Challenging Anxious Thoughts: Learning to Distrust Your Gut
Challenging anxious thoughts is more difficult when we have a strong gut reaction – the sensation that something is wrong and that we need to act to stop it. When there is no concrete threat, our minds tend to conjure myriad potential threats, generating frightening thoughts that feel indisputably true. However, these anxious thoughts are rarely accurate and lead us down a rabbit hole of anxious thinking that is hard to interrupt. I’ve found from my own experiences with anxiety that just challenging the accuracy of my thoughts isn’t effective because they still feel accurate to me. Instead, I use an approach that challenges the validity of my anxious thoughts and improves my emotional state. Here’s one process for challenging anxious thoughts I’ve learned for working through them effectively.
3 Steps for Challenging Anxious Thoughts
- Notice that your thoughts are anxious. While this step may sound simple, when you are anxious it can be difficult to disentangle anxious from non-anxious thoughts. Identifying which thoughts arise from a specific anxiety creates distance between you and the thought, giving you an opportunity to challenge its validity.
- Acknowledge that because your thoughts are rooted in anxiety, they are unlikely to be true. Although anxious thoughts frequently feel like they are true, if you ask yourself how accurate they are, you’ll notice they rarely correspond to reality (Are Your Anxious Thoughts Trustworthy?). Because anxious thoughts are centered on situations that frighten you, they tend to identify the worst-case scenario, which is unlikely to happen. Acknowledging that anxious thoughts are not accurate further distances you from them, allowing you to see that they aren’t necessarily true.
- Think of something that makes you happy. It is not enough to acknowledge that a thought is unlikely to be true; if you’re feeling anxious, you’re likely to continue experiencing similar thoughts. To move past anxious thoughts, you need to think of something that makes you feel good. For example, bring up a positive experience that you had recently, something as simple as “I enjoyed talking to a friend.” This is a powerful tool for inspiring positive feelings and derailing anxious thinking.
This is one approach that will empower you to challenge your anxious thoughts at both the cognitive and emotional level, addressing your worries and helping you feel better in the moment. What other strategies do you use for challenging anxious thoughts?
Abitante, G. (2018, June 17). Challenging Anxious Thoughts: Learning to Distrust Your Gut, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/anxiety-symptoms-treating-anxiety/2018/6/challenging-anxious-thoughts-learning-to-distrust-your-gut