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Thought Stopping: Anti-Anxiety Tip #13

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Thought Stopping: Anti-Anxiety Tip #13

Anxiety can make your mind go around in circles.

You can get fixated on a subject. The thoughts can become more and more upsetting and exaggerated as you focus on awfulized worse-than-worst-case scenarios.

When you awfulize, it is important to stop and reroute your mind to more useful thoughts.

As I described in my recent post, Beware of Awfulizing, when tears woke me up to the fact that I was awfulizing that my son had died, I immediately said to myself “Whoa! This isn’t real! Stop!” and snapped out of it. My automatic reaction was an example of Thought Stopping.

Thought Stopping is a mechanism to stop yourself from awfulizing and stop the escalating emotional whirlwind of increasing anxiety.

There are 4 steps to stop your mind from going in circles or fixating—4 Thought Stopping steps:

1. Notice the thought.

2. Stop.

3. Challenge the thought.

4. Reroute your mind to an inspiring or distracting thought instead.

1. Notice the thought.

You aren’t a freak for having awful thoughts or having them recycle in your mind over and over. It is so common that Albert Ellis created the term “awfulize” to describe them.

Now that you are aware of their destructiveness, you can get better and better at catching them earlier and earlier when they present themselves.

I’ll give you a practice exercise after I’ve described all the steps so you can increase your chances of catching yourself with fewer and fewer awfulized thought cycles.

2. Stop.

  • Say something to yourself like “Stop,” and/or
  • Envision/imagine something that would help you stop, such as a stop sign, a raised hand, or a bell ringing.

When I described possible visual cues for getting your mind to Stop!, one client gleefully exclaimed “Caution tape!” She reported back later that it worked beautifully for her and very effectively cued her to stop her anxiety-provoking thoughts.

3. Challenge the thought.

Do a reality check. Is reality distorted in some way in this thought?

Notice any:

  • absolutes (always, never, all, none),
  • awfulizing,
  • exaggerations,
  • overgeneralizations, or
  • negative messages from the past that are replaying.
  • You might want to write down the thought to help you clarify it in order to challenge it.

4. Reroute your mind to an inspiring or distracting thought instead.

Move your mind over to a more useful or uplifting thought.

A rerouting thought might be:

Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted a prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr that you many find helpful to reroute their mind and replace destructive thoughts with inspiration.

Here’s an adapted version of “The Serenity Prayer”:

May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

And Frank Costanza’s version from a Seinfeld episode: “Serenity now.”

Thought stopping is not about zoning out to just avoid the intrusive thought. It is about consciously creating a mechanism to meet it head on and deal with it.

Practice Exercise

To help you catch awfulizing thoughts in the future, reflect back on a time you awfulized in the past.

  • Notice what you were thinking about.
  • Imagine using something to Stop the thoughts. (You can experiment with different possible “Stop” words, images, or sounds.)
  • Challenge the thought. (Is there a difference between the thought and reality? Note what helps you challenge the thought.)
  • Reroute your mind to a more helpful thought. (Again, you may want to experiment with different ways to achieve this goal.)

Practicing with past experiences or expected future scenarios will help you get more and more efficient at stopping anxiety escalating awfulizing. 

My April Anxiety Challenge

So many people are struggling with anxiety and stress.

To share what I've learned from my own experiences and from helping many clients overcome anxiety, I've committed to publishing a post about anxiety each week day in April. I'm calling it the "April Anxiety Challenge."

In posts throughout this month, I’ll be explaining anxiety and how to reduce it, teaching you anti-anxiety relaxation skills and lifestyle choices, and more.

Planned topics include:

  • 5 Anti-Anxiety Relaxation Skills
  • The Dichotomous Thinking Right/Wrong Trap
  • Try is Not a 4-Letter Word
  • Vitamin D, The Anti-Anxiety Vitamin
  • The Link Between Alcohol and Anxiety

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  • Ann Silvers
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