Don’t Assume You Know What Others Are Thinking

Anxiety has no personal boundaries. It has no conscience regulating the frequency, duration or intensity of its impact. Anxiety often behaves as though its own organ. It can hit you at any time anywhere despite how much you object to it or fail to recognize it, which can leave you feeling so very helpless. I can’t tell you how many times I ducked out of social events because I just knew my anxiety was going to misbehave. I think we want to be social (it’s human nature), but we don’t want to deal with our anxiety. It’s just easier not to do stuff that scares us than to fight with our anxiety to get ourselves to get dressed, then to walk or drive there, then to deal with people. I believe that the aspect about anxiety that sucks the most is thinking we know what other people are thinking.

Anxiety naturally makes your mind race with totally irrational thoughts, but not only do these thoughts invade your mind, but it tries to invade other people’s minds through yours! When we over analyze body language, tone of voice, emotional expression, and the word choices of the people who we are interacting with, we are trying to read their minds for clues into whether or not these people like us. If we say something weird, we read heavily into their reactions us and deduce that they all think that we’re insane. I am the worst with this. I go from 0 to 100 real quick. Even when I’m on the train headed to work, if I catch someone glancing at, say my shoes, for a longer period of time than I’d like, I then come to the conclusion that that person hates my shoes or my fashion sense, and that hurts me personally. If someone I wrote an email to takes a long time to respond, I assume that they think my email was straight-up stupid and is avoiding having to respond. If I post something a bit bold to Facebook, I assume that everyone will scoff at my post and I will, in turn, receive cold treatment from them. This kind of thinking is a vicious cycle, and it is VERY hard to break. I still struggle with this, but I’ve learned a few tips to help me get through. Hopefully, they’ll be as helpful to you as they have been for me.

You Are Not Telepathic

This may seem obvious, but to people with anxiety it isn’t. Despite what you think the other person is thinking, you don’t actually know what that other person is thinking. There is a disconnect between people’s behavior and thoughts, and most of the time they act upon thoughts or impulses they can’t control. Don’t assume that people are thinking bad thoughts about you, because you have no idea what’s actually going on in their heads! They could be thinking about a terrible burrito they had yesterday, or that unpleasant conversation they had earlier with their mom. You really do never know.

You Can’t Control People’s Thoughts

Even if you were somehow telepathic and could read people’s thoughts, would that really help you? Think about it. What if someone thought something negative about you for a split second, and you heard it loud and clear, it would probably make your anxiety much worse. You’ll be come self-conscious about whatever flaw they thought about and you’d kill yourself trying to fix that flaw. As a result, your anxiety would spiral out of control! Sure they may think good things about you sometimes, but you’re not perfect (and neither is anyone else) and eventually they will notice the things they don’t like about you, and we’re back to square one. You need to accept that not everyone is gong to like you and that not everything you do is going to shine favorably in the eyes of others. Remember that people are entitled to their own thoughts, and it doesn’t hurt you for those people to think those thoughts.

Rationalize Your Thoughts

Now that you know that you shouldn’t try to read people’s thoughts (because it’s physically impossible). Try to observe your thoughts as an objective viewer and isolate the thoughts that are keeping you from engaging with others. Then use logic and reasoning to tear them apart. Remind yourself that you can’t possibly know what another person is thinking. Then tell yourself that even if you did know what they were thinking, there’s nothing you can realistically do about it. Then remind yourself that some people are going to have negative feelings about you and that’s okay! If, for instance, some one stares at you (or your shoes) for a while at that makes you anxious. Think, ‘maybe they’re probably spacing out.’

Listen (No, really listen)

There’s a way to help you get out of your mind and connect with some one else on a deeper level and that is to give someone else your undivided attention. Your brain cannot multi-task. It’s backed up by science. If you give your attention to someone else and make an effort to really learn about them, you can’t obsess in your mind about silly little things. You will probably experience a bit more empathy for the person you’re speaking to, because connecting with another person means to put yourself in their shoes.

Know The Way You Think

So you can’t be a telepath, but good news is that you know how you think. If someone does something weird do you dwell upon it for hours and let that keep you from interacting with them? Probably not. You’d probably think “ha, that’s weird.” Then move on. Or you may not think anything of it at all. You’d probably write it off instantly (depending on how weird the action or comment was). So you should assume that other people are going to do the same. Don’t get me wrong. None of this means that you should throw caution to the wind and do weird stuff because f*ck it. It means that you should have fewer emotional constraints inhibiting you from truly living your life.

Keep in mind that being able to read people well is a wonderful skill to have when used correctly. However, my advice is specifically for people who have inadvertantly used it to fuel their anxieties and depression.

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