If you’re an entrepreneur, you are very likely to experience anxiety. You’re probably very familiar with worry thoughts, and find it hard to manage anxiety. Worry thoughts can run rampant, keeping you up at night and distracting you during the day. These thoughts can come to dominate your awareness.
When worry thoughts take over, you flip your lid. Your CEO-self goes offline and you can’t be the leader you want to be in your business, the one who creatively solves problems and moves her projects forward despite challenges.
If worry thoughts persist, they can contribute significantly to ongoing anxiety and depression.
Many of my clients become overwhelmed with worry thoughts because they see them as the truth. They certainly carry a lot of emotion and urgency and “feel” as if they are true.
Some worry thoughts have a basis in reality. The function of worry is to help us be prepared and keep us safe. But some worry thoughts only make things worse.
With these tools from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) you can distinguish between types of worry thoughts. You can identify the ones that are realistic as well as the ones that aren’t. You can then either take action to mitigate the threat, and calm and manage anxiety that way, or work with the unrealistic ones to defuse them as a strategy to calm and manage anxiety.
Worry thoughts are part of what are called cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are distorted thinking patterns that are often at the root of worry thoughts and contribute greatly to a person’s overall anxiety.
The 10 most common cognitive distortions that create worry and anxiety
This is when you make one event the basis for a conclusion that you then apply across the board.
For example, you may make a mistake at work and then conclude that you are useless at your job.
2. Black and White thinking
This cognitive distortion happens when you habitually think in extremes.
Maybe you believe that all the people in your life are either angelic or evil. This is problematic, because most of the time people and situations exist somewhere in the grey in-between.
Many people with anxiety assume the worst when they are faced with the unknown. While this is adaptive, and is designed to help you be prepared so you can be safe, catastrophizing makes managing anxiety difficult because it creates problems where there may not be any.
An example of catastrophizing could be worrying that your child has been in an accident because they are 5 minutes late for their curfew.
This is one of the most common cognitive distortions and it happens when you take things personally when they aren’t connected to you at all.
You are most likely engaging in personalization if you blame yourself for a situation that is completely out of your control.
5. Mental Filtering
This is when you have the tendency to ignore the positives and focus exclusively on the negatives. Mental filtering is also known as the negativity bias.
Interpreting circumstances through a negative filter has been proven to make managing anxiety more difficult and can also lead to depression.
6. Mind Reading
If you assume you know what another person is thinking you are engaging in mind reading.
It can be difficult to distinguish between empathy and mind reading so it is imperative that you consider all the facts before concluding that you know how another person is feeling or thinking.
Even when empathizing, it’s more about guessing and inviting the other person to confirm than it is about knowing what they’re thinking or feeling, and so it is also with mind reading.
It’s helpful to check with the other person, by saying something like, “I’m telling myself you are thinking [fill in the blank] and I want to check with you to see if that’s accurate, or maybe there is something else on your mind. Can you let me know?”
7. “Should” statements
If you find yourself thinking in “shoulds” when it comes to what to do or say you are likely engaging in this cognitive distortion.
8. Discounting the positive
This is similar to mental filtering in that it involves a negative bias in thinking.
Discounting the positives does not ignore them but explains them away as a fluke or luck instead of thinking it is due to your skill or hard work. This can make you feel helpless over your life and reduces motivation.
This is when you reduce yourself or other people to a single – usually negative – descriptor or characteristic.
This labeling can make you to either berate yourself (which can lead to depression and low self-confidence and esteem) or misunderstand or underestimate others (causing interpersonal issues).
10. Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning is when you believe that your emotions are the truth and that the way you feel about a situation is a good indicator of reality, when this is not always the case. Emotions are important sources of information and they are only part of the story.
This is a very common cognitive distortion and is used by many with or without depression or anxiety.
How to work with cognitive distortions to calm worry and manage anxiety
CBT uses cognitive restructuring to diffuse cognitive distortions. Here are three cognitive restructuring techniques that you can use on a regular basis to help calm worry thoughts and reduce overall anxiety.
Use Socratic questioning to overcome worry and manage anxiety
Once you have identified the cognitive distortion, this CBT technique is straightforward. The cognitive distortion is addressed through asking a series of questions.
This is a technique used by many therapists, but it is most effective when you can start to ask the Socratic questions of yourself. These include:
- Is this thought realistic?
- Am I basing my thoughts on facts or feelings?
- What is the evidence for this thought?
- Could I be misinterpreting the evidence?
- Am I viewing this situation as black and white?
- Do the facts support this thought or am I having it out of habit?
This is most effective as a journaling activity. Spend a few minutes on each question. Write free-form as the thoughts come, without self-censoring. More often than not, you will discover evidence to suggest that your worry thought is unfounded and a product of one of the above cognitive distortions.
Once you identify a thought as a worry thought or a cognitive distortion, you may find that it loses its power over you, and you can say to yourself, “That’s a worry thought. My nervous system is just trying to keep me safe. Thank you, worried thought. I’ve got this now.” Then refocus on the task at hand.
Decatastrophize to manage anxiety and worry thoughts
Using this technique you would ask yourself “What if?” or “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Often times by playing out the scenario. the worry thought or cognitive distortion can be diffused when you realize that even the worst case scenario is manageable.
This is a great way to lower anxiety in many stressful situations.
It helps to use this tactic in journaling or in talking it out with a trusted friend.
Thought records to get curious instead of worried
This is a common technique–Maggie Patterson describes how she uses this tool in Staying Sane–that involves being curious about your worry thoughts, identifying the cognitive distortion and looking at the whole picture.
The first step is to write out a description of the situation. Then you identify the most troubling thought that arose from the situation. Next you record what emotions arose and actions that you took as a result of the thought.
After going through the process, you identify an alternate thought that should be more positive and realistic than the original problematic thought.
Here is a link to a thought record that you can download and use to combat your worry thoughts and help manage your anxiety.
If you struggle with worry thoughts and want support for working with them so you can calm your anxiety, request an appointment with me here.
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