Who doesn’t struggle with anxious thoughts from time to time? I think it’s perfectly reasonable to experience this periodically, especially if you are in the middle of a transition in life.
But, what about when it feels like your anxious thoughts are taking over your mind? What if you become obsessive about them? When anxiety is left unchecked and untreated, it only grows bigger.
What is an anxious thought?
It’s important for everyone to know how to overcome anxiety and anxious thoughts, but for some of us, the struggle is different than the occasion panic or worry. It’s a daily occurrence. And, often, it’s something we don’t even realize we are doing.
For those not sure what it’s like, most anxious thoughts usually start with two simple words, ‘what if…’.
When you wake up from a dead sleep and begin to worry about everything under the sun, from unpaid bills to a situation that will never happen, you’ve felt anxious thoughts. And, if you struggle with anxiety, you don’t even need something to make you anxious. Your brain will create it for you in a hurry.
I went through several years in life where I was anxious about everything. When my first daughter was born, I always felt like something horrible was going to happen to her. When we would walk into a new place or someone else would hold her, I would immediately look for anything that could go wrong or hurt her. I obsessed about it. I dreamed about it. It took over my brain, and I didn’t even realize it was a problem. However, that’s just one example of the many types of anxious thoughts that continuously churned around in my head.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes anxiety as ‘apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill, mentally distressing concern or interest, a strong desire sometimes mixed with doubt, fear, or uneasiness.’
What do anxious thoughts do?
When you struggle with anxious thoughts, the things that you obsess over cause you to become even more afraid. While you are in no real danger of being harmed you begin to feel like you are. Many times you will not realize that you have reached this point unless you work to become more self-aware.
As a result of all this unnecessary stress, you may begin to feel sick, your heart might race, your palms might feel sweaty, or your mouth might be dry. Your breathing becomes short and fast. The mind is so powerful that you experience physical symptoms from your mental state.
Joyce Meyer describes worry and anxiety as sitting in a rocking chair. You are always moving, but you are never going anywhere, and that’s what happens when you struggle with anxiety. Your brain never stops working, but you’re rarely productive.
How to overcome anxious thoughts
The very first step to overcoming anxious thoughts is to become more aware of when you have them. While that might seem obvious, for many of us, it’s not that easy. Many people are unaware that we can control our thoughts. We just go with whatever idea pops into our head. That’s how I was. I just chewed on any random thought that entered my mind. That’s a dangerous way to live.
1. Learn to notice your thoughts
Your brain is always working. If you aren’t choosing what your mind focusses on, then your brain will select something for you. When you struggle with anxiety, it’s a safe bet to say that your brain is going to choose a negative or anxious thought for you.
If you’re new to this, it’s going to be exhausting. When I first started to work on overcoming my anxiety, my mind was so tired by the end of each day. ButI got better at it. And, when I finally began to pay attention to the things I thought about, I realized a few things:
- I wasted a lot of time thinking about things that were never going to happen.
- I often worried about things I had no control over.
- The things I stressed about were usually unrealistic.
- Not only were my thoughts unproductive, but they also distracted me and stopped me from focusing on the things that I should have been thinking about from the beginning.
The Timer Trick
Try setting the timer on your phone to go off every 30 minutes. Right when the alarm goes off, write down precisely what you were thinking about and be sure to include how you felt in that moment.
This simple but highly effective method will help train you to become more aware of the thoughts you are entertaining in your head. Another benefit of this exercise is that, if you write down your thoughts regularly, you may begin to see patterns in when you are struggling with anxiety the most. Knowing that piece of information may help you avoid anxiety attacks in the future.
2. Determine if it’s a valid concern
There are some things in life that we need to be concerned about and things that do need our attention. If you have an anxious thought, take a moment to decide if it is valid. If it is, then determine what action step you need to gain control over the situation. But, if you’re bothered by something out of your control, then immediately stop wasting your time worrying about it.
Are you worried about a presentation? Instead of worrying, focus on preparing for the meeting. Preparation will give you more confidence and will also ensure you perform at your best.
In contrast, if you find yourself worrying about things like ‘what if my spouse gets cancer?’ Or even, ‘what if I finally lose it and go crazy?’ Then you need to gain control of your thinking as soon as possible because these thoughts are not valid and they are not worth any of your time or energy thinking about them.
3. Try changing your environment
Some people find that it is helpful to change your environment when thoughts get out of control. Go for a walk, get outdoors, or just step away from the task you are doing for a few minutes. Try doing an activity for a few minutes that requires all of your attention, like calling a friend and then actively engage in the conversation.
However, if you find that you try taking a walk and just end up worrying the entire time, then don’t take this route. Or, only go for a walk if you can take a friend along to walk and talk with you.
4. Think of something on purpose
As soon as you feel that you are struggling with an anxious thought you need to change your thinking. You must insert something new into your thought process. If I tell you to not think about a purple gorilla for 5 minutes, what are you going to want to think about the entire time? A purple gorilla. To not think about the purple gorilla, you are going to need to focus on something else. You’re going to do the same thing when you try to avoid your anxious thoughts.
As soon as you know you notice an anxious thought, change your thinking. Need an idea of something to think about instead? Try Bible verses or motivational quotes that comfort and inspire you. Keep plenty around and focus on one right when something negative pops into your head.
Personally, I found it helpful to listen to positive music and then replace my anxious thoughts by singing along in my head. This practice worked miraculously for me because, when I woke in the middle of the night, the lyrics to the songs were already in my head and filled the space instead of the anxious thoughts. As a result, I could fall back asleep before getting too worked up.
Don’t trust your feelings
Did you know that you can control your feelings? And, just because you ‘feel’ something doesn’t mean it’s true. Our feelings are actually incredibly fickle and can’t be trusted. If your head is full of anxious thoughts, your feelings are going to follow suit, even if there is no legitimate reason for the thoughts. And that’s going to affect you emotionally, mentally, and physically.
But, if you’re determined to control your thoughts and not let the anxious ones marinate in your brain, then you are going to see a noticeable change in your life. And, as you start to control your thoughts successfully, your feelings and emotions will begin to match up with what you are choosing.
Remember, it’s always easier to maintain the right thinking than to conquer wrong thinking once it starts. Train yourself to be aware of what you think about, and then choose your new thoughts wisely. If you have a rough day and struggle with anxiety, don’t get down on yourself. That’s just more negative thoughts in your head. Instead use the tips above to take back control. Be positive and believe you will overcome your anxious thoughts over time.
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