Racing, often frightful thoughts are common when you have an anxiety disorder. The thoughts emerge unannounced. They seem real and urgent. Even though they typically only last a minute or two, it feels as if these thoughts will never end. When struggling with anxiety, your thoughts behave like bullies and judges.
What if I told you that anxious thoughts can be stopped in their tracks? All that worrying, overthinking, and fear can be challenged. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s also not to imply that there’s any shame in having anxious thoughts. I’m just here to remind you that you can reclaim your peace of mind — despite the anxiety.
The Truth About Anxious Thoughts
Thoughts are often no more or less important than any other sensation. Just because you think them doesn’t make them true or significant. Assigning too much weight to every one of your thoughts can prevent you from managing your anxiety.
Your mind is capable of vast misjudgments. It operates most efficiently when questioned. Be your own fact-checker. Don’t take everything it thinks so seriously. This goes double for when it insists you should be stressed, afraid, or panicked. With that in mind, let’s explore a few ways to stop those anxious thoughts before they gain momentum.
5 Ways to Stop Anxious Thoughts in Their Tracks
1. Get in Touch With Your Senses
For starters, get into the habit of reacting immediately to that building sense of panic. Do so by reconnecting with your five senses. Shift your focus to identifying items in your proximity that you can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Sink into this exercise and watch your anxious thoughts lose power.
2. Fact-check Yourself
Anxiety is an excellent liar. It will convince you that no one likes you, you’re doomed to fail, and danger lurks around every corner. Anxiety, however, crumbles under cross-examination. When anxious thoughts arise, ask yourself some basic questions, e.g.:
- Is this even remotely true?
- Would I bet money on this being true?
- What am I really concerned about right now?
- Is this just my inner voice trying to protect me but being misguided instead?
Obviously, you can customize the questions to your specific situation. This will create distance between you and your anxious thoughts. In that space, you can see things more clearly.
3. Keep Talking to Yourself
After the anxiety cannot answer your questions, don’t let up. Give it a name so you can address it in the third person. Let’s say you call it Charlie. When he pops up its worried little head, say, “Oh hi, Charlie. Now what?” Diffuse its power. Talk to it as if it were a disobedient child. This reminds your conscious mind that you and your anxiety are not the same.
4. Get Moving
Sometimes, none of the mental gymnastics works. What you’re really craving is physical movement. When anxiety strikes, if possible, try to:
- Stand up, move and wiggle your limbs, and walk around
- Clap your hands
- Snap your fingers
Another option: Place a rubber band around your wrist. When you sense anxious thoughts on their way, snap the band as often as you need to.
5. Take Action
This includes partial action. Often, the underlying root of your anxiety is stress about something tangible. Create a to-do list and do at least one thing on that list. Balance the anxious thoughts with any kind of productive action you can muster.
To repeat, none of the work will be easy. Anxiety is a diagnosable disorder and is best tackled with the support of a skilled professional. I’d love to talk with you about all the possibilities for healing and recovery through anxiety treatment.