We talked about how to identify 3 thinking patterns that cause anxiety in the first post. The next step to beating anxiety is interrupting these thinking patterns when you spot them.

How to Interrupt Anxious Thinking Patterns

1. Identify the Lie

Anxiety writes stories in our heads that aren’t true. You can spot the lies in the story by staying in the present. Whenever anxiety writes its story, stand firm in the present and evaluate outcomes based on what you know right now. This will help you spot and interrupt the lie before it takes your mind down the wrong path.

2. Lean Towards Faith and Wisdom

There’s a healthy and unhealthy way to view fear, and your view will impact your level of anxiety when you feel fear. When your body says, “I’m in danger,” you can choose one of two responses:

  1. Resort to “What If” thinking and anxiety
  2. Move towards faith and wisdom

For example, a woman entering a dark store parking lot feels fear before walking to her car. She can either move towards anxiety and think about all the bad things that might happen, saying, “I’m going to get mugged. I’m so stupid. Why did I do this?”

Or she could move towards faith and wisdom saying, “I have the ability to get to my car safely.” Wisdom tells her to be intentional about her actions to stay safe. She gets her keys out of her purse before walking to her car, pays attention to her surroundings, keeps her thumb on the car alarm, and maybe even asks a security guard to escort her. Instead of resorting to “What If” thinking, she moves towards faith and wisdom to find courage.

Your response to fear can either relieve or cause anxiety.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and conscious of the present moment. It’s a simple, but powerful concept. Next time you feel anxious, try this simple mindfulness exercise:

Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
Breathe through your nose and count to 4 as you inhale. Then, count to 5 as you exhale through your mouth.
After a few minutes, pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. List the things you hear.
This will help you tolerate the stress and anxiety you feel. It keeps you in the present moment and helps you know everything will be okay.

4. Set Healthy Boundaries

Just like property lines determine where your property begins and ends, personal boundaries give you structure that help you maintain healthy relationships with yourself and others.

What does this look like? ➡️ Set rules regarding your words, actions, attitude, feelings, and relationships.

If a situation or relationship causes you anxiety (or is unhealthy in another way) think about how you can reduce spending time with that person or being in that situation. That means doing things like moving away from an unhealthy relationship; surrounding yourself with positive, encouraging people; letting people know when they cross a boundary. When we have healthy boundaries, those boundaries protect us from having anxiety.

Lets imagine an example.
When a young couple goes to spend the night with their parents, there tends to be unwanted advice from the in-laws to the young parents about how they are raising their kids. It has happened so many times that planning a trip to the grandparents house creates a ton of anxiety. The young parents have asked them (the in-laws/ grandparents) to not give advice unless they ask for it. The in-laws continue giving advice. 

The young family sets a healthy boundary that they will not spend the night with the in-laws anymore because the parents don’t respect that they are raising their kids differently than the in-laws want.
Setting this boundary relieves the anxiety of the young couple. They have reduced the amount of time they spend in the tension filled situation. 

5. Create More Margin

Margin is the space between our workload and our limits. It’s simple. We feel anxious whenever we pile too much on our plate.

The fix? Prioritize.

Which of your current responsibilities can be given to others who can help? Are there any that really aren’t that important and could be removed from your to-do list altogether? Constantly monitor your workload and consider which activities are important and which are adding needless stress.

Anxiety Is a Foe You Can Beat

Anxiety seems like a mighty foe because, after all, it has won many of the battles you’ve fought. But that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it. If you learn to spot and interrupt anxious thinking patterns, you can turn anxiety away before it takes control. And soon, you’ll learn anxiety isn’t as mighty as it seems.

~ Donna Durham, MMFT

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash