By Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC

 “Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”

– Jodi Picoult

10:57 pm (Toss and turn. Toss and turn):  I wonder why he didn’t text me back today. Maybe he doesn’t like me anymore. Or maybe he’s ignoring me because he is mad at me. Yeah, he is definitely mad at me… he’s probably going to break up with me tomorrow. 11:36 pm (Toss and turn. Toss and turn):  I wonder if we are ever going to go back to school. What if we don’t? What if I never get to finish high school? and then never get to go to college? and then never get a job and have to live with my parents forever?! 12:04 am (Toss and turn. Toss and turn): Or what if I never get to see my friends again? Do I even still have friends? I wonder if they are all hanging out without me?! 12:42 am (Toss and turn. Toss and turn): I can’t believe mom and dad were fighting again today. All they ever do is fight. I wonder if they are going to get a divorce. What if they re-marry someone I don’t like?! What if I have to share my room with stepsiblings?! What if they take my stuff when I’m not home?! 1:28 am (Toss and turn. Toss and turn):Ugghhhh, I’m so tired. Why won’t my brain shut off already?! I just want to sleep.

Do you ever have this kind of night? You crawl into bed, get your pillows turned just the way you like, your blankets snuggled up under your chin, start to drift off, and then BOOM! Every fear, worry, and uncertainty in your life hits you like a ton of bricks. All the sudden you remember your most embarrassing moment from the second grade, and then just like that, your brain gets going and refuses to shut off. We call this: Anxiety.

While we know that there is a great deal of brain chemistry that takes place when anxiety hits, we also know that anxiety is often the result of the lies our brain is telling us. When anxiety gets going, our brain likes to focus on regrets of our past or fears of the unknown in our future. These lies are called cognitive distortions or illogical thinking. What these terms translate to is that there are times when we might have a logical concern or feel appropriate discomfort about something, but then our brain quickly turns it illogical by taking us immediately to worst-case scenarios. This type of worst-case scenario thinking is called catastrophizing and can often take us from a semi-upset state to full-blown panic in a matter of minutes.

So, if we know our brains tend to lie to us (and whisper horrible worst-case scenarios at us in the middle of the night!) … but we also know we are kind of stuck with our brains, then what can we do about it?! One of the best ways to shut down catastrophizing is using a technique called logical self-talk. With this approach we work to become more aware of the illogical thoughts creeping in and we combat them by thinking about the “likely” situation versus the “worst” situation. For example, our sleepless friend above might consider that her boyfriend possibly got in trouble and got his phone taken away versus being mad at her. Or she might realize that if she can’t return to school, she will still get her education online, and will certainly be able to get a job. Additionally, she could tell herself that an argument between her parents does not automatically mean she is going to end up with thieving stepsiblings. Using logical self-talk to consider what is most likely, as opposed to what would be most horrible, gives us a whole lot of power over combatting our anxious thoughts.


Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owns a private practice, Evolve Counseling, in Gilbert, Arizona. She specializes in various areas, including depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, and personal improvement. In addition to providing therapeutic services, Elizabeth also teaches Behavioral Health courses for Grand Canyon University.