How to Overcome Anxiety and Worry: A Cognitive Approach to Changing Your Thinking Patterns

Do a fun little test.

Imagine that there is a narrow wooden plank 16 meters above the ground in front of you.

You’re going to walk on a tightrope, what do you feel?

fear? Because you predict that you will definitely fall.

nervous? Because you feel that many people will look at you as a fool.

Along with fear, nervousness, and possibly restlessness.

So what if you’re an acrobat?

In the face of “tightrope walking”, you will think:

“As long as I keep my balance, I can walk over smoothly. If I am not sure, I can tie a safety rope. Even if I fail, I can challenge again.”

Have you noticed that when people calm down and find that they have no safety problems, they can make rational and accurate judgments, and they will not easily fall into anxiety.

This classic psychological test comes from “Think This Way, Don’t Worry” by Dr. Aaron T. Baker.

In the book, Aaron uses this to put forward a point of view: “The level of cognition determines the level of anxiety.”

What makes people panic is not the thing itself, but our judgment on things.

The best way to crack anxiety is to change our perception of emotions.


Anxiety is like a giant python that is eating everyone’s life.

In the book, Aaron first told the stories of three patients.

The first one is 38-year-old Rebecca.

In middle age, Rebecca’s life can be said to be in a state of desperation.

The child is naughty and disobedient, the parents are not in good health, and the husband is unemployed at home.

And she herself, although she has just been promoted to a manager, has also suffered a lot of grievances in the workplace.

She can’t help but think:

What should I do if my child fails to go to school, and what should I do if a customer finds fault? What to do if you don’t have enough money…

Thinking about it, she became so anxious that she could collapse in minutes.

The second one is Todd, a recent college graduate.

Once Todd graduated, he stumbled in the job market.

After submitting hundreds of resumes, I found a job with a meager monthly salary.

He wants to perform well, but he has no chance at all in the industry’s “seniority ranking”.

After several years of qualifications, he had to face the reality of buying a house and getting married.

Todd couldn’t help thinking, what if he got a loan to buy a house and lost his job? What if you can’t afford to have a baby?

The more he thought about it, the more flustered he became, and he was upset every day.

The third is Elizabeth, who is nearly 50 years old.

Elizabeth is an “old house girl” who lives alone.

She felt that she was behind and couldn’t keep up with the times.

My health is deteriorating, and I am afraid of causing trouble to others.

They are also worried about insufficient pensions, fear of accidents, and even speculate that social unrest will break out.

Although she has already lived a leisure life without worrying about food and clothing, she lives in fear every day.

From these three people, do you see your own shadow?

When we first entered the society, the difficulty of finding a job, the hard work of earning money, the difference in class, whatever it was, made us at a loss when we were young.

After finally surviving middle age, I thought my life was stable, but was exhausted by the mess of trivial matters.

One’s own future, the future of children, the safety of parents, and the reconciliation of various interpersonal relationships always make people uneasy.

In our later years, after we have gone through countless ups and downs, we find that we are so powerless in everything.

Every stage of life is difficult, and all kinds of things in life are worrying.

Aaron said: Anxiety, like a giant python, devours everyone’s life.

We keep asking ourselves: will life be better?

And the self-reply of “denial” over and over again is dragging you and me into the abyss of anxiety.


Except for physical pain, all pain is given to you by values.

In the book, Aaron gives a definition of anxiety:

“Anxiety is the fear of the future, governed by ‘what ifs’.”

Then he talked about the young man Jason.

Soon after Jason started working, he was arranged by the leader to host a video conference.

He was fully prepared, but the closer he got to playing, the more anxious he became.

He kept thinking:

“What if I screw up, it’s a small matter to make a fool of myself, but it’s a big matter to anger the leader, and it will affect the evaluation of titles in the second half of the year?”

“What if my colleagues don’t like my speaking style, will I be isolated?”

“What if I forget my words halfway, who will come and save me?”

Aaron said that in the face of challenges, people can not help but worry, regret and hesitation.

But if you only think of the bad in everything, or if you can’t see the essence clearly, worry will turn into anxiety.

In other words, if you are tormented by negative emotions, there must be a problem with your way of thinking.

Jason’s fear that the speech would be screwed up was an overly pessimistic speculation.

Caring too much about others, looking down on yourself too much, and not knowing the outside world and yourself clearly.

In fact, the anxiety of Rebecca, Todd, and Elizabeth above also stems from cognitive misunderstandings.

Rebecca is a bit of a “perfectionist” and feels she should sort out all future troubles;

Todd is a typical pessimist, always deducing the bleak middle-aged life repeatedly in his mind;

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is a bit “paranoid”, imagining all kinds of tragedies and tragedies that are impossible to happen.

Aaron said that what really breaks people is never the facts, but the “catastrophic thoughts” in the mind.

Excessively pessimistic speculation makes people overwhelmed by bad thoughts before things happen.

In the book, he also listed a formula: overestimating danger + underestimating one’s ability = high anxiety.

Whether it is overestimating externally or underestimating internally, it is a mistake in the way of thinking.

Except for physical pain, all the pain you feel is caused by your cognitive errors.

In many cases, it is not the matter itself that makes you anxious, but that you cannot get out of the quagmire of thinking.


Changing your thinking and cognition is the best way to fight anxiety.

Aaron T. Baker has long been regarded as the founder of cognitive therapy.

Through 25 years of practice, he came to an astonishing conclusion:

“Different ways of thinking can make us feel differently about the same thing. Changing our thinking can change our subjective feelings.”

So how do we beat anxiety?

Aaron used this experience of his daughter to show us what “cognitive therapy” is.

His daughter, Christina, got her driver’s license at the age of 16.

Like many novices, my daughter was so nervous that she couldn’t know what to do as soon as she drove on the road. His eyes stared straight ahead, his hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, every muscle was tense, and he was extremely anxious.

Once, a large truck was coming head-on, and my daughter screamed in fright, and turned off the engine in the middle of the road.

After that, let alone driving on the road, when it comes to driving, my daughter is so anxious that she loses her temper.

At this time, Aaron patted his daughter on the shoulder lightly and followed her to change her thinking and cognition.

1. Look straight at the mind: face the inner fear.

Christina said: “Driving is dangerous. If there is an accident, I will definitely die.”

Aaron nodded without retorting, he just wanted to let his daughter know why he was anxious first.

As the saying goes, if you know yourself and the enemy, you will never be imperiled in a hundred battles.

If anxiety is an enemy, our first step is to see the enemy for what he is.

For example, you worry about your future.

Then think carefully, are you worried about the development of the industry, or are you not confident in your own abilities.

Only by finding the root of anxiety can you find a way to get rid of it.

Second, verify thinking: verify your own ideas.

Aaron asked his daughter: Have you checked, what is the probability of an accident? What is the reason?

After hearing this, my daughter started to search the Internet and came to a conclusion that if you follow the rules and drive safely, the possibility of accidents is not high.

This step is to let the daughter verify whether her thoughts are objective.

If we just follow the train of thought, the result must be infinitely magnified anxiety.

Therefore, it is necessary to use verification thinking in a timely manner, find strong evidence, and bring the wandering thinking back on track.

For example, if you are experiencing “age anxiety” and “appearance anxiety”, you might as well look at the people around you.

There are also late bloomers who succeed in starting a business in their 40s or 50s, and there are also people who are not beautiful but live a beautiful life.

3. Market thinking: do a “cost-benefit” analysis.

Aaron reminded his daughter: Baby, the last time you practiced was two weeks ago. It feels like a long time ago.

“Yes, Dad, because when I think about driving I’m afraid, and when I’m afraid I procrastinate.”

“You see, anxiety is a waste of your precious time, and it’s not worth it.”

What he wants to tell his daughter is that the cost of negative emotions like anxiety is too high.

Presumably you have this experience too.

I wanted to learn a new skill, but for a while I was worried that the tuition fee would be in vain, and for a while I was anxious that I didn’t have time.

As a result, after thinking for a long time, I didn’t take any action, wasting a lot of time in vain.

I wanted to take my child for a good vacation, but when I thought of my child’s grades below average, I suddenly felt a sense of anxiety.

As a result, I didn’t feel like playing, and I wasted a lot of energy in vain.

Whether it is time or energy, it is our living cost.

Anxiety is the biggest cost consumption and does not bring any benefits.

Knowing this, we will consciously stop thinking about it.

4. Turning thinking: Look at the problem from another angle.

Before that, Christina regarded driving practice as a skill that had to be mastered.

Just like taking a school test, seeing that her peers can drive, she also bite the bullet and learn.

Now, Aaron reminded her if she could treat learning to drive as a game.

The process of mastering driving skills is regarded as upgrading and fighting monsters, and finding fun from it.

When my daughter looked at it from a different perspective, she found that practicing driving was not a boring job.

Once you have mastered turning thinking, you will find that there is never a shortage of turning points in your life.

You are worried about your body that will not recover for a long time, but illness is not also an opportunity for self-adjustment, allowing you to slow down and care for yourself.

You are tired of unpaid mortgages and car loans, but these are not the driving force for you to forge ahead, making people not slack off and give up.

In this world, there are never completely bad things, only the bad things defined in your cognition.

5. Growth mindset: Never give up and do it.

Aaron is not only taking his daughter to practice driving repeatedly, but also repeatedly practicing how to get rid of anxiety.

Anxiety is so stubborn that it’s not easy to shake off, Aaron said.

We need to repeat the above steps again and again, and correct the inertial thoughts in our minds again and again.

In the end, Christina successfully learned to drive, and even learned the trick of not being anxious in case of trouble.

In fact, no matter who you want to stay away from anxiety, you have to make countless attempts.

Don’t hold a fixed mindset of once and for all, but have a growth mindset, practice deliberately, and never give up.

So, are you suffering from anxiety right now?

So let’s ask ourselves first:

What are you afraid of? Is the present fear necessary? How costly is anxiety?

Is it okay to look at the problem from another angle, and can we take action first?

In the final analysis, heart disease requires heart medicine.

As a psychological disorder, the soil that breeds anxiety is our inner cognition.

The way to heal must also be found from within.

As soon as the way of thinking changes, the emotional state and one’s own situation also change.


In psychology, there is a concept called “learned helplessness” .

It means that when people’s thinking is frozen, it is easy to fall into a state of helplessness when doing things.

At one time, I also believed that the anxiety of contemporary people was all due to the hardships of life and the embarrassment of fate.

But after reading Aaron’s “Think This Way, Don’t Worry”, I completely changed my mind.

It turns out that people can completely change their feelings about the world by changing themselves.

The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said:

People are not disturbed by things themselves, but by their opinions about them.

The environment changes with our heart, we are actually living in our own ideas.

Pessimists are trapped in the present, while optimists win the future.

Take a closer look , think about the good in everything, be sure of your own abilities, and not easily make bad judgments. If we can all think this way, life will not be anxious at all.

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