How does CBT help with Anxiety? What are Anxious Thoughts

What can I do for anxious thoughts?

Anxiety: How do I get past it?

In this time of uncertainty, anxiety is the most common reason people go to therapy. They would like to know how to overcome this feeling of anxiousness, dread, and fear. One daily question is how I stop the thoughts and move on with everyday life. What happens when anxiety takes over seemly routine and simple tasks? 

I am not a CBT therapist, meaning I am not certified in CBT, but I use the skills and understand the concept. I love the idea of cognitive behavior therapy and its simplicity once you have learned the skills to modify it for your life and personal struggles. 

Targeting distortions or thinking errors, which I like to call stinking thinking, begin identifying what is going on with your anxiety and how to start adjusting your thoughts. 

All thoughts are related to emotions and behaviors. Triggers are what begin that process. Not all thoughts are intentional, meaning we don’t stop and think about eating candy. If candy is in front of us, we may say, “Hey, I want some candy; chocolate is my favorite,” leading us to go and get some chocolate- not always candy. 

Not all thoughts are our own, and we get ideas from external objects, conversations, or people. Meaning, I see a beautiful sky, and I overhear, “it would be a great day for a picnic” I think about the last picnic I had and jump to the image of the person or place I was at. The thought leads to the last fight I had with that person. Now I am anxious or angry. Where did that come from? 

Also, intrusive thoughts are not something you make up. For example, the thought, “I want to eat ribs tonight, but I think I will drink too much; yep, I will drink too much, but that is OK”…

Now, you feel guilty for thinking about eating ribs and being drunk, what happens when you are drunk, and what will your significant other say, so down the rabbit hole you go. You have not even gone out, nor have you had one drink, but you already feel guilty and anxious. 

OK, now you get the point I was trying to make with thoughts and how some are not ours; we seem to have them pop into our heads. But what do we do? 

Some distortions you may fall into are: 

All or nothing thinking

It is also black and white thinking. If your performance is not the best, you are horrible. If you fall short of perfect, you have failed. An example could be: “nana, I can’t remember my math steps, I am stupid, I will never get this.” Or “These lines for this play are hard; I can’t do it, so I am dropping out of the play.” One more: “I did not get this job, and I felt I was qualified, so I will not get the next job I apply for. I am a failure.”


Also called magnification. When you overreact or exaggerate the importance of something, it should take much less time, energy, or thought. Examples might be dropping a glass of milk and calling yourself a klutz or stupid. You were freezing up because you dopped the milk, and now the event is worse than it should have been. 

Getting a B on a test and deciding you can’t finish the course or go to college. Your hair is a mess, and you decide you look horrible, so you can’t go out today or to the party. Someone in your family has started a business or received a promotion, but you are still at the same job you have been for a few years, so you determine you are a failure.

A simple one could be, “We need to talk “… oh no!!

Examples of when triggered by fear; The doctor’s office calls, and you just had tests done… 

Overgeneralizations: words like never or always

One event may trigger the idea of a pattern of defeat. Someone turned me down I was attracted to, so I will never have a date, partner, or children. Another example is that I failed a test, and I will never understand math or social studies. My finances are horrible, and I am in debt, so I will never get out of debt. 

Mental Filters:

making a huge event, filtering out the positive, and focusing on the negative. This is when the negative train continues to run around in your head repeatedly. A few thoughts I messed up the report are now I will be fired and can not do anything right, and no one will ever hire me again. It can be the thoughts that take 95% of your mental energy and processing but should only be less than 5%. 

These are the thoughts you dwell on and tend to become extreme. 

Jumping to Conclusions: When you think something is accurate and don’t look into the actual situation or have facts to prove or support your conclusions. 

  • Mind reading: When you think someone will react in a particular way or believe someone is thinking things they aren’t thinking. An example is, “I know the people at the party will hate me, so I will not go.” “Everyone is talking about me,” your thought because when you walked by someone talking on the phone, they looked at you. Some other examples are your guest thinks you are a terrible housekeeper because your kids’ toys are out. The boss hates you or wants to fire you; after all, you were late this morning, or that guy thinks you are flirting because you said ‘hi.’ 
  • Fortune telling: When you predict events will unfold in a particular way, often to avoid trying something challenging or a strained conversation. Everything will turn out badly, and you already have thought out the scenario. You are playing different outcomes repeatedly in your head until you have the one you know will happen- usually the worst-case scenario. 

Minimizing:(magnifying)or called “binocular trick” – overemphasizing the negatives and under-emphasizing the positives.

“I am not as good as… or “I don’t have it as bad as…” maybe even “It was not that important.” this could happen when you have tunnel vision of your mistakes, imperfections, or flaws. When you try to make yourself small, hiding so you are nonexistent, shrinking your accomplishments.

Emotional reasoning:

 You assume that your feelings are what is true; you think, so you know, and it makes it accurate. It believes that what you are feeling expresses the true nature of things and experiences reality as a reflection of emotionally linked thoughts;

I feel sick, so I am ill and need to stay home today. I think they are talking about me so I can’t be friends with them. Other examples could be, “I feel guilty, so I must have done something horrible and must be punished,” “I’m feeling worthless, so I must be worthless,” or “I feel stupid, so I am not good enough” and “I feel afraid, so I must be in danger.” It is linking your emotions/ feelings to your reality. 

Should, could, would have: linking guilt and punishment to your actions or lack of involvement. Musts and oughts are also part of this distortion. 

I should have checked the lock twice, and I could have waited five more minutes; I would have done that, but…


This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m stupid, I am such an idiot.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a creep, or I can’t stand him.”

Mislabeling involves describing an event with highly colored and emotionally loaded language.

Personalization or blame: 

You see yourself as the cause of some adverse event that you were not primarily responsible for. Examples could be, “It’s my fault my son failed the test I did not study with him.” or ” I caused that to happen because I was not focused.” Abused people may use, ” I am to blame because I did…” You take the blame for what has happened and believe it is your fault. 

Disqualifying the Positive:

 You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for another reason. In this way, you can maintain a negative belief contradicted by your everyday situations. You do not allow the positive to be something you focus on. 

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