How can I approach anxiety, negative thinking and the circus in my head. How can I focus on genuine intention?

I have trouble keeping the conversation going with anyone, especially women. Even if I work up the courage to say hello I just feel like what’s the point? My mind races and wanders off into a millions different places. I worry too much about what they must be thinking and focus on the things I know I can’t control.
Asked by John

Hi John,

It's great you're reaching out for some help. I can't say for sure what's causing your anxiety based on your message alone, but I can give you some ideas of how your challenge would be approached from a Cognitive Behavioral perspective.

1. Because our thinking influences our feelings and behaviors, we have formed beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us based on how we have interpreted our past experiences. You may have some beliefs about yourself (and/or women) that contribute to your anxiety. That anxiety in turn seems to be contributing to you have racing thoughts that make having the conversations with women seem overwhelming. By identifying what those underlying beliefs are and gaining a little insight into where they come from, you can start to replace irrational thinking with more adaptive ways of thinking. By doing so, you'd decrease your anxiety and feel more confident with these situations.

2. Coping skills are also huge. There are so many that can help with anxiety, and the key is to try several of them, see what works for you, and then practice them so that using them becomes automatic when faced with anxiety-producing situations. For example, deep breathing (breathing in through your nose for five seconds and out of your mouth for seven seconds) can be a great quick way to reduce anxiety. Pleasant imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness and grounding techniques, and many distraction activities like counting backwards can all help.

3. In addition to the immediate strategies to reduce anxiety, preventative measures could involve improving your self-esteem. Recognizing your strengths (and allowing other people to help you recognize your strengths) could improve self-esteem and thus reduce anxiety in these situations. 

4. Cognitive behavioral therapy often involves role playing, and role playing stressful situations can help someone to prepare for situations that they know will produce anxiety. By practicing how you will approach a conversation with a woman, that preparation may help you to feel more confident once in that conversation. 

5. Writing down your thoughts as they occur is another strategy. You described a "circus in your head" and sometimes it can be useful just to break down what's going on. Being able to look at those thoughts on paper or on a computer can also help us to more objectively evaluate them.

Anyway, those are some ideas of how a Cognitive Behavioral therapist may approach your challenge. I hope that you'll consider participating in therapy. What you're describing is very common and can absolutely be worked on if you're open to doing so.

I hope you have a nice rest of your weekend, and take care.

Nicholas DeFazio, MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC