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How to Short-Circuit Your Anxious Thoughts

October 14, 2018 George Abitante

Anxious thoughts can ruin the better part of a day. Try this tip to short-circuit your anxious thoughts at HealthyPlace.

Did you know you can short-circuit your anxious thoughts? You can, and I'll tell you how.

Can you recall a time when you experienced just one moment of anxiety, and then went on with your day and forgot about it? Conversely, can you recall a day where your anxiety reeled you in and consumed at least a part of your day? I'm guessing you've experienced more of the latter than the former, and this is part of what makes working through anxiety so challenging. Anxiety doesn't just go away on its own, and often proliferates when you give your attention to it and accept your anxious thoughts as true. Both your body and mind try to send you signals that something is wrong, and it can be really difficult to move past those signals.  

Unfortunately, with anxiety and its anxious thoughts, you often encounter non-concrete stressors, so your body still thinks there is a threat you need to either address directly or escape from. Once you listen to your body and mind, it is easy to start engaging in more anxious thoughts and to allow your mind to keep building those thoughts up. When you allow these thoughts to develop, you are ingraining these anxious responses in your mind, so it is important to develop strategies to short-circuit those anxious thoughts before they develop further. Fortunately, there are several great tools you can use every day to overcome your anxious thinking and develop healthy responses to anxiety. 

Tools that Short-Circuit Anxious Thoughts

  1. Take three deep breaths. This is a strategy I've written about before, and one you will hear about often in the future. Taking deep breaths is a fantastic way to interrupt your body's signals of anxiety -- it takes you out of fight-or-flight mode, reduces your heart rate, and dilates your blood vessels, improving blood flow to your brain. These physiological changes often ameliorate common physical sensations of anxiety, so starting with deep breaths is a fantastic way to remind yourself that you are safe and that the story your body is telling you is not true. 
  2. Take three mental breaths. After you've begun taking control of your body, the next step is to take on the anxious thought(s) that made you feel anxious in the first place. When those anxious thoughts are running through your head, it can feel like you are drowning beneath them, and you need something positive to keep you afloat. Having a simple mantra is a great way to create mental space for yourself to re-establish control over your thinking. Phrases like "I am safe despite my thoughts" or "My thoughts do not define me" can help you pull yourself away from the insistent, anxious thoughts, and remember that the story they are telling you is not true ("12 Lies Anxiety Tells You That Keep You Anxious and Fearful"). Repeating your mantra slowly and steadily, with or without intermittent deep breaths, allows you to disengage from your anxious thoughts and create a positive, safe space within yourself. 
  3. Embrace your efficacy. Once you've challenged the narrative your body and anxious thoughts were telling you, you can directly engage with the source of your anxiety. Whether it's a concern about completing your work on time or how to discuss an issue you had with a friend, there is one truth you know for certain: it is something you can overcome. There are many strategies for working through challenging situations, but for all of them, you must begin by accepting your own agency.

It can be difficult to see through the stories our minds and bodies tell us when faced with a challenge, but with these tools, you will be able to work through those moments and short-circuit anxious thoughts. What other strategies do you use for moving past your anxiety? Comment below.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2018, October 14). How to Short-Circuit Your Anxious Thoughts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2018/10/how-to-short-circuit-your-anxious-thoughts



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is focused on improving the efficacy and accessibility of treatments for depression and anxiety. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
says:
October, 15 2018 at 2:32 pm
I love these suggestions! Some people might think taking deep breaths is a given but I love that you also include the "mental breaths" in addition to embracing and engaging with your anxiety. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to literally, verbally acknowledge our anxiety. If we see it as a potential teacher/helper we often find our way through it that much faster and easier.
October, 15 2018 at 3:24 pm
Hi Lizanne,

Thanks for your comment! I think that's a great point - once anxiety can be seen as beneficial in some way, it can be easier to engage with and work through.

George

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