Our minds are powerful things, and we can often fixate on anxiety-ridden or stressful thoughts so much that we create a horrible situation for ourselves.
Much of this is related to how our minds work, and there’s some neural science involved too.
In this article, we’ll run through some of the common ways that anxieties are self-fulfilling, as well as some of the brainy stuff behind it all!
Essentially, many of our feelings of fear or anxiety originate in our thoughts rather than the situations we face.
As a simple example, we may not find making a cup of coffee stressful at all, but if we think too much about it, we’ll find ways for it to become an anxiety-filled experience.
The more we think about getting an electric shock from the coffee machine, burning ourselves with water, or dropping our cup, the more stressful the situation seems.
By the time we actually make the coffee, we’re so wound up by all the potential problems that could arise that it becomes a task riddled with worry and trepidation.
As such, we’ve turned a non-stressful situation into something stressful, simply by believing it to be stressful. Make sense so far?
Now, that’s a very basic example, but it highlights the idea that fears can be self-fulfilling. The more your mind is able to turn a situation into something negative and filled with stress, the more likely it is to be just that.
This idea that you can think things into existence isn’t new, but it is something that more and more people are struggling with. Because you’ve made something your new truth, your behavior changes and makes it more likely to happen.
This idea might sound a bit strange, but take a moment to think about your life and how you may have influenced things to happen in it, simply by thinking about them…
Some Examples Of Common Self-Fulfilling Anxieties
Sure, travel can be a bit stressful, but many of us accidentally make it worse for ourselves.
You may start thinking about what a stressful experience it’s going to be – you could miss your plane, you might lose your passport, you might not be able to find a cab when you land, etc.
The more you work yourself up about how awful the journey is going to be, the more awful the journey will be for you – regardless of whether any of these negative things actually occur.
Remember that this trip is stressful now because of your thought-cycle – you’ve decided, in advance, that you won’t enjoy traveling and are therefore likely to have a horrible time doing it.
This will then affect how you feel next time you travel: “Last time was horrible, so this time will be horrible.”
You might have heard of the expression, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” and it couldn’t be more relevant here.
When you have a certain thought or response, you trigger a chain of events in your brain. In this case, one negative thought leads to a whole load of other negative thoughts.
This is because your brain works – at a very basic level – by forging pathways between neurons, with each cluster of neurons and the subsequent pathways between them responsible for certain thoughts, emotions, or actions.
The more you use those pathways, the stronger they become and the stronger the association between events, thoughts, and feelings.
So, the first time you think, “I’m going traveling; I’m going to miss my plane; I’ll have a horrible trip,” your brain forms a loose pathway between these three thoughts and the feelings of anxiety they create.
The more that you let this chain of thoughts circulate in your conscious mind, the more your brain learns this pattern, to the point where you actively think, “I’m going traveling,” and your mind fills in the blanks and reminds you, “I’m going to miss my plane; I’ll have a horrible trip.”
We become almost Pavlovian within our own minds, and these pathways can form quickly and can be hard to break.
How To Soothe Your Mind
It’s important to consider risks and stay responsible in your life, sure, but overthinking things is never going to end well.
Try to start reprogramming your mind. It might sound a bit daunting, but there are ways that you can shift your mindset.
Ultimately, you want to rewire those neural pathways so that your thought, “I’m going traveling” links to thoughts such as, “Last time was actually fine; I had an incredible time.”
The more that we can rewire our minds and reinforce positive pathways of thoughts and feelings, the more we’ll enjoy our experiences!
When you start to feel anxious about a situation, write it down. Make a note of how you’re feeling and which aspects of the day are making you feel stressed.
At the end of the day, take time to go through your list and comment next to each of your statements from earlier.
For example, you may have written that you were dreading your meeting in the morning, but you’ll be able to note down that the meeting actually went very well.
These physical reminders can help you realize that not every bad preconception is going to become a reality.
The more that you allow yourself to see the positives, the less likely you are to have these kinds of self-fulfilling anxieties.
And, the better you feel about situations, the more likely they are to go well! Self-fulfilling feelings can be good too…
Further Steps To Consider
If you’re really struggling to manage your anxiety, it may be worth talking to your doctor. You might be suffering with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is very common.
You’re likely to be referred to a therapist who can help you find ways to monitor and manage your thoughts and moods.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can work wonders if you struggle with anxiety – it is essentially a talking-therapy treatment that helps you rewire your mind.
Rather than immediately linking one thought to something drastically awful, you learn to take a step back, rationalize the situation, and shift your mindset. This, coupled with the positive neural pathways you’ll be making, will help you massively.
Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.