Anxiety, fear and panic are associated with irrational thoughts involving themes of threat or danger. These irrational thoughts take the form of “if” or “what if” beliefs. For example, a person who is afraid of heights may think, “If I am on the elevator alone and it gets stuck, no one will be able to save me,” or a person with panic disorder may believe, “If my heart beats too fast, it means that I am probably having a heart attack.” The “if” and “what if” thinking in anxiety disorders is a byproduct of your irrational thought patterns, including magnification, catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, and “should” and “must statements.” Sometimes anxiety is a result of genuine problems or situations that have no solutions. The seven questions that you ask yourself to overcome anxiety are as below:
- What is the likelihood of this happening?
- What is the evidence supporting my prediction?
- What are some other ways to look at this based on facts?
- Based on facts, what can happen most realistically?
- Can I cope with the most realistic outcome?
- If this is a genuine problem, can I problem-solve?
- Is it time to accept?
What is the likelihood of this happening?
- “What are the odds of this happening?”
- “Realistically, how likely is this situation going to happen?”
- “How often has this happened to me in the past?”
- “How often have I seen this happen to others?”
- “Am I overestimating the likelihood of this situation to happen?”
What is the evidence supporting my prediction?
- “If I have a panic attack in a movie theater, it would be a disaster.”
- “It would be absolutely terrible to faint.”
- “I couldn’t manage if I were to panic on an airplane.”
- “If I lose my job, it would be a complete disaster.”
- “I must do everything I can to avoid experiencing a panic attack or else something horrible will happen.”
- “I would not be able to manage if I were to have a panic attack at work.”
- “If I have a panic attack, I would not be able to cope.”
- “Am I predicting that a particular situation will be more catastrophic or unmanageable than it actually is?”
- “Do I know for sure if my prediction will come true?”
- “If I have made similar predictions in the past, how often have they come true?”
- “Do I have any proof that this situation is as dangerous as it appears?”
- “Will I still think about this situation a month, 6 months, year, or five years from now?”
- “When I think that I would not be able to cope, what does ‘not be able to cope’ mean?”
- “Have I ever actually lost control before?”
- “Based on my past experience, what is the worst thing that will happen?”
- “What does my past experience tell me about the likelihood of this happening?
- “Am I underestimating my ability to cope with this situation?”
What are some other ways to look at this based on facts?
Can I cope with the most realistic outcome?
- “How have I coped with this before?”
- "What other resources are available to me to cope with this situation?"
If this a genuine problem, can I problem-solve?
- Define the problem in clear and specific behavioral terms, i.e., what specific behavior needs to be addressed or changed. You will be able to generate better solutions for a specific problem such as, “I have been postponing paying my bills for last two weeks and feel overwhelmed whenever I try to do that” versus the vague problem, “I can’t get anything done.” To get the specifics of a problem, describe it in terms of: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?
- Define your goals in addressing the problem – what is your desired outcome? Goals are often stated beginning with the phrase, “How can I …?”
- Brainstorm possible solutions to the problem. When brainstorming solutions, generate as many solutions as possible, don’t analyze or judge the possible solutions at this stage.
- Weigh pros and cons for each solution.
- Pick one solution and implement it. Sometimes a combination of solutions may work better as they complement each other.
- Evaluate the effectiveness and make changes to your approach, if needed.