Many people are plagued by nagging worry thoughts. Those suffering from OCD, trauma/PTSD, and eating disorders are especially susceptible to obsessive and intrusive thoughts. These intrusions can be not only distressing, but over time, can become a barrier to participating fully in life and realizing one’s goals and dreams. Conquering these negative thought patterns is not easy, but we’ve compiled a list of some skills and strategies that many have found helpful:
- Interrupt the thought with reassuring Self Talk: For example, say to yourself: “I’m going to be OK”, “ I can think of something else”, I don’t have to worry about this right now”, “Relax. You’re going to be OK”, “I’ve gotten through this before, so I can again”, “This is just a worry thought, not reality”, etc.
- Focus on the Positive:
- Remind yourself what is meaningful to you in life.
- List things or people you are thankful for.
- Remind yourself of a time when things turned out OK.
- List positive aspects of yourself. Keep the list with you and add to it all the time.
- Use a grounding skill to help bring you back to the moment and out of your thoughts, such as:
- 3-2-1 Skill – Describe in detail, 3 things you see in the room, 3 things you hear, and 3 things you physically feel. Then describe 1 different thing you see in the room, etc.
- Use a worry stone, soft cloth or blanket, stress ball, stuffed animal, or frozen lemon and notice how it feels on your hands or face.
- Move to a different room, go outside for fresh air, or connect with people
- Remind yourself there is no such thing as a true thought. Thoughts are just thoughts, not facts.
Then, use what’s called Cognitive Restructuring, by identifying the type(s) of distortion in your worry, then challenging the worry’s truth or replacing the thought with one use milder wording. Here is a link to a list of cognitive distortions: https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/. You may need to do this repeatedly as anxiety is the fuel for our distortions.
- Text, or better yet, call a friend. Let them know your worry. Ask them to remind you of a time you’ve managed tough stuff in the past.
- Try box-breathing to calm your body and mind by taking at least 4 mindful breaths like so: Count slowly to 4 as you breathe in, then pause and count slowly to 6 while breathing out. A longer outbreath engages our parasympathetic nervous systems (the “rest and digest” system), resulting in a lessening of the body’s stress response.
- Listen to upbeat music, sing the lyrics, and/or dance.
- Start from 100 and subtract 7 in your head until you reach 0. If you need to, repeat this starting from 200.
- Engage your frontal lobes in another activity such as, a word search, crossword, or sudoku puzzle. Or try watching a sitcom, playing a video game, shoot some hoops, juggling – any activity that requires you to pay attention will be helpful. Note that browsing on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. is likely not helpful while worry/negative thought patterns are present.
- Meditate, go to a Yoga or Tai Chi class, or listen to calming music.
As you can see, you don’t have to sit with your anxiety until you’re near panic. Ways to manage plaguing worry thoughts abound. And with regular practice of skills like these, you will see a permanent reduction in anxiety and worry. While many who are constant worriers believe that their worry is necessary to ensure they are aware/ready for possible failure or disappointment, the truth is that chronic worry only serves to reinforce and increase anxiety and distress, unhealthy for both mental and physical health. If use of these skills does not seem to improve your well-being, consider seeking relief by talking to a therapist, trusted friend, or clergy.
Grohol, J. (2016). 15 Common Cognitive Distortions. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/15 Common Cognitive Distortions
McKay, M., Wood, J., Brantley, J. (2007). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.