We all tend to worry about things from time to time, but when those worries begin to interfere with your daily life, it becomes a problem that must be addressed. Anxiety may cause irrational thoughts, which are often negative thoughts that are difficult to get out of your mind. You may even be aware that they are irrational and unreasonable, but you can’t get them out of your mind. For example, the thoughts of being fired from your job might keep creeping into your mind as a result of a minor error you made at work. When you really think about your irrational thought, you know there is a very slim chance of it actually occurring, yet you can’t get the thought out of your mind. The prevalence of your irrational thoughts depends on your anxiety severity and the amount of stress you are experiences in your life. Reducing the amount of stress you have is not always possible, but reducing your irrational thoughts is possible.
Irrational thoughts are usually comprised of your greatest fear because in many ways, anxiety is a fear of irrational things. The things that make you the most anxious are the things you perceive as having the ability to significantly and negatively affect your life. When these thoughts constantly occur, you may not realize that the thoughts are what are actually negatively impacting your life, not the actual event or occurrence you are worried about. Despite being aware of this information, you may still struggle with getting rid of those thoughts.
How can you address and deal with these irrational thoughts, you might wonder?
Below are some strategies and tips to help you kick those irrational thoughts to the curb and take control of your mind.
1) Talk to a professional: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common method of rationalizing irrational thoughts. The premise behind this is if you can identify your thoughts as irrational, you can then dissect them, rationalize them, and kick them to the curb.
2) Keep a worry journal: Sit and think about your irrational thoughts. What is making you feel anxious? Write it down. Think about how likely this event is to happen. If it does happen, what is your plan to deal with it? By having a plan, you can feel in control and prepared for any event that may happen, reducing fear of the future. This strategy will allow you to regain a sense of control and may help to reduce your irrational thoughts. Don’t know where to start? Please see the end of the blog for a worry journal template (figure 1) that you may find useful to get you started.
3) Clear your mind with meditation: I recently found a great app for relaxing called EndAnxiety. It takes you through guided meditation to help you forget about your irrational thoughts during the audio, and re-visit the issues with a clearer and calmer mind. When pressed for time, I found it helpful to even listen to this calming clip for 5 minutes instead of the full 30 minutes.
Here is a list of some of the types of irrational thoughts (adapted from Tyrrell & Elliott, 2015; McGregor 2015):
Catastrophizing - Imagining the worst outcome in all situations e.g making an error at work and thinking your going to get fired for it.
Overgeneralization - Taking an event that happened before and thinking it will happen again e.g “I always screw up”.
Minimization - Minimizing your own good qualities or refusing to see the good or bad in other people or other situations.
Magnification - Exaggerating a problem.
Personalization or blaming - Blaming yourself for things even though they might not be your fault.
“All or nothing” thinking - Seeing things in black and white, most events are completely disastrous or absolutely wonderful. This type of thinking can spark our “fight or flight” response when we consider something to be an immediate threat and is extremely emotionally draining.
Labelling - Attaching a negative label to yourself or others e.g I’m a loser/They are losers.
It is important to remember you are not your actions and everybody makes mistakes.
If you or anyone you know experiences irrational thoughts, know that there are some things that can be done to reduce them. The earlier you take steps to control these thoughts, the better. Now is the time to take control of your mind. If you are finding your thoughts overwhelming, speak to your doctor or a counsellor that may be available through your EAP provider at work.
Feel free to comment below on any tips or strategies you may have heard of to reduce irrational thoughts arising from anxiety.