We all make predictions, it’s a normal way of thinking but anxiety can cause us to make unnecessarily negative predictions which we believe could be true, resulting in us either avoiding/hiding or bringing ourselves down.
Anxious predictions are usually unrealistic and/or negative, these predictions can be anything such as:
I’m not going to win anyway
People will think I’m stupid
I’m going to get hurt
People will think I look silly
And when predictions like those come into our heads, we treat them as though they are facts because it can feel as though they are. The predictions usually come from a bottom line which is something that we believe to be true, such as:
I’m not good enough
It doesn’t matter what I think
These predictions can cause us to create some ‘rules of living’ which again, we believe to be true so we live our lives by them:
Unless I do what other people want, they won’t like me
I mustn’t say what I think because no one will want to hear it
My worth depends on how I look
I can’t do it so I’m better off not trying
But anxious predictions usually come in when we are about to break the rules of living, and by this, I mean rules such as:
Expressing your opinion on something
Having to learn or do something completely new to you
Buying an outfit for an event
Saying no to someone
Our anxious predictions obviously cause us to live our lives differently but they can also cause us to behave, think and feel differently as well. Below are some examples of how anxious predictions affect us:
– Overly apologetic
– Avoidance of eye contact
– Avoidance of people/places
– Excessive drinking/smoking
– Excessive eagerness to please
– Being the life and soul of the party
– Avoiding challenges/opportunities
– Lacking of assertive needs and speaking out
– Negative thoughts
– Focuses on weaknesses and flaws
-Lack of self-acceptance
– Discounting praise and compliments
– Over sensitivity
– Low energy
– Unable to concentrate
– Changes in appetite/weight
– Changes in sleep pattern
– Uncomfortable body sensations
So for example, lets take the anxious prediction of ‘I must not say anything as no one will want to hear it’, this is a prediction that I commonly had a few years ago. It became a rule that I lived by because if I went against it I could end up breaking the rule of expressing my opinions and if I broke that rule, I could end up getting ridiculed, embarrassed or it could even result in a panic attack, so I usually kept my opinions to myself or voiced them individually to different people (rather than a group of people at once) but by doing this I wasn’t challenging the prediction.
So you have the anxious prediction and the prediction has to start from somewhere and for me it started off with ‘I’m stupid’, that thought was the bottom line and that single thought was where it all began. A common challenge I faced was back when I was in primary/high school and I very rarely put my hand up in class to give an answer, even when I knew the answer because by putting my hand up, I was opening myself up to the possibility of getting the answer incorrect which would then result in me feeling stupid, getting ridiculed by classmates (which rarely happened but the handful of times it did happen, created these anxious predictions) or getting embarrassed (which could then cause me to become withdrawn, my face could go red and I could begin to sweat).
Putting my hand up in class would open me up to possibly getting the answer wrong, which would on prove to other people that I was stupid. Well I didn’t want to prove that to anyone so I avoided putting my hand up altogether, which of course resulted in me recieveing the same comment from my different teachers at parents evening “I just want you to put your hand up more, gain some confidence within yourself”. Urgh, I just wanted to say piss off to them sometimes because to me it wasn’t as simple or as straight forward as that but, by still refusing the put my hand up, I wasn’t challenging the prediction so to me, it remained true because it never got proven wrong.
How anxious thinking works.
There are four key elements to how we reach our anxious predictions which are:
Overestimating the chances of something bad happening
Overestimating how bad it will be if something bad does happen
Underestimating our abilities to deal with it
Underestimating outside resources
These four elements create a fear, which as I have said before, anxiety fucking loves. Fear fuels anxiety so believing these unrealistic predictions is actually very easy and when we believe them, we usually act on them (such as avoiding places/people/activities) in order to protect ourselves when actually, we are just keeping our anxious predictions active.
Working on anxious predictions.
It can be quite hard to spot an anxious prediction as we can become so used to them and we can believe them to be true, so we don’t know much difference. A good starting point is to notice when your anxiety is active, when your anxiety is active your anxious predictions will usually come with it.
Another good technique is noting down your triggers, whether it be people, places, activities, talking, driving, whatever it may be that causes you to predict an negative outcome, note it down so when you are ready to challenge your predictions, you know where is for you to start. It can also be helpful to note down or just notice what you feel within your body when you are anxious, think about your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Then you have an anxious prediction, zoom in on the details. What might happen? What are you thinking/feeling? What are you predicting will happen? Then think about what you do to avoid challenging the prediction? Do you avoid, run away or stay quiet? What precautions do you take to protect yourself? Write it all down if you need to.
If you’re ready you can challenge your predictions. What is the evidence to support them? What is the evidence to prove them wrong? (I have written a bit more about evidence for/against technique which you can read here). It could be helpful to have someone you trust help you with this as it can be hard to point out the evidence against the prediction by ourselves (because we are so convinced that the prediction will happen).
I’ll admit that challenging anxious predictions is not easy as there is a lot of doubt and vulnerability that comes with it but honestly, the predictions are usually incorrect, extremely unrealistic and when you do challenge them, they hardly ever, ever go the way your anxiety predicted them to go and once you challenge them once, it becomes easier to keep challenging them to the point where you don’t need to challenge them anymore. I still have to challenge anxious predictions today and it’s still very daunting but I’ve now done it that many times, that I know the outcome will never be as bad as I am predicting (but this still doesn’t stop my anxiety).
Thank you for reading,
Sending my love to you all,