By: Tayler Glenn
If you’re an anxious person, you know how irrational and intruding anxious thoughts can be. Count how many times someone has told you to “just calm down” or “stop overthinking it”, then count how often that actually worked. Those two numbers are probably very, very far from one another.
We’ve done some legwork and found 4 of the most common anxiety traps and ways you can help pull yourself out of the overthinking trap!Let me begin by clarifying that there is a major difference between being anxious and having anxiety, but anxiety is a part of life for many.1 It’s more than being nervous; it’s more like intrusive overthinking. Unfortunately, “the things people naturally do to try to take away anxiety end up increasing anxiety in the long-term,” says Alice Boyes, Ph.D., and author of The Anxiety Toolkit.
“You aren’t stuck there”, she explains. By being mindful and paying attention to the ways your brain is working, you can learn to work with what you’ve got and manage it more efficiently. Here are Dr. Boye’s tips on finding your way out of those anxious traps:
1. You wait to act until you’re 100% sure.
People who are nervous tend to wait until they’re 100% sure they can’t fail. They don’t want to make a move until they know it will be successful, but this fear of failure can paralyze them into not doing anything at all.
Do you constantly find yourself stuck in the research phase, looking up every possible approach to make sure yours will work best? Maybe you find yourself considering a number of ideas without trying any of them?
How to Cope:
“Sometimes a good way to escape the cycle is to come up with concrete steps for moving forward,” Boyes says. Creating action steps can help shrink down those overwhelming thoughts into a more manageable, organized list. Plus, physically being able to cross actions steps off helps you see and remind yourself of your progress!
Another approach is learning what that nervous feeling stems from and why it isn’t helping you here. “Fear is when you’re detecting that there’s a danger present, but anxiety is when you’re feeling like you should be on the lookout for danger,” Boye explains. “So, it’s not necessarily indicating that there is danger; it’s just that you’re doing something new. It’s just your system alerting you to that”.
2. You ruminate.
Thinking about mistakes is one thing, but rumination is different. It’s like a record stuck on repeat, playing your mistake over and over again, and it can put you on the fast-track to feeling utterly helpless.2
How to Cope:
“People frequently confuse rumination with problem-solving,” says Boye. A helpful way around this is learning to distinguish when you are successfully problem-solving and when you’re running yourself in circles. Basic mindfulness tips can help you become less likely to be triggered, but self-compassion may be your greatest defense. After all, you’re human. You can’t foresee every possible problem that arises, and that’s okay!
3. You’re afraid of criticism.
Nervous people tend to avoid situations where they might be criticized since they tend to judge themselves so harshly already. Criticism from the outside as well as from inside can feel devastating. “Plus, you may know that you’ll be replaying the critique in your mind for days and weeks to come, and that makes it even harder,” Boyes adds.
How to Cope:
Try exposing yourself to those situations in small doses! You’ll still be nervous, but take that 10-step project and do the first step. Give yourself some time to process the nervousness and appreciate the progress you’ve made, then sit back and mentally prepare for step two.
It may also be helpful to go to a close friend or partner first! They will know better ways of giving you feedback, and you’ll be more likely to think of their comments as helpful rather than destructive.
“If you don’t get the one-star reviews,” comments Boye, “you’re never going to know the five-star reviews, either.”
What do you to help when anxious or nervous thoughts hit? Share in the comments below!
- If you are feeling paralyzed by those anxious thoughts or they are majorly affecting your life and/or mental health in any way, please seek help from a medical professional.
- Why Ruminating Is Unhealthy and How to Stop
- The Anxiety Toolkit