5 quick questions for reframing anxiety

reframing anxiety girl in picture frame

Anxiety issues are among the most common topics that I discuss with my clients. Even if they come to see me about something else, anxiety and stress are themes in their lives. Reframing anxiety can help.

Anxiety can be triggered by various factors, such as work stress, relationship issues, financial problems, or health concerns. It can also become generalised to all aspects of life and appear to arise without any clear trigger.

Although it is a natural and necessary, human response, anxiety can become overwhelming and interfere with your daily activities.

Reframing is a process commonly used in NLP that involves changing the way we think about a situation or event. It can help us see things from a different angle and reframe our thoughts in a more positive light.

By reframing anxiety, we can challenge our negative thoughts and beliefs and replace them with more positive and helpful ones.

Looking at things another way sounds great, but when you are preoccupied with something and feeling anxious, you are likely to struggle to reframe the anxiety. A way of achieving this in a more structured way is to ask yourself specific questions that change your thinking.

What other explanations are there?

Catastrophizing is a common thought pattern associated with anxiety. It involves imagining the worst-case scenario and believing that it is inevitable. For example, if you receive an email from your boss asking to schedule a meeting, you might catastrophize and think that you’re going to get fired.

Instead of catastrophizing, why not try to look at the situation objectively.

Ask yourself, what are the other possible reasons why your boss wants to meet with you?

What other explanations are there?

Maybe it’s a routine check-in, or maybe your boss wants to discuss a new project. By reframing anxiety and looking for other explanations, you can reduce the emotion and approach the situation with a more rational mindset.

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What can I learn from this?

Black-and-White thinking is another common thought pattern associated with anxiety. It involves seeing things as either good or bad, right or wrong, with no in-between.

For example, if you make a mistake at work, you might think that you’re a failure and that you’ll never succeed. Instead of black-and-white thinking, try to consider the grey areas.

Ask yourself, what can you learn from this mistake?

What steps can you take to improve next time?

In this way you are reframing anxiety, avoiding self-blame and approaching the situation with a growth mindset.

How do I know what they are thinking?

Mind Reading is a cognitive distortion associated with anxiety. It involves assuming that you know what others are thinking or feeling without any evidence to support your assumption.

For example, if your friend cancels plans with you, you might think that they’re upset with you or that they don’t like you anymore.

Instead of mind reading, try to communicate with others. Ask your friend if everything is okay and if there’s anything you can do to help. By reframing your thoughts, you can avoid unnecessary worry and strengthen your relationships.

If you are aware that you may be mind-reading you may find it better concentrate on communication with the person. Alternatively you can ask yourself ‘How do I know?’

Who is this really about?    

Personalizing is another cognitive distortion associated with anxiety. It involves assuming that you are responsible for events or situations that are outside of your control.

It’s a natural thing for us to assume that everything that happens is about us. Have you ever heard an ambulance go past and wonder if it is for a friend or loved one?

If your partner is in a bad mood, you might think that it’s your fault and that you did something wrong. Instead of personalizing, try to consider other factors. Ask your partner if everything is okay and if there’s anything you can do to help.

By reframing your anxious thoughts, you can avoid self-blame and approach the situation with empathy and understanding.

What’s important to me about this?

Should statements are a cognitive distortion associated with anxiety. It involves having rigid rules or expectations for yourself or others.

For example, if you don’t complete a task on time, you might think that you should have done better or that you’re not good enough.

Instead of should statements, try to focus on your values. Values are the core principles or standards of behaviour by which you live.

Ask yourself, what’s important to you in this situation?

What values can you align with to move forward?

A great number of the things that preoccupy us are just thoughts in our head, and there are many ways in which we naturally distort things to be worse than they really are.

Reframing anxiety by asking good questions is a great habit to develop as you become more and more self-aware.

You can read more about anxiety in my article on the Personal Growth website.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.

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