People turn to a myriad of methods to cope with anxiety. Some take medication, while others might try exercise or a hot bath to blow off steam and relax. And then there are those who use less productive means like substance abuse or binge eating. These methods — even the healthy ones — might help alleviate many of the symptoms of anxiety, yet they do little to correct the actual root cause of the problem.
Holistic and natural health practitioners typically seek the root cause of an illness and work from there, rather than mask symptoms with pharmaceuticals.
Similarly, your yoga practice or nightly run might ground you, but they don’t address the underlying issue. Now, don’t hang up your jogging shoes or blow off your meditation practice just yet. How you cope with and discharge built up stress and anxiety is just as important as working to correct the problem at its core.
So, what is the root cause of your anxiety?
What you may not know is that much of your anxiety is actually self-produced — yes, you read that correctly.
You may blame your job, your family or your circumstances for your distress, but the reality is how you perceive anything in your life is entirely up to you.
Here are four types of faulty-thinking that might be the root cause of your anxiety and dragging you down:
1. Negative self-talk.
Leading behavioral researchers have found that up to 77% of everything you think and say to yourself is negative and counterproductive. This undoubtedly has consequences.
Take Dr. Masaru Emoto’s water crystal experiment as an example. Dr. Emoto studied the effects of different words on crystalline structures of water. Water exposed to the positive phrase “love and gratitude” produced beautiful snowflake-like crystalline structures, whereas the phrase “you fool” created jagged, asymmetrical structures. This is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that over 60% of your body is made of water.
Want to break this habit? Start by becoming aware of your self-talk. Spend a day noting any negative, self-defeating thoughts you have in a journal. Next, spend some time transforming each negative message into a compassionate, loving one.
For example: “I’m not good at my job” becomes “I am good at my job. I am still learning and each day I get better and better.”
This may feel awkward at first, but once you get the hang of this exercise you will be able to catch negative self-talk on the spot and mentally rephrase the message into one that is more productive. Your self-talk, whether negative or positive, is a habit like any other.
2. Unrealistic expectations.
Do you expect everyone to remember your name or your birthday? Do you expect your spouse to say the right thing at the right time, all the time? Your expectations about life and the world around you may be too high.
The truth is that not everyone is going to remember your birthday and your spouse isn’t always going to say exactly what you want him or her to say. Expecting that your spouse will always be perfect is an unreasonable expectation and only sets you up for disappointment.
Plus, if your expectations are too high you may miss out and fail to recognize the good things in life worth celebrating. For instance, maybe you didn’t finish your first marathon in record time, but you did pass the finish line and that alone is a great achievement.
Examine your expectations of yourself, of others and the world around you. Are they realistic? If not, how can you make them more reasonable? And if you expect nothing at all, anything awesome that happens is just icing on the cake!
3. Thinking you "should."
Do you find yourself thinking you should do this and you should do that? Have you ever stopped to wonder who actually said you should? Does your mom think you should? Does society think you should? Do you think you should?
Saying “I should” is equivalent to saying that you aren’t enough. “I should lose weight,” is much like saying, “I am fat” or, “I am not OK the way I am.” It's negative self-talk and implies a need for perfection.
Make a list of all the things you think you should do or be. Who’s shoulds are they? If they aren’t your own, cross them off the list and forget about them. If they are your own, ask yourself if they are realistic. Maybe you actually should lose weight if your health is at risk, but if you think you should lose weight so that others will accept you, it is time to reevaluate.
4. Taking things too personally.
Have you ever gone to work to find your boss disgruntled and irritated? Maybe you felt like he or she glared at you or walked right past you without saying hello? Did you slink away from the office fretting over what you did wrong for the rest of the day?
The truth is that it probably isn’t actually anything you did. Your boss might have gotten a traffic ticket on the way to work, or maybe got into a spat with his or her spouse that morning.
Don’t take anything too personally. You never know what is going on with the other person and let’s face it, taking things personally just makes you feel bad about yourself. If you truly suspect someone is acting out because of something you did, ask them about it instead of letting neurotic assumptions feed your anxiety.
Your mind is programmed to believe whatever it is told the most. So if you constantly engage in negative self-talk, expect too much of yourself and others, believe that you “should” do something in order to feel good about yourself or worry that everyone has it out for you — well, my friend, your brain will simply act out accordingly.
How you frame your thoughts might be the key to unlocking the door to the happy, anxiety-free life you wish for yourself. Happy thinking!
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