How Negative Thinking Contributes To Anxiety

woman leaning against wall getty

Being aware of the impacts of your thoughts can actually stop you from sabotaging your ability to problem-solve when you're stressed out.

This internal dialogue, which you're usually not even conscious of, has the power to determine your success and sense of well-being in almost any situation.

RELATED: 5 Simple Ways To Stop Arguments In Their Tracks & Get Closer To Your Partner


Negative thinking can make your anxiety worse than ever. As such, you have to be aware of what's going on in your head — especially when it comes to negative thinking.

So, what are the symptoms of these kinds of thoughts?

Here are 3 ways to tell if negative thinking is contributing to your rising anxiety.

1. You compare yourself to others.

"Susan lost 55 pounds last year. Ted lost 50, while I only lost 30... I just don't have what it takes to be successful like most people."

A good friend of mine won’t look at Facebook. When I asked her why, her response was, “Compare and despair.”

Comparing yourself negatively to others is not only harmful to your self-esteem, but it's also harmful to your spirit. It makes you feel hopeless.


Context is important. The playing field is rarely level, which is why it's so crucial to stop yourself from making negative comparisons.

Even if Susan lost 55 pounds last year and Ted lost 50 pounds, maybe they both weighed more to begin with? Maybe they each had more weight to lose?

The most important question is, why does that matter? It doesn’t.

What matters is the amazing fact that you lost 30 pounds through hard work and determination. If you’ve ever had 30 pounds to lose, then you know that it's quite an accomplishment.

Comparative thinking diminishes your successes and robs you of your accomplishments.

You are closing the door on opportunities when you think this way. So, the next time you find yourself comparing and despairing, stop!


2. You uncritically accept that the critic's point of view is accurate.

"My mother thinks I'm lazy and good for nothing. I guess she's right."

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Just because someone says you are lazy, doesn’t mean that you are, even if it’s your mother!

Shocking, isn’t it?

Many people suffer from this error of thinking. Sadly, it’s often those who are closest to us whose criticisms hurt the most and go unquestioned. Instead, you accept their frame of reference and repeat it back to yourself as if it were true.

It’s painful when people who are close to you offer criticism. The deeper issue though, is that you base your self-worth on what others think of you.


Stop and think about that for a moment. If a person praises you, you think you're worthy. If a person criticizes you, you think you're unworthy.

RELATED: How To Communicate Effectively & Work As A Team In Your Relationship

This means you've relinquished the control of your self-esteem to an outsider, and that’s never a good thing.


How do we conquer this error of thinking? Stop and ask yourself:

  • Is the person criticizing you an authority on the topic? (Usually, they aren’t.)
  • Does this person have all the information? (Usually, they don’t.)
  • Is this person’s criticism constructive or destructive? (Constructive criticism is often situation-specific and is not a generalized assassination of your character.)

If you're in the moment and experiencing criticism, and can feel your emotions rising, do not respond immediately. Give yourself permission to think about what the critic is saying when your emotions have cooled off.

Remember, just because someone says something about you, it doesn’t mean it’s true.

3. You assume that everyone else's opinion of you is critical.

"Everyone here thinks I look fat."


This can happen in two forms. The first assumes that someone else should know what you're thinking. The second assumes you know what they're thinking.

Let’s take the first one where you assume someone has the power to read your mind. This can happen naturally in relationships.

After all, the more time you spend with someone, the more likely you are to assume they know what you're thinking.

Where you really get into trouble is when you start expecting the person to act or do something in a certain way without ever communicating what you need.

Imagine you're coming home from a really long day. You have to cook dinner, deal with the dishes, and get the kids ready for bed, but you have a boatload of paperwork.


After dinner, your partner usually watches the news and then helps the kids with homework. But tonight, you have to work on a project for tomorrow. The only way you see that happening is if you hand off the cleanup duty to your partner.

So, you rush in and tell your partner, "I really have to work on a project tonight." He nods his head. You make dinner, eat dinner, and your spouse disappears to go watch TV as usual, leaving you with the dishes.

So, you storm in and start a fight. Your spouse says, “I had no idea you wanted me to do the dishes. All you had to do was ask.”

It’s then you realize you never actually told him how you wanted his help. You made a plan that involved the two of you, but never communicated it.


Sound familiar? You expected the other person to read your mind. It almost never has a good outcome.

The second form of mind-reading assumes that you know what another person is thinking. In general, this tends to be negative and riddled with anxiety.

For example, you raise your hand to answer a question in class, but your answer is wrong. You're embarrassed.


As you look around the room, you think everyone assumes you're a big dummy, even if no one really cared or knew the answer to begin with.

You can see how if you're already anxious, this kind of thinking can catch on like wildfire. Before you know it, you'll feel isolated and depressed.

So, what can you do to stop negative thinking?

Communicate your wants and needs to eliminate uncertainty and reduce your anxiety.

Anxiety can feel overwhelming and make you wonder if people around you are judging you, or having critical thoughts about you or something you've done.

By making sure you slow down, communicate clearly, and fully comprehend the situation without trying to read other people's minds or assume they know yours, you can make sure you get what you need without the stress.


Negative thinking has the potential to cause you a great deal of unnecessary anxiety and to lead to miscommunications, arguments, and a breakdown in relationships.

At this point, it’s time to let it go and try to find what works best for you.

RELATED: 9 Things The Happiest Couples Talk About On A Regular Basis

Renae Norton is a psychologist and offers an alternative to inpatient treatment for severe cases of anorexia, bulimia, or a combination of the two. For more information, visit her website, Eating Disorder Pro.