want to develop new patterns and new ways of thinking. I’ll compare it to learning any new skill. If you want to learn how to communicate better, you have to consistently practice what you learn and expose yourself to uncomfortable social situations because that’s how you grow and improve.
Practice Makes Perfect
But after some practice and experience, you’ll get better at it and communicating becomes less effort and easier to do. There are no short cuts, that’s the hard truth but it sure does pay off.
Tools for Addressing Social Anxiety
With that in mind, I’ll share a few tools here and I suggest picking one you like to try and focus on.
Have you seen the documentary movie “Stutz” by Jonah Hill? If not, I recommended watching it and you can access it on Netflix right here. The movie focuses on Jonah Hill’s therapist, Dr. Phil Stutz and the tools he’s shared with Jonah throughout their time in therapy.
One of these tools is called “The Grateful Flow,” the practice of gratitude – which gives you the ability to cope with negative thoughts better. There are a ton of mental and physical health benefits associated with practicing gratitude and you can learn more here.
Practice Gratitude to Overcome Anxiety
The main emphasis on practicing gratitude is that it rewires your brain to build new neural connections to the the brain’s bliss center, helps with positive thinking, and regulates stress hormones which helps to reduce fear and social anxiety. Take practicing gratitude seriously and it’ll take care of you in the long run. Click here for some suggestions on gratitude exercises.
Distract Your Mind
Distraction is a powerful tool to stop negative thinking. Just to be clear, distraction is not about avoiding negative thoughts. Distraction is about directing negative thoughts somewhere else to slow down its emotional and mental power. Distraction provides a break from focusing on negative thoughts and helps reduce negative emotions too. When you’re feeling better, you’ll be in a better headspace and it becomes easier to focus less on negative thoughts that you don’t need to pay attention to. Check out a few suggestions to help you with the distraction method here.
Reframe Your Negative Thoughts
We all have negative thought patterns (also known as cognitive distortions). Negative thought patterns are misleading or inaccurate ways of thinking. They’re like foggy glasses that distort your view. These thought patterns enter your mind automatically when something goes wrong or whenever you experience familiar situations. You can learn more about common negative thought patterns here.
Mind Reading Causes Increased Anxiety
One very common negative thought pattern is mind reading – the assumption that we know what someone else is thinking without any confirmation or much to go on. For example, take Mary who’s eating dinner alone thinking everyone around her thinks she’s weird for eating alone or John saying something “stupid” at a meeting and thinking his coworkers are talking badly about what him.
Over time, negative thought patterns lead to depression and anxiety.
It’s helpful to recognize your negative thinking patterns and reframe them to realistic thoughts instead. Take for example, instead of Mary assuming people thinks she’s weird for eating alone, a reframe could be, “Many people eat alone and that doesn’t make them weird and not everyone is paying attention to me or think I’m weird.” Use this worksheet here to get started on reframing negative thoughts.
Therapy for Anxiety: When to Get Help
It’s natural and helpful to have negative thoughts from time to time. Negative thoughts help you to take action, pay attention to needs, and protect you from danger. But when you notice that your negative thoughts lead to overwhelming anxiety and make it hard to do day to day things, affect your sleep, or become too difficult to cope with, that’s a few signs you need some support and will benefit from getting help with a licensed therapist. If you’re still questioning whether or not therapy will help, book a free 30 minute consultation call with me by clicking here.
Sending positive thoughts,
Begin Therapy for Anxiety in Orange County, CA Today
Anxiety can be scary and all consuming when it gets out of control. And it can make you feel like you are not worthy of anything. If you are caught in the vicious cycle of never ending anxiety and can’t see your way out of it I am here to help. At Care Therapy I specialize in working with women who, like you, are overwhelmed with their anxiety. Together we can process those feelings and emotions. We will get you to a place where you can regain control of your life. You will not only survive, but thrive! If you are interested in starting Therapy for Anxiety, follow the steps below to begin your journey to healing.
Two: Reach out to me via email @firstname.lastname@example.org or call 949-441-CARE (2273)
Three: Begin the process of healing and recovery
Other Services Offered by Care Therapy ONLINE
In addition to Therapy for Anxiety I also work with women who are struggling with depression and women who are in the midst of kidney failure and dialysis. We work together to overcome the obstacles in your path that prevent you from living your best life and get you to a point where you find peace and comfort in your life.