How To Stop Anxious Thoughts
Nobody likes to think anxious thoughts, so why do we do it? First of all what is anxiety? Anxiety is the body’s natural adrenaline “fight or flight” reaction to potentially dangerous situations. It’s a sense of distress or uneasiness before an event.
On the positive side, healthy anxiety can help you avoid bad situations or help find solutions to problems you face. On the negative side, unhealthy anxiety can make your worrying distorted and your thoughts can spiral out of control and drive you nuts.
One common problem that people have is to tell themselves to “stop worrying”. However, reminding yourself to stop worrying doesn’t work. You can be distracted momentarily, but anxious thoughts don’t just disappear. Trying to banish anxious thoughts often makes those thoughts even more persistent.
Telling yourself to stop thinking those thoughts backfires because you pay attention to the thoughts that you want to avoid.
I’ve tried different methods to control my anxious thoughts and here are three things that have worked for me.
Postpone Anxious Thoughts
- Designate a time daily for thinking about your anxious thoughts. For example, 6 to 6:30pm. Try not to set your time too close to your bedtime. This designated worry period is a time that you can worry about anything that’s on your mind. The rest of the day is a time to be worry free.
- During the day, if you feel anxious about something, write it down and then go about your day. Remind yourself that you can be anxious about it during your worry period, so you don’t have to be anxious about it right now.
- Read through the list of anxious thoughts during your worry period. If your anxious thoughts seem trivial and are not important anymore, scratch those thoughts off your list. If some anxious thoughts still bug you, give yourself time to worry about them until the worry period is up.
Postponing anxious thoughts can break your habit of constantly thinking about anxious thoughts when there are other tasks to do during the day. However, there’s no inner struggle to not think about those thoughts. You’re merely delaying those thoughts for later. Developing the ability to delay worrying helps you realize that you can have greater control of your thoughts.
Try To Solve The Problem
Worrying about a problem and solving the problem are different things. When you’re anxious about something there are a lot of “what ifs” but no concrete solutions to solving the problem you’re facing. To solve a problem there are four steps you can take.
- State the problem.
- Think about if it’s a valid problem or if it’s an imaginary hypothesis of what could happen.
- If the problem is a “what if”, is it realistically likely to happen?
- If it’s a valid problem, can you do something about it, or is it something that’s out of your control?
Valid worries are problems that can be solved by doing something about them. Start brainstorming to come up with solutions to that problem. Make a list of the things you can do to solve this problem. Focus on the things you can do, instead of the circumstances that aren’t in your control.
Worries that are unsolvable are thoughts that there are no direct action or solution. “What if my parents get cancer?” or “What if I crash my car?” If you have anxiety, a lot of your thoughts are probably like that. If that’s the case, you must embrace those thoughts.
Accept Your Feelings
This is a scary concept I continually have to learn to grasp. Mainly because I’ve had negative thoughts about my emotions towards my anxious thoughts. I start worrying about how I feel and ask myself, “Whats wrong with my brain? Why am I feeling this way?”
But the fact is that humans have a wide variety of emotions, rational and irrational. Emotions, just like life, can be messy. Oftentimes they don’t make sense, and sometimes they’re not pleasant. But learning to accept your thoughts without your emotion overwhelming you is key to managing your worrying.
One thing that has helped me accept my feelings was to write down my anxious thoughts. Over time, I could see a pattern of what I was continually anxious about.
Once I write down my worries, I acknowledge those thoughts, not fighting them or trying to ignore them. I observe those thoughts as just that, thoughts. Once I’ve observed those thoughts, I let those worries go. If the same anxious thoughts come back, I repeat the process. I recognize those thoughts, and let them go.
Learning to let go of my anxious thoughts has helped me in managing my anxiety.
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