Negative Thoughts and Anxiety: Is There Anything That Helps?
Negative thoughts and anxiety go hand-in-hand and are incredibly common, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. every year. While feeling anxious on occasion is normal, anxiety disorders can be debilitating, as anyone living with one will know. With this in mind, let's explore both long-term and short-term coping strategies for negative thoughts and anxiety, so that you can let go of the unhelpful thought patterns holding you back ("How to Stop Thinking Negatively About Yourself").
Negative Thoughts and Anxiety: What Helps?
According to Dr. Lee Kannis-Dymand and Dr. Janet D. Carter, clinical psychologists and authors of How to Deal with Anxiety, the most effective way to overcome anxiety and negative thought patterns is by using the STEP Past Method. This is a five-step plan based on techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It was developed to help individuals overcome negative thoughts and anxiety, as well as conditions such as OCD and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).
S – Support
Step one involves coming to terms with the problem so you can ask for support. You might decide to seek help from your doctor, tell a loved one how you are feeling or use a self-help book to develop goals for change. This step is about you acknowledging where you want to be and making plans to get there. You may wish to journal some self-assessment questions, such as:
How do I feel when I am anxious?
How does anxiety affect my life?
What does my life look like without anxiety?
T – Tackle
Now, you will need to tackle the negative thoughts and anxiety that have been holding you back. This involves identifying negative or unhelpful thoughts and learning ways to combat them ("What Negative Thinking Patterns Should I Avoid?").
Make a list of the worries that help you, such as “Worrying about my exams makes me study harder” and the worries that harm you, such as “Worry prevents me from functioning at home or work."
You will need to learn healthy coping strategies to help you escape your negative thoughts and behaviors. This involves letting go of unhealthy coping mechanisms like under or overeating or abusing alcohol and drugs. Understandably, this part requires time, effort and, usually, support from a doctor or therapist.
P - Practice
Practicing your strategies on a daily basis will help you overwrite negative thinking patterns and weaken the grip that anxiety has on you. Over time, these healthy responses will become second nature, and your anxiety and negative thoughts will start to subside.
P – Progress
The last step covers your ongoing progress to healthier responses and a happier life. You may need to work alongside a therapist to manage setbacks and relapses into your old habits.
The STEP Past method is a long-term approach to managing anxiety, and not something you can implement overnight. For more information, ask your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy.
Having Negative Thoughts and Anxiety Right Now?
You should try one of these coping strategies. A combination of therapy, self-help and sometimes medication can help you overcome anxiety in the long-term – but what if anxiety and negative thoughts are overwhelming you right now?
- Breathe slowly and count your breaths for three minutes. Alternatively, count to 10, then start again at one for five breath cycles.
- State the emotions you are feeling out loud to yourself or a trusted other, e.g., “I feel anxious about getting on the bus today. I can’t even do that.”
- Distract yourself by doing something pleasurable. Give yourself a hand massage, go for a walk or take a long bath.
- Take a break from social media, especially if you think it could be contributing to your anxiety and negative thinking.
- Try a guided mindfulness meditation on YouTube.
- Go for a run or practice a yoga pose.
- Try thought-stopping.
- Channel your anxiety into a new and relaxing hobby such as baking, journaling or walking.
- Talk about your anxiety with a friend or loved one. Sometimes hearing your negative thoughts out loud can help put them into perspective.
Anxiety and negative thoughts are not cured so much as controlled. While some people do recover from anxiety, the majority find ways to manage their symptoms over time. Some find that anxiety reoccurs during stressful periods of their lives, which is why developing both short-term and long-term coping strategies is important.
Smith, E. (2018, December 11). Negative Thoughts and Anxiety: Is There Anything That Helps?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/positivity/negative-thoughts-and-anxiety-is-there-anything-that-helps