Anxiety is one of the most vicious cycles our brains have to offer. Negative thoughts breed, which upset us. This disturbance causes us to focus on the thoughts which, in turn, allows them to grow and dominate further. It's one, long tiring process that can feel a little like trying to escape from a deep, dark hole without a ladder.
But one of the keys to managing anxiety is understanding how it works, and therapy offers a chance to do this. One such therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). REBT follows the philosophy that it’s not the events in life that disturb you, but what you tell yourself about those events that disturbs you.
Daniel Fryer is a psychotherapist and author who's experienced in the field of REBT, and having practiced it for some time he believes in its ideology. "According to REBT, there are four unhealthy beliefs that lie at the heart of almost any form of anxiety - and four healthy equivalents that would help you to remain calmer," he explains.
So what are the four damaging thoughts, and more importantly, what are their more positive counterparts? If you can start catching yourself out with negative thought patterns, switching them for more healthy reflections, you might just find yourself more able to emerge from the depths of anxiety.
Here, Daniel Fryer talks us through the four thoughts that can trigger anxiety, and explains in his own words how to transform them for positive change.
Negative thought 1: Dogmatic demand
"This is the first thought that fuels anxiety. It’s a rigid belief that disturbs you. Here, it is the absolute expression of a desire to make a good impression (I must make a good impression). It’s so rigid that it does not allow for the inevitable (sometimes you won’t make a good impression) and all it does is disturb you. It makes you anxious and less likely to make a good impression."
Turn it into... Flexible preferences
"This is where you state what you would like to happen, but also accept that it doesn’t have to happen (I would prefer to make a good impression, but I don’t have to make one). This way, you would be worried, but not anxious and, therefore, more able to come across well."
Negative thought 2: Doing a drama
"In REBT this is known as ‘awfulising'. It is an extreme rating of how bad something is (it would be awful if I didn’t make a good impression). In the moment, you believe it to be the worst thing that could happen. Not only does this belief cause anxiety, it does so by blowing everything out of proportion, by making things worse than they actually are."
Turn it into... Possessing perspective
"In REBT, this is known as ‘anti-awfulising'. This is where you can accept that you don’t like something (so it’s bad) but you also know it’s not the worst thing you can think of happening (but it isn’t awful). It means you see things as they are, without blowing them out of proportion and without becoming dramatic."
Negative thought 3: The 'I can’t copes'
"This is also known as 'low frustration tolerance', which is a rather rubbish rating of your ability to handle adversity (I couldn’t stand it if I didn’t make a good impression). This belief makes you believe you can’t handle things you know you can. If you actually couldn’t stand something it would kill you. And yet, no one has ever died of not making a good impression."
Turn it into... The 'I can copes'
"Also known as 'high frustration tolerance' (I might find it difficult to deal with if I don’t make a good impression, but I know I can stand it). This is true as it acknowledges the challenge you face when things don’t go your way, but it also accepts that you won’t keel over and die. People who believe they can cope with difficulty are more likely to face up to things than those who can’t."
Negative thought 4: Pejorative put-downs
"There are three types of pejorative put-down. We have self damning (I am an idiot) and we have other-damning (you are an idiot) and we can also rate things in general (my job is completely rubbish). Putting yourself down just because you did not make a good impression doesn’t allow you to value all your other assets and abilities and it makes you forget all the times you did make a good impression."
Turn it into... Unconditional acceptance
"You are not a useless idiot, even if you don’t make a good impression, you are a worthwhile, fallible human being. Other people are not total idiots either. They too are worthwhile fallible human beings. And things, conditions and such like are also worthwhile and fallible; your job, like most things, in life will be made up of good bits and bad bits. People who accept themselves unconditionally are more likely to accept their flaws and fallibilities whilst valuing their skills and abilities."
Have a go at turning these thoughts on their head, and hopefully you'll find a healthier, happier, much calmer you.