Tips on Fighting Irrational Anxious Thoughts?
April 25, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I struggle greatly with anxiety and am on a crazy amount of meds simply to sleep and relax. I am doing things to get through such as exercise, yoga and breath/meditating. One of the things that I read and have been implementing is answering 'cognitive distortions' with reality-based answers. Basically, I think I'm helpless (it spirals from an event to "I'm going to lose my job" all the way to "I'm not going to make it"). I've read the books like Feeling Good and do techniques on paper but am not sure how to think realistically and come up with any responses that I believe. This has been going on for some time. Any others who struggle and have tips on how you have tackled cognitive distortions (aka Bullshit Thoughts)? I am not in a hurry and am willing to put in solid effort. I am asking for help but am willing to try to believe I'm not helpless in the long haul. (BTW, I haven't been able to afford a counselor....yet.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Are you near a university? If you are, there should be a psych department that has a clinic open to the public for usually a really discounted price.
posted by TheBones at 1:46 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have anxiety issues as well, sometimes they'll pop up when I'm in public. So I started taking meds for it (really mild stuff, actually) and in the act of taking them I realized that I really had no control over my anxiety in the first place. Part of my issue was "I'm so anxious" would lead do "I am irrationally anxious, why am I stressing over nothing?" and then stressing out over that. So, to short circuit this I thought "well, this anxiety is a natural overreaction of mine, and I really don't have control over it, so I shouldn't worry that I'm stressed over nothing" and, sorta, it went away.

I think taking the blame off myself and placing it on lizard-brain, low level thought sorta helped out. I mean, I don't want to be anxious, and yet I am, if I could turn it off I would, so I'm anxious for reasons I can't control. And like that, it takes the power off those thoughts and I can relax. Fighting it just seemed to exacerbate the anxiety. YMMV.

I do hope you can see someone about this, though.
posted by hellojed at 2:00 PM on April 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

crazy amount of OTC meds or prescribed meds? If you're seeing some kind of doctor for the latter then they may be able to suggest low cost counselor type options.

I have GAD and have been through the zombie chest-of-fire depths and you can make it out. I have a book at home that really helped me, I'll post it later.

You can also find help at and you can look for a support group in your area: if you think that might be a help for you. I found that when I'm at my worst, I need a distraction -any distraction- to get out of my own crazy head. Maybe having other people who are coping with the same feelings will help you figure out how to deal with yours.
posted by sweetmarie at 2:03 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My experience is the same as yours: trying to argue with my Bullshit Thoughts doesn't really help. It's like wrestling a pig. You'll both get covered in mud, but the pig actually enjoys it.

You might find Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong useful; it walks you through the concepts of ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), which in some sense builds upon the CBT-based ideas described in Feeling Good. There's less focus on stifling and struggling with your thoughts, and more about learning to accept them as the scary but powerless things that they are. ACT is fairly new and apparently a bit controversial in some quarters, but I for one am finding it pretty useful.

(hellojed's story is exactly the sort of thing you'd do with ACT, by the way.)
posted by xil at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

It might be helpful, if you are willing, to know if you have had had counseling, summary of medicine, working diagnosis (if available) and extent anxiety interferes with daily life/activities. It makes a difference if the anxiety is primarily the result of learned cognitive distortions or secondary to a chemical imbalance the amplifies the intensity, frequency and duration of the anxiety producing thoughts. It is not one or the other but effective interventions can be different. BTW, you are not helpless and it is entirely realistic to think things can substantially improve
posted by rmhsinc at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2011

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety was just short of miraculous for me. I still feel anxiety sometimes, but it's very rare that I let it hold me back from the things I want to do.

It seems like you've had the same problem with CBT that I always did -- namely, that you end up investing massive amounts of energy in controlling your anxiety, and then feeling terrible when you find that you can't control it. This is a perfect place to be in for ACT to work. Strongly nthing.

(An aside: you say that you're exercising, but I found that to get any kind of emotional boost out of exercise, I had to turn myself into a sopping wet mess three times a week. Pardon me if that's what you're doing already, but if you're not, you might want to up the intensity a bit in order to achieve catharsis.)
posted by CutaneousRabbit at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm in the process of learning to accept my anxiety. I'm generally more aware of what thoughts are significant and which thoughts are bullshit. So I can go, "Oh, hello bullshit insecurity, it's you again. Yes I hear that you are saying I am a "bad" person and deep down really worthless... okay... that's nice... uh huh, bye now." Then I move on with my day.

Those thoughts may never leave you (which I know sounds very scary) but you can decide how much power you give to those thoughts. After a while, your bullshit thought detector will go off automatically and it will become a lot easier to deal with.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Completely avoid coffee. Also avoid annatto extract. I have an annatto extract insensitivity and among other things it makes me anxious. I suggest avoiding these two things and see how you are.

Annatto is used as a food die to make things yellow and orange. Its mainly what makes yellow american and cheddar yellow.
posted by majortom1981 at 3:31 PM on April 25, 2011

I can't second Cutaneousrabbit's recommendation enough. I just went through an anxiety program that was based on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Learning some of these techniques has literally given me a new outlook on life and is transforming the way I deal with my anxiety. This is a great workbook that you could work through. In fact, if you're anywhere near northern Illinois, I'd love to tell you more about the outpatient program I went through -- you can memail me.
posted by la petite marie at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2011

Sometimes it can be helpful to ask someone you trust. I might say "I am feeling so anxious about packing for this trip. I feel like I'm going to forget something important and the whole trip will be ruined. Rationally I know that's silly but I can't seem to shake the anxiety so can you talk me through this?"
posted by Chrysalis at 4:34 PM on April 25, 2011

The good thing about asking someone else is you can get some "new" thoughts to try out, and use them again for other situations
posted by Chrysalis at 4:35 PM on April 25, 2011

Instead of having a back-and-forth in your head with yourself, have a fake conversation with your best friend, partner, doctor, what have you. This gives you more perspective, in some ways. Even better than this is to find someone you can actually email and who will tell you your thoughts are distorted.
posted by Shebear at 5:22 PM on April 25, 2011

Check local resources for low cost or sliding scale therapy. The university suggestion is good. This sounds like a lot for you to handle on your own. While I've found books slightly helpful, talking it over with an experienced individual (ie therapist) will be much more effective. (speaking from personal experience of floundering for two years on my own, it was like night and day).
posted by mbird at 6:25 PM on April 25, 2011

I am not a doctor, but I used to suffer from anxiety and it ended up being my thyroid. Since I didn't even see you mentioning that you had a physical (and the blood tests for thyroid T3/T4 and TSH) you might want to just double check. Of course, this may not apply to you. I just wanted to mention the possibility.
posted by forthright at 6:47 PM on April 25, 2011

The thought that helps me most when I find my brain doing the Boogie of Anxiety is this: "My wiring is all funky, and it's acting up again. This isn't me. It's my bad wiring. It's gonna do its thing, and I'm gonna do one of the things I do that calm me down until it shuts the everloving fuck up." Which works better, the more you do it.

Look again for counselors/therapists in your area. There has to be someone who'll work on a sliding scale for you; mine does, for me, and she's a big superhero lifesaver. We do mostly cognitive-based therapy, which is a lot of recognizing what is an irrational thought and replacing it with a (better? happier? safer?) rational one. It's hard to retrain your mind to work like that, but once it starts going, the difference is night and day.

Also: look into EMDR, which you can do by yourself. It seems totally Freudian, all stare at the swinging doohickey and think about the bad thing, but the idea is that if your eyes and brain are tracking a moving object you can't simultaneously focus on the internal woo-woo-crazy. For me it worked. Kind of a 'whoa' moment. Might work for you too. Who knows?
posted by cmyk at 7:29 PM on April 25, 2011

I challenge the thoughts with logic so the challenge doesn't seem like a meaningless platitude. What are the odds that a or b will happen? Do I know anyone that has been fired and what were the reasons? Do I have support of family or friends if I run into a tough spot? Then I think about the millions of different jobs that are out there; is there a possibility that I could be good at those jobs? What evidence do I have that I will be worse than all the other anxiety ridden idiot out there (But nicer)? Do this for any silly thought train that pops into your head.

What seems to help the most though is total acceptance of what the reality is. What your fears mean, what you are chasing after, what causes you anxiety, etc... The quickest route, but surely not the easiest is vipassana meditation. It's what all this mindfulness talk is based out of, what things like CBT is partially dealing with, but in a much more introspective and permanent way. It's hard because there is no guide beside you to talk you around issues, you have to be still for longer periods of time (And this can hurt after a while), you have to pay attention to sensations instead of thoughts, and you have to stick with it until your racing mind no longer starts to bother you and later, doesn't race at all. But like learning a language, or playing the piano, one day it will click. And on that day your life will have changed far more than anything else you have done up to that point.

Or so I'm told by incredibly calm and self-assured (But not cocky) people doing this. I'm still working on being still and letting thoughts pass.
posted by penguinkeys at 10:03 PM on April 25, 2011

Its already been mentioned here but I'd like to reiterate - anxiety is often caused by all sorts of physical ailments, and I don't think therapists do enough to make sure that all possible physical causes are eliminated before starting therapy. I had a food sensitivity that was screwing up my digestion and causing some vitamin deficiencies, and I thought I was stuck with anxiety for life. But after the food issue was taken care of and I had the right supplements, the anxiety mostly dissipated.
posted by tempythethird at 7:54 AM on April 26, 2011

I've read the books like Feeling Good and do techniques on paper but am not sure how to think realistically and come up with any responses that I believe.

Are you giving up too quickly? I often don't believe my first response, but then one of two things can happen. One, I find another response that I do believe. Two, I focus on the reason I don't believe the response -- it either helps me reframe/recategorize the original cognitive distortion or it represents a new cognitive distortion on its own.
posted by callmejay at 9:41 AM on April 26, 2011

This is kind of the essence of mindfulness/meditation training. When you meditate, you're practicing the ability to not attach to those thoughts, and to let them go by without judgment

Way that causes suffering 1: Oh this is an awesome thought, lemme keep thinking it and having that be my reality and never ever stop

Way that causes suffering 2: Oh this sucks, stop it stupid stupid stupid thought. go away go away go away! I hate this!

Way that doesn't: Oh. Here's a thought. And now it's gone

I liked "Feeling Good" (mainly in the way that it hammers home the truth that thoughts don't necessarily have any inherent validity just because we happen to be thinking them) but the worksheets and such ended up being a bit overkill for me. It's a lot of reinforcement of the same idea, but ended up focusing me more on the thoughts than providing a path for me to let them go.

You'll see this in a lot of other similar posts, but I highly recommend Tara Brach's "Radical Acceptance" as a different angle on this stuff (which is also relatively light on the 'spiritual' stuff, if thats something that tweaks your thoughts).

Oh, also, my therapist says that panic attacks are about the fear of having a panic attack. sounds right to me.
posted by softlord at 8:29 AM on April 29, 2011

« Older Advice for getting through the mid-twenties...   |   I need my web site translated into Spanish Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.