thinking anxiouslyAnxious people tend to think differently than those who are more laid back. Thoughts of those with anxiety often stay focused in the future. You don’t really feel anxious about what happened last week, you worry about what may happen later today, tomorrow, or even years from now. Here are a few examples of people having anxious thoughts.

1. Sally looks in the mirror. Her hair is turning grayer. She thinks that everyone who looks at her immediately sees her as old and being old is terrible. She believes that most people also think that she is ugly. Old, ugly, and worthless. She doesn’t want to leave her house because she is sure that people will judge her. Eventually, she stops caring about herself. She doesn’t have her hair done because she believes that nothing she does will make her look better. Her friends and family wonder why she has become such a recluse.

2. Jonathon can’t stop thinking about the economy. He’s got quite a bit of money saved for retirement, but the stock market keeps on going down. He worries that his house may lose value and that he won’t be able to survive. He constantly watches the financial channels and has been so focused on money that his own work is falling behind. Ironically, the more he worries, the less he is able to be productive.

3. Melissa feels stressed out. She tries to be a good mother and wife but doesn’t think she measures up. She believes that her children suffer and that her husband will eventually get fed up with her and leave. Sometimes she gets annoyed and yells at her kids. She doesn’t always keep the house clean and can’t seem to find the time to work out. After 4 pregnancies, she hasn’t regained her figure. She looks around at other mothers who seem to have it all together. Some of her friends tell her that she’s doing great. After all, she has four kids and works full time. But Melissa can’t stop thinking that she should be doing better. Her anxiety in fact makes it difficult to relax and have fun with her family.

4. Anthony’s father and grandfather both died of heart attacks in their mid-fifties. Anthony worries a lot about having the same fate. In fact his anxiety is so great that he finds himself thinking about his heart pretty much every day. He’s in his mid-forties and works out at the gym 5 days a week. His weight is normal and his cholesterol is actually low for his age. He’s talked to his doctor who points out that Anthony is doing all that he can to prevent heart disease and that worrying so much about heart disease may actually be harmful to his health. Now Anthony has something else to worry about. He’s worried about his worry.

Notice that in all of the examples the people worry about things that haven’t really happened. Sally believes that others judge her, but she hasn’t checked that out. Jonathon frets about his financial future—something no one can predict. Melissa believes that she should be a better mother but her standards are unrealistic. She doesn’t know that her kids are suffering or that her husband is sick of her. Finally, Anthony worries that he will die of a heart attack in the near future, despite evidence from his doctor that he is doing fine.

If you judge yourself harshly, feel the need to be perfect, magnify risk, or have constant concerns about the future, you may be at risk for anxiety. Try to stay in the present and appreciate present moments. Plan for the future, stay as healthy as you can, do your best to meet your responsibilities, and then accept what you can’t control. Good luck and take care.

Photo by Ananth BS, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.