Table of Contents
11 Ways to Challenge Anxious Thoughts Introduction
11 Ways to Challenge Anxious Thoughts is a series of questions or journal prompts meant to help you! I created this to help you not only manage anxious thoughts, but to overcome them as well.
What is anxiety? It is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. These are normal feelings when things are uncertain because life throws all of us curveballs. When it becomes excessive it leads to physical symptoms like an increased heart rate, muscle tension, and so much more.
These issues can make it difficult to make it through a normal day. There are times when anxiety can make you feel paralyzed. But there are ways to challenge these anxious thoughts and not let them stop you!
Here are my 11 ways to challenge anxious thoughts.
11 Ways to Challenge Anxious Thoughts
Are your thoughts helpful?
I ask myself this all the time when I start feeling anxious. Because my brain often likes to run off in a million different, and often negative, directions. It’s like a black hole that never ends when I allow it to be.
I ask this in a yes or no format in my head. Is this a helpful thought? Yes or no? Nothing else. Don’t let your brain say, “no, but” and then come up with reasons to validate it.
If the answer is no, then it is time to remind yourself of that. If it isn’t a helpful thought, it doesn’t belong in your mind. You deserve helpful thoughts instead of negative ones that are causing you harm. I think of harm as the increased heart rate, the muscle tension, and the panic attacks that happen when I’m anxious.
Think of your own negative results of anxious thoughts and what that does to you, the harm that it causes. Then tell yourself no. You deserve better than that, and this thought needs to stop.
Are you completely (100%) sure that X will happen?
How likely is it that the thing causing you anxiety will actually happen? I break this down on a scale from 1-10. You know when you go to the doctor and they ask you your pain level on a scale of 1-10? I like that format, and use the same thing in this. 1 is very unlikely, and 10 is the most likely.
You can also use a percentage scale, of 0-100%. Pick whatever works the best for you. The goal here is to give whatever is causing you anxious thoughts a specific number on how likely it is to happen.
When you give a value to the likelihood of something actually happening, it can really put things in perspective. I like to say that anything is possible, but the likelihood of it happening may be far different. Because the likelihood of something happening may be significantly less than the level of anxiety you are experiencing.
This serves as a gentle reminder that it may not be the end of the world as it feels to you in that moment. When things are put in perspective, it is much easier to move past the anxiety.
How many times has X happened before?
Has whatever is causing you anxious thoughts happened in the past? If so, how many times?
How did you handle that situation? Are there other more productive ways you can handle the situation if it happens again?
If this thing has happened before, treat it as a learning experience. If it happens again, you don’t want to react the same way again, right? There are always ways to improve the response to any situation and handle it differently.
When you formulate a plan of how to handle a situation differently the next time it happens, you are better prepared because you have a plan, and that can reduce the anxious thoughts and feelings.
Are you confusing possibilities with certainty?
It may be possible, as anything is. But how likely is it to actually happen? It is really easy to confuse possibilities and certainly if you are struggling with anxious thoughts.
When you break down the likelihood of something actually happening, it is much easier to see if you are confusing possibilities with certainty, and put it in perspective.
What is the evidence for and against this thought?
When you are thinking about these thoughts and how useful they are, it may seem overwhelming. Like that thought is the most important thing and has value.
It may help to make a list of pros and cons to think about the actual value of that thought and if you have more evidence or more pros or cons for that thought.
If you end up with more cons against that thought, it is a clear indication that it is time to change those and really challenge the anxious thoughts you are experiencing.
Are you falling into a thinking trap?
There are several thinking traps that are easy to fall into, and it can be hard to break out of them. Because they are all cycles that happen when you have anxious thoughts.
What is the worst that can happen?
Now that you’ve thought about the worst that can happen, it is time to ask what is the best that can happen? Think about the flip side. Then ask what is the most realistic thing that is likely to actually happen?
I highly recommend writing these things down. Make a list of the worst things that can happen, then another of the best things that can happen, and a third with what is most likely to happen. This really puts things in perspective about the problem and the actual severity. It also helps shift your mindset to remind you that positive things can happen just as much as negative things.
Is X so important that your future depends on it?
Do your anxious thoughts have enough value in your life to change your future? Is it that important?
I go back to the yes or no answer here. It is a yes or no question, nothing else. Then ask yourself the question of why. Why is it so important that your future depends on it? Why isn’t it that important?
This question allows you more perspective on if something is truly important, essential, or necessary in your life.
If X did happen, what could you do to cope with it and handle it?
Here are my favorite coping mechanisms. You can pick and choose whatever works the best for you!
- Clean and organize a space
- Doodle or draw on paper
- Go for a drive
- Go for a walk
- Go shopping
- Hug a stuffed animal
- Listen to music
- Play a game
- Play an instrument
- Put a puzzle together
- Read a book
- Take a break
- Take a shower or bath
- Watch cute pet videos on YouTube
- Watch a movie
- Act opposite to negative feelings
- Brainstorm solutions
- Make a gratitude list
- Read an inspirational quote
- Reward yourself when successful
- Slowly count to ten, then count backwards from ten
- Take a class
- Think about someone you love
- Think of something funny
- Use positive self-talk
- Visualize your favorite place
- Write a list of goals
- Write a pro and con list for decisions
- Write a list of your strengths
- Write a positive note
- Chew gum
- Exercise or play sports
- Use a stress ball
Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to find a more productive coping skill and focus our attention there until the anxious thoughts have settled down a little bit. Then go back and reevaluate what has happened or is happening and how to approach the situation.
That way you are not allowing the negative and anxious thoughts to take over. It is a much healthier approach to any situation.
What advice would you give someone else in this same situation?
I don’t know why but it is significantly easier to give others advice on a situation than to see it for ourselves and take our own advice.
This question gives you that opportunity though. Think about what you would say to your best friend or a co-worker if they came to you with the same problem. How would you suggest they handle it? Any super-specific tips to help them be better prepared?
Write these things down. Because you just wrote down the roadmap of how to handle a situation! Then do yourself a favor and take your own advice.
Things to remember if you have anxious thoughts
- Thoughts are just thoughts, and not based on reality or facts. You don’t need to give meaning to them.
- Understand why you’re feeling this way, and don’t just accept the anxiety.
- You absolutely can change the way you think.
- Don’t feed your fears.
- Remember your strengths. They are much stronger than your fears.
- Your physical health is completely linked to your mental health.
- Managing anxiety is a skill like any other and it takes practice. You can do this!
- Everyone makes mistakes.
- Don’t take life too seriously.
- You deserve to be happy.
11 Ways to Challenge Anxious Thoughts Notes
Challenging anxious thoughts isn’t an easy thing to do. It really does take practice! So if this is something you are working on, please be patient and kind to yourself as you go through the process.
These habits or journal prompts aren’t an overnight process. It is like creating a new habit and breaking old bad ones, it takes time and patience. You will likely have setbacks along the way. But remember that forward is forward, no matter what the speed. Don’t ever forget how far you have come already and are still working toward being so much better.
You got this!
One of the things I love the most about challenging anxious thoughts is that in this process you really get to know yourself on a deeper level. It is not only the ability to get to know yourself, it is the opportunity to break some negative cycles within you.
When you take care of your mental health, you are taking care of your physical health at the same time.
11 Ways to Challenge Anxious Thoughts Discussion
Have these 11 ways to challenge anxious thoughts helped you in your journey toward overcoming these obstacles and breaking the cycle? Where are you on your journey? Do you need any kind of support? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!