How to identify anxiety triggers & overcome negative thinking patterns

External triggers could be an upcoming event like a review meeting with the boss, a mail from HR ad-dressed to us alone, a social event, any specific place (like lifts), and so on.

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eep track of when you feel nervous and what you were doing, where you were, and who you were with.

Anxiety triggers could be internal or external. Internal triggers are those that arouse strong emotions and physical distress signs in us, for example, any memory that scares or upsets us, like bereavement, trauma, abuse, or recalling something that was embarrassing, like the last time we lost confidence in a meeting and someone had teased us about. External triggers could be an upcoming event like a review meeting with the boss, a mail from HR addressed to us alone, a social event, any specific place (like lifts), and so on. To understand it better, we got in touch with Rohini Rajeev, Sr. Psychotherapist & Founder, The AbleMind. Here’s what he has to say:

How To Identify Anxiety Triggers:

1. Keep a journal: Keep track of when you feel nervous and what you were doing, where you were, and who you were with. This can help you notice patterns and possible triggers.

2. Reflect on your thoughts: When it becomes an impediment in the way of leading a normal life when we begin to stop enjoying regular activities and worries begin to take over. When we overthink and magnify all problems and it affects our productivity and our outlook.

3. Disturbed Sleep: When sleep is affected, either it’s too much or too little or too erratic; when we experience other cognitive impairments like frequent lapses in memory, trouble staying focused, etc.

4. Pay attention to how your body feels: When you feel anxious, you might sweat, have a racing heart, or feel muscle tightness. These physical feelings can help you find causes.

5. Being Irritable or Restless: Feeling on the edge almost always, being fidgety, irritable, and angry; When we overwork and are constantly doing other things to stay busy and thus restless, that’s a sign.

Here are a few Anxieties Self-Help Techniques

  1. Focused breathing exercises (5 5 5 method-breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5 and breathe out for a count of 5, square breathing, pranayama, etc.)
  2. The 5 4 3 2 1 anxiety rule (5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste)
  3. Having a plan (Start the previous night- Keeping a ‘Happy Book’ next to the bedside; Write something that we are grateful for every night before we sleep; Recall one good thing that happened to us or anything we did to help someone else that day and note it down; Recall a happy memory from the past and write that down too (induced nostalgia increases optimism); Write an affirmation that counters the negative thought pattern/negative self-belief); Keeping a glass of water next to us and drinking that first thing when we wake up(our brain is after all 73 pc water!); followed by reading the things we wrote the previous night… starting the day with self-induced optimism)

How to overcome negative thought patterns:

Our worldview is always based on our attitude and outlook on situations. A negative worldview furthers negative thinking, and this can be an endless cycle. But the good news is that negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions can be broken, and we can train our minds to replace them with more positive, viable thoughts.

Here is how: (It is important to note here that support and guidance from a mental health professional may be required to channelize our thoughts and work on ourselves, over and above self-help pointers. This is applicable to the points mentioned below as well.

  1. Reflect and recognize: Taking time to think about our attitude, our self-talk, and writing about it every day to identify a pattern(journaling), helps us work on it in a structured manner and change what needs changing. We can choose to change what doesn’t work for us if we are conscious of it and choose to respond differently.
  • Replace Thoughts: Negative thoughts can be replaced consciously with positive thoughts and experiences. Instead of ruminating excessively on something that isn’t working for us, try focusing on the good. Stick to a max of 15 minutes of rumination and then move on to noticing the good things /positives happening in our lives.
  • Changing habits: Breaking negative patterns requires effort. Learning healthy habits and following through with them, like a routine of waking up, meditation followed by brisk walks, writing down and working on our goals each day, focusing on the small achievements than the failures; eliminating negative influences (which includes moving away from toxic people, not starting the day with disconcerting news from online or print media, not having a set routine, etc.
  • Look forward: When we focus on the good things around us, even if small and almost insignificant, we become mindful. Mindfulness is a powerful tool to break negative thought patterns as it teaches us to stay in the moment, notice, and helps us focus on the good. For example, telling ourselves (positive affirmations) that we will have a good day today; that we have the most fun in the office, I like my job, I love my friends and family, we can handle challenges, and things will work out, etc. stops us from dreading office pressure or worrying about the day
  • Acknowledgement and acceptance: Negative thinkers are not self-compassionate. They are more self-critical than others and minimize their achievements and abilities. They focus more on their mistakes and overthink the importance of it. By acknowledging our successes and accepting our ability to

Anxiety is not a fashionable term to be misused and trivialized when one is going through common situational stressors. Doing so often undermines the seriousness of this condition and the way it affects those who battle with it. Extreme anxiety can be paralyzing, and it is only with increased awareness and continuous support that we can overcome this growing mental health concern.

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First published on: 21-05-2023 at 09:00 IST