Understanding Feelings and Dealing with Feelings in Anxiety

Understanding Feelings and Dealing with Feelings in Anxiety: Focusing on Maladaptive Beliefs

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural emotional response to perceived threats or stress. While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, persistent and excessive worry can interfere with daily activities and well-being. It often manifests through feelings of nervousness, restlessness, or tension, accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and fatigue.

How Prevalent is Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 4% of people globally suffer from anxiety disorders. This prevalence highlights the importance of understanding and addressing anxiety effectively.

What are the Common Consequences of Anxiety?

Chronic anxiety can lead to several negative outcomes, including:

  • Impaired daily functioning: Difficulty concentrating, procrastination, and avoidance behaviors can hinder work, school, or social activities.
  • Physical health issues: Persistent anxiety can contribute to cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal issues, and weakened immune function.
  • Emotional strain: Constant worry and fear can lead to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and a diminished sense of self-worth.

How Can We Understand Anxiety from a Cognitive Perspective?

In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the focus is on how thoughts influence feelings and behaviors. The cognitive model suggests that maladaptive thoughts, or cognitive distortions, contribute to the maintenance of anxiety. By identifying and challenging these distorted thoughts, individuals can change their emotional responses and behaviors.

Cognitive Model of Anxiety

The cognitive model of anxiety involves three main components:

  1. Cognitions (Thoughts): These are the beliefs and assumptions we have about ourselves, the world, and the future.
  2. Emotions (Feelings): These are the emotional responses triggered by our thoughts.
  3. Behaviors: These are the actions we take in response to our emotions and thoughts.

How Do Maladaptive Beliefs Influence Anxiety?

Maladaptive beliefs are distorted or irrational thoughts that can exacerbate anxiety. These beliefs often misinterpret or overemphasize the significance of feelings, leading to increased anxiety. Here are three examples:

  1. Catastrophizing about Feelings: Believing that experiencing anxiety will lead to disastrous outcomes. (“If I feel anxious during my presentation, I’ll completely lose control and embarrass myself in front of everyone.”)
  2. Overgeneralizing Emotional Reactions: Assuming that feeling anxious in one situation means you will feel anxious in all similar situations. (“I felt anxious in the last meeting, so I’ll always feel anxious in meetings.”)
  3. Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that because you feel a certain way, it must be true. (“I feel anxious, so this must be a dangerous situation.”)

What are Adaptive Beliefs?

Adaptive beliefs are rational and balanced thoughts that can help reduce anxiety by appropriately interpreting and managing feelings. Here are three examples:

  1. Realistic Appraisal of Feelings: Recognizing that feelings of anxiety are natural and can be managed. (“Feeling anxious during my presentation is normal and doesn’t mean I’ll lose control.”)
  2. Contextual Understanding: Understanding that anxiety in one situation doesn’t dictate feelings in all situations. (“I felt anxious in the last meeting, but that doesn’t mean I will in every meeting.”)
  3. Challenging Emotional Assumptions: Questioning the validity of feelings dictating reality. (“Just because I feel anxious doesn’t mean this situation is actually dangerous.”)

How Can Changing Beliefs Lead to Behavioral Change?

  1. Maladaptive Thinking: Catastrophizing about feeling anxious during work performance.
  • Behavior: Avoiding public speaking or meetings to prevent feeling anxious.
  • Consequence: Limited professional growth and increased anxiety.
  1. Adaptive Thinking: Realistically appraising feelings of anxiety.
  • Behavior: Accepting invitations to speak or attend meetings, and using relaxation techniques to manage anxiety.
  • Consequence: Professional development and reduced anxiety.

Case Example: Emily’s Journey

Situation: Emily has a presentation at work.

  • Maladaptive Belief: “If I feel anxious, everyone will see I’m incompetent.”
  • Emotion: Anxiety, fear.
  • Behavior: Avoiding preparation, sleepless nights, and considering calling in sick.

Through CBT, Emily learns to challenge her maladaptive belief:

  • Adaptive Belief: “Feeling anxious is normal, and it doesn’t mean I’m incompetent. Preparing well will help me manage my anxiety.”
  • Emotion: Reduced anxiety, increased confidence.
  • Behavior: Preparing thoroughly for the presentation, practicing in front of friends, and attending work.

Emily’s adaptive thinking not only reduces her anxiety but also improves her performance and professional reputation.


Understanding and dealing with feelings of anxiety from a cognitive perspective involves recognizing and challenging maladaptive beliefs about feelings. By adopting adaptive beliefs, individuals can change their emotional responses and behaviors, leading to reduced anxiety and improved quality of life. Through practice and persistence, it’s possible to develop healthier ways of thinking and cope more effectively with anxiety.

Understanding Feelings and Dealing with Feelings in Anxiety Quiz
Understanding Feelings and Dealing with Feelings in Anxiety: Test Your Knowledge

What is a common maladaptive belief that exacerbates anxiety?

Which of the following best describes emotional reasoning as a maladaptive belief?

How can adaptive beliefs influence behavior positively?

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