How to Stop Anxiety

Anyone who has anxiety knows that it can feel overwhelming.  Think of the image of a metaphorical angel and devil on each of your shoulders, telling you things about your life and yourself.  Anxiety is like that except the angel isn’t there and the devil is constantly telling you things that make you feel on edge and nervous.  And 9 times out of 10 – for people who have anxiety - those things turn out to be false or exaggerated.  No one asks to have such unrealistic anxious thoughts, but it happens.  At times a lot.  So, what can you do? 

Be your own angel.  Start paying attention to the thoughts that pop up for you throughout your day.  We all have thoughts that pop up for us; often we don’t really even notice them.  The thing is these thoughts, even when unnoticed, have a big effect on how we feel.  Anxiety tends to twist the thoughts that pop up in ways that make people feel anxious.  The first step to stopping anxiety for many is to begin to notice when they are having these unrealistic anxious thoughts. 

For example, someone who might typically think “I wonder what the party will be like tonight” may instead think “I’ll probably make a fool out of myself at the party tonight” when they are experiencing anxiety.  It makes sense that this second thought could make someone feel anxious; making a fool out of yourself is not a pleasant experience. 

The only way the thought “I’ll probably make a fool out of myself at the party tonight” could be realistic, however, is if that person made a fool out of themselves at over half of all the previous parties they’ve gone to.  In most cases when people really think on it, they will find there isn’t really clear evidence supporting such thoughts and thus they are unrealistic.

When you realize an anxiety provoking thought is unrealistic, be your own angel and challenge the thought by telling yourself what a more realistic statement would be.  If the individual who thought they were going to make a fool out of their self realized after thinking on it that they rarely do, they could simply tell themselves that.  Doing so will likely help them feel less anxious and perhaps increase their self-esteem. 

So what if after thinking on it someone comes to the conclusion they have in fact made a fool of themselves at over half of the parties they’ve gone to?  If there is truly clear evidence - such as other people telling them so or reacting with expressions of disgust or embarrassment at their antics – there’s little point in challenging the thought because it’s clearly accurate.  In this case the knowledge that the thought is realistic provides an opportunity for the individual to change their behavior so they avoid acting in ways they latter regret.   

Consistently challenge unrealistic thoughts as they pop up by telling yourself what is more realistic and you will begin to feel less anxious. This strategy of stopping anxiety perhaps sounds simple, but it does take a good amount of effort to do consistently.  Stick with it though and you should experience a big difference. 

Written By: Bill McCadden, MSW, LCSW