Anxiety Monster Trying to Break Down Your Door? Write it Down!

I stress.

I stress about every little thing.

I stress about things that haven’t happened.

I stress about things that could never happen.

I stress about stressing.

I stress.

The Struggle: Being in Your Own Head

Often times, we call this stress “over-thinking”, or maybe some refer to it as “being in your own head.” Whatever the case may be, I am learning that there are so many of us out there that do it. We get caught up on a single fear, and we run ourselves into the ground stressing over it. One negative thought or stress can overwhelm us to the point of near self-destruction some days.

Let me guess, reading about how stressful stress is stressed you out, didn’t it?! (Because I’ll be honest, writing about how stressed out I get stressed me out.)

Anxiety is among the highest factors reported in seeking clinical mental health counseling, and severe anxiety is often treated by medication. However, there is something that you can practice in your own life that could reduce the anxiety in that moment.

The Science: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT, is a technique used that suggests that certain conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are rooted in ‘faulty’ thinking or belief systems called cognitive distortions. There are ten main cognitive distortions that are addressed in CBT that are considered to be the foundations of the faulty or disruptive thinking that leads to anxiety. Once an individual recognizes the pattern in their cognitive distortions, they can create a plan to counter them. As an individual implements the plan, the thinking becomes more rational which in turn, reduces their stress level.

The simplified idea is that some of the causes of anxiety are learned behaviors, and we, as humans and individuals, have the power to relearn certain things through plan and practice. But how?

The Solution: Journaling

The first step is to identify what the fear is and then track the conversations you are having with yourself (thoughts and feelings). For example, I am extremely afraid of driving in the mountains, and even more afraid of driving in the mountains in the winter. So guess what my husband has wanted to do the past few winters? He wanted to take the kids to see snow. In the mountains. And when there is snow, guess what else there is? Ice. There was ice. A lot of ice. In my mind, I was sure that we were going to lose control of the car after hitting a patch of ice and that would cause us to fall off the side of a cliff, ultimately leading to us plunging to our death. That was a large part of my thinking during the first few days of our vacation. Those thoughts ate at me to the point that I very nearly ruined our trip by being scared and grumpy a good majority of the time. I was so anxious that I could not relax. I had such a hard time enjoying the moment because I was so afraid of what might happen.

As someone who studies counseling and who hopes to help others in the future, I had to practice what I was preaching...and researching. The first thing I did was write down when my fears were the worst. I began noticing that my fear was actually worse when we were not driving because I spent the time thinking about, and frankly, obsessing over, when we would drive again. We would be going to sleep, and I would be visualizing all the worst case scenarios that could take place the following day. The fear and anxiety was so strong that it was causing me to lose sleep.

After recording the patterns, I came up with counter arguments for my irrational thinking. When I was laying in bed freaking out over the next day’s drive, I countered my thoughts with appreciating what I had in that moment. Logically, I knew that worrying about “tomorrow” was not going to help anything, but it was hard to just stop, so I had to sit-up and write a list of things that I was grateful for right then and there.

In Conclusion: The Lasting Effects

I came up with other counter arguments for myself as well, but one that I have found that helps whenever I get too far into my own head is to turn all of my thoughts to what I am thankful for in that moment. There are so many things “get to me,” but for every one thing that seeks to bring me down and terrorize my mind, there are three things that lift me up and revitalize my heart, mind, and soul. By practicing this whenever I experience extreme anxiety, I have been able to settle myself and be more present. This, in turn, helps me feel more prepared and less attacked when I encounter situations in which I am anxious.

So - the next time your anxiety monster tries to break down your door, write it down!

Ashley Woodford is a wife, a mother, a teacher, a grad school student, a writer, and a photographer. Her primary mission is to enrich the lives of others and find ways to leave people better than she found them, and she has found great pride and accomplishment in teaching middle school reading and writing. She worked very closely with a non-profit during her first years of education, and that sparked in her a desire to find a way to do more. That spark turned into a full-blown fire when she began her graduate studies in Counseling. By combining her love of teaching and writing with her passion for helping people, she hopes to continue to share advice with those that find themselves anxious or weighed down with the everyday pressures of today’s society.