How Anxiety Can Alter Our Perception

Our perception of ourselves, others or the world around us, is determined by the way we think or the impression we have of something or someone. When we are experiencing difficulties with anxiety, we tend to shift out attention to search for a potential threat, so our thoughts during anxious times become distorted.

For example: You wake up in a morning and you notice you have a small lump on your neck. Your attention wants to shift to detect that the lump is a potential threat, so you start to think it is something sinister and life threatening, which causes panic and fear. An alternative perception may be that it is a swollen gland or a sign that you are coming down with something, but with anxiety this possibility is easily dismissed or ignored.

Some common things that we can misperceive are things like; our perception of how others view us, the intentions of others towards us, the severity of a problem and our health.

An example of the same situation with two different perceptions;

You have a night out with a friend planned, but she texts to cancel due to being unwell.

Person one – Perceives it as a lie.

‘She is lying about being ill, she just doesn’t want to go with me. I have wasted money on a new outfit, she is so selfish!’.

Person two – Perceives it as the truth.

‘I hope she is ok, it must be serious for her to cancel a night out’

Person one may feel angry towards the person and may end their friendship.

Person two may feel concerned for their friend’s well-being and may text to see if there is anything they can do to help them.

It is important to remember that it is not the challenges that life sometimes throws our way that cause us the upset, it is the way in which we perceive those to be.

So what can you do to change your perception?

Be your own best friend technique – What would I say to a friend now if they called me and said they had found a lump on their neck, or that they their friend cancelled a night out due to being unwell? The likelihood is you would tell them it’s probably just a swollen gland and not to worry, but to get it checked out if they are worried and that their friend is likely to be telling them the truth. Help yourself during anxious times by taking your own advice using this technique.

Different ways to look at the situation – What is a different way I could look at this?. What other explanation could there be and are these more likely explanations? For example, ask yourself has my friends ever lied to me before? Shine a positive torch on the situation, how does it look now?

Be aware of distorted thoughts – Being aware that thoughts can become distorted during anxious times, can really help you to remain rational. One of the common thinking errors is ‘jumping to conclusions’ and ‘magnifying’. Our mind will want to jump to the most negative conclusion (Due to being on threat alert), so it is important that you keep reminding yourself that this conclusion is likely to be based on thought distortion rather than facts.

Search for facts/evidence – Looking for evidence to the contrary can be really useful in disproving our perceptions and seeing the bigger picture.

Talk to others – Speaking to others and getting advice and seeing how they perceive similar situations can help you to make sense of things during difficult times. Talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can also be helpful in the treatment of anxiety, visit my website for more information on CBT.

Be aware that you’re vulnerable to misperceive situations and just take some time during these challenging moments, before making any hasty decisions.