Mandatory Disclosure

Rewire Your Anxious Brain Part 2

Identify Your Thought Patterns

In the last section, we examined your anxiety symptoms and how different areas of your life relate to your anxiety.

First, I’d like to start by examining the different ways that thoughts can be unhelpful when you have anxiety.

Unhelpful Thoughts

Jack couldn’t remember ever having friends growing up. At least not his own. Jack’s twin brother John was the sociable one in the family, so Jack tended to follow in his shadow. He’d done the same in following him to college, but now it allfelt like a big mistake.It was the middle of the second semester of college when Jack finally admitted he needed help. His grades were slipping from missing class, and he’d hardly left his dorm room. One day, as he walked back to his room from biology class, he took a detour into the student center and made an appointment at the counseling office.

Though he was intelligent, Jack had missed out on opportunities because of his anxiety. He was too fearful to apply for job postings he saw on campus. When it came to giving presentations in his class, he pretended to be ill so that he did not have to participate. The thought of speaking in front of the class

made him feel nauseous and dizzy. “There is no way I could get through that,” Jack thought.

Jack’s anxiety was not just related to speaking in front of the class. He was also afraid of having to talk to other students. He would wait until he was sure nobody was in the hall before he left his room, so that he didn’t have to make conversation.

Everyone called him “quiet,” but Jack knew they thought even worse, that he was unlikable and weird. “Why would anyone want to be friends with such an awkward person? What if I say something stupid?” He thought. “Better to be invisible than show everyone what a fool I am.”

During his first meeting with a counselor, Jack learned about social anxiety. Together they worked on identifying thoughts that Jack had when he was in anxiety-provoking situations and

how these contributed to his anxiety and feeling bad about himself. He learned that he tended to think the worst—that everyone was constantly judging him and that he never measured up. It gradually became clear to Jack how these

thoughts were contributing to the way he felt.

Types of Anxious Thoughts

Anxious thoughts tend to follow predictable patterns. Most common among these patterns are those that anticipate something bad happening in the future, those that involve self-criticism, and those that reflect a feeling of hopelessness. Let’s have a look at examples of each of these types of anxious thoughts.

  1. WHAT IF?

Jack spent a lot of time worrying about what might happen. “What if I say the wrong thing?” he would think when speaking to a classmate. “What if everyone can see how anxious I am when I give a presentation?”Many of our anxious thoughts come in the form of “what if” statements.

“What if that dog attacks me?” “What if my health fails?” “What if my hands start to shake when I am at dinner?” “What if I have a panic attack when I am in that elevator?”

As you can see, these statements usually involve jumping to some sort of conclusion about what could happen in the future and imagining that the worst will happen. We call this “catastrophizing,” or the act of blowing things out of proportion.

This type of worrying can also involve mind reading or believing that you know what other people are thinking. This is particularly true for social anxiety. You probably do a lot of predicting—about bad things that could happen in the future and how people will react to them.

You might also make predictions about what feelings in your body mean. This last point is particularly true if you are dealing with panic—you probably think that if you feel anxious, it must mean there is something to be feared.

However, feelings can have many causes and do not always reflect reality. Do you have a lot of “what if” thoughts? Write down some that are common for you.



Jack was also very critical of himself. When he talked to other people, there was always a running commentary in his mind saying things like “You are so boring,” “Nobody likes you,” or “You always screw up.”

Anxiety can lead you to have thoughts that incorporate criticism or a need for perfection. You review situations that have happened, only focus on what went wrong, and ignore everything that went right.Thoughts along these lines usually go something like “That was stupid,” or “I have to do everything right.” You see things as black and white, good or

bad, right or wrong. If you spill a drink at a party, it means that the whole situation is ruined, that you have messed everything up, and that you’ll never be invited back again.

Along with perfectionism comes personalizing—placing blame on yourself for external events that are outside of your control. If you are dealing with generalized anxiety, you probably have trouble living with uncertainty and may feel that you must do everything possible to ensure a good outcome. If something bad does happen, you feel responsible—as if you could have gone one step further to prevent it from happening.

What kinds of critical thoughts do you have about yourself? Identify a few of these and write them in the space below.


“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”

—Psychologist Harriet Braiker


Jack had a habit of thinking like a victim. He felt like he could not cope with social situations that were easy for other people and that his anxiety would always be a problem. “I can’t cope with presentations” and “I will always be a bad conversationalist” were common thoughts for him.

If you live with anxiety, you probably have thoughts about not feeling capable. Your thoughts may be along the lines of “I can’t cope with other people not liking me,” or “I can’t leave the house alone, I won’t be able to manage if I start to panic.”

Often this takes the form of overgeneralizing—turning one event into a larger problem. You might think, “If I am late for school, I will fail.” As another example, one bad encounter with a dog would mean to you that all dogs must be feared.

Overgeneralizing can also sometimes involve giving yourself labels. You might call yourself “weird,” “strange,” or “boring” because of your social awkwardness, while ignoring all of your positive traits.

What thoughts do you have that involve a feeling of not being able to cope? Write some of these in the space below.


Revealing Your Core Beliefs

When Jack looked at all the thoughts he and his counselor had identified, he began to see a pattern. The emerging theme was that he thought that he was not good enough.

Jack acknowledged that this core belief described him well—a feeling of never measuring up in the eyes of others.

If you find yourself worrying a lot about bad things that could happen in the future, shift your focus to the present moment. Take a deep breath and look at the world around you. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Focusing on the present will help you move away from anxious thoughts.

Activities to soothe your mind-

  1. Thought Diary

This month I would like you to complete the Worry Diary for at least three events/ per week that result in you feeling anxious. For each event, please also complete the Identifying Thoughts form to narrow down the thought that came between the situation and how you were feeling. Try to do this as soon as possible after the event, so that you can easily remember what you were thinking.

Situation Thought Feeling Evidence for Evidence against Balanced thought
Friend cancels lunch plan She is angry with me (85%) Worried (60%) Anxious (70%) Friend hardly cancels plans Friend has said she has not been feeling well recently. It is unlikely that my friend is angry with me, it is more likely that she is feeling unwell and therefore cannot make it. (70%)

Review and Reflect

In this chapter, we’ve discussed your thoughts and how they contribute to your anxiety. We also looked at the process of identifying core beliefs and how they make your anxiety worse.

How are you feeling so far? This process can be a lot of work, especially if you are not used to actively monitoring your thoughts. However, I encourage you to stick with it. Becoming aware of your thoughts takes time and is a skill that can be learned. Gradually, it will become more of an automatic process.

Now is also a good time to check in with yourself. Write down anything that you are thinking in relation to what you’ve read this week about Anxiety.