Think about your cell phone. Imagine if someone called every hour just to tell you crazy lies.
“No one at your work thinks you’re good at your job. You’re probably going to get fired,” the caller says.
He calls again the next hour and says, “Remember how you and your husband got into that huge fight last week? That happened because he doesn’t love you anymore. He’s probably going to leave you.”
If someone actually did call you every hour saying things like this, two things would happen:
- After a while, you’d realize this anonymous caller was a liar. You would notice that none of the things he says actually happen.
- You’d figure out how to block his number so you never have to hear his crazy stories again.
That caller is your anxiety.
He calls every now and then just to tell you lies. And, while those lies are scary, they’re not true.
If you don’t know how to deal with these lies, they can be overwhelming. They can drive you into a frenzy or make you feel plain crazy sometimes. But, if you know how to recognize them and put them in their place, they get a lot less scary.
So, what should you do? How can you deal with the lies anxiety tells you?
First, let’s identify some of the lies anxiety tells us.
3 Lies Anxiety Tells Us
1. The worst possible outcomes are guaranteed to happen
This is called “catastrophic thinking.” It’s when your mind takes a situation in real life and then magnifies it to the worst possible case scenario.
Imagine this scenario:
Your friend comes to you and says, “I had a rough day at work today. My boss told me that I need to start creating outlines for my meetings and scheduling them further in advance. I don’t think she likes me. I’m probably just going to get fired, and then I’ll have to move back in with my parents. That’s going to be the worst. I hate that these things always happen to me.”
Do you see what happened?
Your friend went from “My boss gave me instructions” to “I’m going to lose my job and have to move back home with my parents.”
Do you see the error in thinking? While the scenario your friend talked about isn’t impossible—she could lose her job, and, if she doesn’t have enough money, she may have to move back in with her parents—it is highly unlikely based on the evidence.
Bosses are supposed to give instructions to their employees. It’s their job. Your boss giving you instructions generally doesn’t mean you’re going to lose your job.
Catastrophic thinking is “making a mountain out of a molehill.” We’ll talk about how to manage these types of lies in a moment.
2. We cannot handle difficult situations
Anxiety makes us believe we can’t handle the difficult situations presented by life. It makes us feel powerless, like we lack a sense of control.
Anxiety magnifies the power and impact of life’s events and minimizes our power to handle them. It doesn’t just tell us the worst will happen, it tells us that those events will break us—that we won’t be able to handle them.
In a moment, we’ll discuss how to conquer these lies, but one necessary step is to realize what you can control and what you cannot.
3. Everything is black-and-white
This is called “black-and-white thinking” or “all-or-nothing thinking.” It’s the mind searching for certainty and refusing to acknowledge that life is not always black or white, it’s often a gray middle ground.
Black-and-white thinking is characterized by words like “always,” “never,” and other words that attempt to achieve certainty by placing things in one of two categories, i.e. “This is good. This is bad.”
This type of thinking is not only incorrect, it affects your sense of control over your life, too. If you believe that “this always happens to me,” you’ll make no effort to change a situation or improve your life.
Addressing the lies that anxiety tells us is about recognizing them for what they are and determining how to live in truth and create the best possible lives for ourselves.
So, how can we stop listening to these lies and start living in truth?
First, it helps to develop compassion for the thing lying to us—our anxiety.
While anxiety can be devastating and debilitating if it runs rampant, it’s really just trying to keep us safe. It’s trying to prepare us for unpleasant outcomes, help us avoid difficult situations, and help us see life through a different lens.
Anxiety is trying to help, but it’s sometimes misguided, which leads to it telling you lies. It’s faulty programming. Your job is to rewire the programming as best you can to create a happier, more peaceful life.
But how do you do that?
3 Tips for How to Beat Anxiety
1. Observe the lie
Have you ever tried meditation for anxiety?
Meditation helps you observe your mind and watch your thoughts. If you do this, you will be able to observe anxiety’s lies when they come up. Instead of getting swept away by those thoughts, you can see them for what they really are—lies.
One of the best ways to prevent getting carried away by anxiety’s lies is to maintain a sense of curiosity. Watch the lie. Look at it as something that’s interesting instead of scary. Pay attention to see where it goes and what it does.
Instead of looking at anxiety’s lies like an oncoming train, pretend they’re an animal in the zoo. Watch them from a safe distance. There’s no need to get in the cage with them. If you watch for long enough with a curious mind, eventually the animal (anxiety) will lie down and rest.
2. Come back to reality
Anxiety is often not true to reality.
For example, catastrophic thinking takes a seed of reality—“My boss gave me instructions”—and magnifies it to an unlikely outcome—“I’m going to lose my job and have to move back home with my parents.”
Black-and-white thinking refuses to acknowledge life’s gray area—not everything is completely one way or the other. Life can be complex and unclear at times, and absolute certainty about many things is impossible.
And, when your anxiety tells you that you cannot handle life’s difficult situations, it refuses to acknowledge your own power to control specific aspects of your life.
Use thought challenging to bring yourself back to reality.
3. Change your lens
Anxiety chooses to view life from a fearful lens, but we can change that lens if we want.
When anxiety tells us a lie, instead of being afraid of it, we can be grateful for it. Remember, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, your anxiety is trying to keep you safe.
Instead of responding to anxiety’s lies with fear, meet them with gratitude.
“Even if it’s occasionally misguided—I am grateful for a mind that tries to help me.”
If you can move away from fear and toward faith and wisdom, you have the potential to completely change how you handle anxiety.
Living with anxiety is not easy. But, with the strategies in this article, you can manage your anxiety in healthy ways and rewire its programming to live a happier, more peaceful life. And, when its lies show up, you’ll know exactly how to handle them.
Donna Durham is the founder and president of Weighting Comforts, a company that creates weighted blankets that relieve anxiety and improve sleep. She’s also a licensed therapist in Tennessee.