Anxiety, the invisible monster Part 3 – The triangle of anxiety & Cognitive Distortions

Anxiety Triangle

So I mentioned rumination in the last article. How does this work? Rumination is your monster’s strongest tool in its box and it manifests as a worrying thought. “I’m going to fail the test tomorrow.” “No one likes me.” These thoughts are pushed into your mind by the monster and play on loop over and over again. They ruminate.

If your thought is, “I am going to fail the test”…you’d feel pretty worried right? Listening to this thought over and over and getting more and more anxious each time. Indeed, and this is how the thought causes you to feel intense emotions. The emotions get to a point where it triggers your behaviour – you snap and perhaps have a panic attack in public or break down in private to release this huge pressure of emotion. If it’s in public, you either feel embarrassed and the thought pops in your head “I’ve just shown my weakness in public and now no one likes me” or it can happen the other way around and the cycle starts all over again. We can thus assume that this cycle is in the shape of a triangle, and the anxiety triangle does exist. It is pictured above.

So how do we stop the cycle? One way is to keep a worry journal. The thought is usually the first to happen, so writing it down as it happens is important. As you start writing it down, try to imagine yourself boxing it away, especially if you can’t deal with it right away. Set yourself a time to deal with the thought that is in the book. When you get into this routine, you’ll find it easier to push the thought away before it overwhelms you in the moment. In your ‘worry time,’ go back to the thought. As time passes by you will actually engage with it better, but if you want to deal with it right away (and have the time to do so, do it!).

Cognitive Distortions:

Now, let’s discuss how you categorise the thought and also learn what kinds of things your anxiety monsters likes to focus on.

Lets say you have the thought “I’m going to fail the test.”

Thoughts list

You’ve written it down, now we need to identify what type of thought it is. What type of distortion your little monster is creating. One thought can be several cognitive distortions at the same time. Behold a list above.

Labelling is definitely one. We’re assigning something to ourselves. Fortune telling, a branch of jumping to conclusions is another. We’re trying to predict a future event. It could also be black and white thinking. I mean, doing bad in the test is also a possibility, but still passing. Are we catastrophizing? Well…that depends. This is the part where you need to start addressing the thought.

Is it accurate? Lets find some evidence. Have I studied for more than an hour? Do I know some if not all of the work? If no, then fix this. But its most likely you have, and the monsters just getting overexcited. If you’re struggling to figure out whether you know the work, get a friend or family member to help you, quiz you for the test and see if they think you know your stuff. It’s best not to always rely on a friend, but sometimes things get too much and we can’t analyse our thoughts entirely alone. As you get more practise, you’ll get better at analysing, but you need to practise it. Now that you’ve studied a bit more, do you feel better? If the thought pops in your head before the test or at the test, then ask yourself: Is this true? Do I know some of the work? Do I know enough to make me pass (not do I know EVERYTHING, because remember…the goal is actually NOT to fail).

These are example challenges for a thought, but we will get to more of these in the next article.

-Sasha-lee Schafli

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