The average person has millions of thoughts each day. While thoughts aren’t necessarily true, they can feel like the truth when they keep repeating.
Anxious thoughts have a way of showing up and taking hold in the mind. Learning to recognize and challenge your anxious thoughts is a great step toward feeling in control of your thoughts and supporting your mental health.
It’s common to have anxiety in the face of the unknown. Having lived through a year of uncertainty, a lot of us are feeling anxiety at an all time high.
It’s normal to feel anxious when it seems like your mental, physical and emotional safety is uncertain. When anxiety builds it can turn into distress, which impairs your ability to think clearly, problem solve and can lead us to feeling exhausted, confused and unmotivated.
Controlling all of our thoughts is impossible – there’s far too many of them. We can, however, control our reaction to them. Here are 4 helpful strategies to challenge anxious thoughts as they come up:
- Consider what the anxiety is telling you
Your body and mind are always talking to you, though they might not have the most clear communication. Anxious thoughts don’t tend to come from nowhere. Chances are they’re in response to something.
When we try to push away a feeling or a thought, it comes back stronger. Consider that the thoughts and feelings that are coming up for you just want to be acknowledged and felt. The goal isn’t to get rid of these thoughts, it’s to acknowledge them and accept that they might be trying to deliver an underlying message.
- Make a list of what’s true and certain
Anxiety comes from thinking (fretting) about the future. You can access calm by bringing your thoughts into the present moment. One way to do this is to list lings that you know for sure. They could be as simple as the colour of your clothes, the city you live in, your age, etc. Focusing your mind on things that are certain will help to calm you down.
Another way to do this exercise is to look around the room and list things that are in front of you. This will reconnect you with your body and your surroundings and help you to feel safe and comforted amidst greater uncertainty.
- Try a mindfulness meditation
There are plenty of helpful apps available that provide guided meditations and breathing exercises. Focusing on your breath and body sensations grounds your energy in the present moment and will help relax you when anxious thoughts come up. These can be particularly helpful before bed if you’re feeling anxious.
- Track your thoughts to discover a pattern
Thoughts can be triggered by activities or your environment. When you have anxious thoughts, write them down along with a note about what you’re doing, where you are and what you were thinking before the anxious thoughts came up. This will help you identify potential triggers in your environment. Keep an eye out for patterns as you collect your notes, and make any changes necessary to help you avoid or overcome these triggers.
- Seek support
This strategy is more of a proactive approach. Reach out to a counsellor, coach or psychotherapist for help if you find your anxious thoughts overwhelming or are unable to deal with them on your own. There are people trained to help you and accessing their support can be a huge relief on you mentally and emotionally.