The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Open storybook in front of log burner fire
Image credit: photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash.

Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.

Arthur Somers Roche.

There is no question that there are life situations that trigger anxiety for many of us. It may be a job interview, going on a date for the first time, traveling, public speaking, going to a networking event, attending a retreat, or just from doing something that you haven’t done before.

Then there are experiences that we have that are anxiety provoking because of the thoughts we have, or as I like to describe it, what we tell ourselves or the stories we create. 

The What If's

When we have the thought that begins with, What if..., It automatically tends to trigger anxiety or fear, or something that we create that is anxiety producing as opposed to anxiety reducing.

Generally, when we say What if it is because of some kind of negative thought. Rarely do we create anxiety for ourselves by worrying about a potential positive occurrence. This is anxiety that is self-created by thoughts such as… 

  • What if I fail this exam? 
  • What if he or she gets angry at me when I say no? 
  • What if I don’t get the job?
  • What if I do it wrong?
  • What if I’m not good at being a parent?
  • What if I can’t… 
  • What if I’m not good enough at… 

How Feelings Influence Our Behavior

What we think affects how we feel, and then what we feel affects how we behave. What I mean by this is that what we tell ourselves, or the thoughts that we have, actually trigger the anxiety.

For example, if we are thinking, “What if I go on this job interview and say the wrong thing?” We are producing anxiety about something that could happen in the future, but it may not even occur. Thus, these thoughts are anxiety provoking and we may self-create unnecessary worry.

One approach to reduce this unwarranted anxiety is to utilize the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Utilizing CBT techniques can be very helpful with identifying thoughts that are anxiety provoking to develop coping strategies to alter these unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that may cause anxiety.

Working with a psychotherapist utilizing CBT may help to identify and decrease negative thought patterns thus shifting from the feeling of anxiety to a more comfortable feeling state. 

Although there is a difference between feeling anxiety because of a life circumstance and feeling anxiety due to what we tell ourselves. It is important to first find a way to differentiate these because how we deal with these feelings will be different.

Differentiating between Real and Self-Created Anxiety

If we are feeling anxiety or fear because we are preparing to deal with a significant life-changing situation such as sitting for the bar exam, or medical boards, it is natural and understandable to feel some level of nervousness even for those who don’t usually struggle with anxiety.

Discover more tips on dealing with self-created, or situationally based, anxiety in my complete article.

My wish for you today is that you discover that your story can always have a happy ending.

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