Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
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According to theories of cognitive therapy, your thoughts and values determine the way you see yourself and the world around you. Thoughts and beliefs that are grounded in pessimism can negatively impact your feelings, emotions, and mental health. These harmful perceptions are common issues that can contribute to the symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders.
In order to overcome negative thinking patterns and self-defeating beliefs, it is important to understand the definitions and differences between these two concepts.
Your belief system is made up of your personal views, attitudes, and values. Your beliefs are always with you, shaping the way in which you see yourself and the world around you. Self-defeating beliefs can set you up for failure and dissatisfaction.
For instance, if it is your belief that your self-worth is solely determined by your accomplishments, you will only feel fulfilled when you are excelling at your career, achieving your goals, or reaching a desired level of status. Self-defeating beliefs fall into two categories: intrapersonal beliefs you have about yourself and interpersonal beliefs about your relationships.
Fear of conflict
Negative Thinking Patterns
Unlike self-defeating beliefs, negative thinking patterns are not always with you. Rather, they only surface when you are faced with an issue. Also known as cognitive distortions, these negative thoughts come to mind during times of stress and reinforce your self-defeating beliefs.
For instance, perhaps you hold the self-defeating belief that your worth is solely defined by your achievements. You may feel okay as long as you are able to consistently reach your goals. However, when faced with unforeseen setbacks or obstacles, negative thinking patterns may cause you to over-analyze or exaggerate the severity of a situation, ultimately triggering unfounded anxiety.
In such circumstances, you may begin to have negative thoughts, such as labeling yourself a failure or blaming yourself for not reaching your goal. You may think to yourself, “I will never be a success” or “it must not have been meant to be.” Over time, these thoughts can lower self-esteem and may even contribute to symptoms of depression.
Personal beliefs are learned and developed over time, making them very difficult to change. Similarly, thought patterns become a habitual way of thinking that is so ingrained, we are often unaware of it. However, there are ways to break the cycle of self-defeating beliefs and negative thinking patterns.
To rise above your self-defeating beliefs and negative thoughts, start by recognizing when these issues come up in your life. For instance, notice your outlook on life and how you react to different problems. Do you face your problems head-on or do you succumb to negative thoughts? Is life full of possibilities or do you see the glass as always being half-empty?
After you start acknowledging self-defeating beliefs and negative thinking patterns, take back control by challenging them. For example, if you’re feeling inadequate, question if it’s true that others only accept you free of flaws and imperfections. Are you really a “loser” if you do not attain a certain amount of success? Do you always fail at what you set out to accomplish?
Continue to dispute your beliefs and thoughts, replacing them with more positive and realistic ones. When you start confronting your negative views, you can begin to notice how many of them are not true in your life. Instead of assuming the worst, you may realize that you feel disappointed you did not reach a certain goal, but also accept that you are learning and growing from your mistakes and setbacks.
A Word From Verywell
Developing new beliefs and ways of thinking will require some extra effort and consistency on your part; therapy can also be very helpful. Through monitoring, confronting, and rethinking your negative thoughts and beliefs, you can “unlearn” or change them to more nurturing, empowering, and encouraging ways of viewing your life. Over time, you may be able to shift your thoughts and beliefs to more positive and realistic ones.
While it’s normal to get nervous about an important event or life change, about 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear. Anxiety disorders can range from a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is intense worrying that you can’t control, to panic disorder — sudden episodes of fear, along with heart palpitations, trembling, shaking, or sweating.
For those with an anxiety disorder, it’s important to look into strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, like talk therapy or medication. But everyone can benefit from other ways to reduce stress and anxiety with lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and taking time for yourself.
Plus, there are steps you can take the moment when anxiety starts to take hold. Try these 10 expert-backed suggestions to relax your mind and help you regain control of your thoughts.
1. Stay in your time zone.
Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind. So instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, “reel yourself back to the present,” says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. Ask yourself: What’s happening right now? Am I safe? Is there something I need to do right now? If not, make an “appointment” to check in with yourself later in the day to revisit your worries so those distant scenarios don’t throw you off track, she says.
2. Relabel what’s happening.
Panic attacks can often make you feel like you’re dying or having a heart attack. Remind yourself: “I’m having a panic attack, but it’s harmless, it’s temporary, and there’s nothing I need to do,” Chansky says. Plus, keep in mind it really is the opposite of a sign of impending death — your body is activating its fight-or-flight response, the system that’s going to keep you alive, she says.
3. Fact-check your thoughts.
People with anxiety often fixate on worst-case scenarios, Chansky says. To combat these worries, think about how realistic they are. Say you’re nervous about a big presentation at work. Rather than think, “I’m going to bomb,” for example, say, “I’m nervous, but I’m prepared. Some things will go well, and some may not,” she suggests. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts.
4. Breathe in and out.
Deep breathing helps you calm down. While you may have heard about specific breathing exercises, you don’t need to worry about counting out a certain number of breaths, Chansky says. Instead just focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow down and re-center your mind, she says.
5. Follow the 3-3-3 rule.
Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help center your mind, bringing you back to the present moment, Chansky says.
6. Just do something.
Stand up, take a walk, throw away a piece of trash from your desk — any action that interrupts your train of thought helps you regain a sense of control, Chansky suggests.
7. Stand up straight.
“When we are anxious, we protect our upper body — where our heart and lungs are located — by hunching over,” Chansky says. For an immediate physical antidote to this natural reaction, pull your shoulders back, stand or sit with your feet apart, and open your chest. This helps your body start to sense that it’s back in control, she says.
8. Stay away from sugar.
It may be tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good, as research shows that eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching into the candy bowl, drink a glass of water or eat protein, Chansky says, which will provide a slow energy your body can use to recover.
9. Ask for a second opinion.
Call or text a friend or family member and run through your worries with them, Chansky says. “Saying them aloud to someone else can help you see them clearly for what they are.” It can also help to write your fears on paper.
10. Watch a funny video.
This final tactic may be the easiest one yet: Cue up clips of your favorite comedian or funny TV show. Laughing is a good prescription for an anxious mind, Chansky says. Research shows that laughter has lots of benefits for our mental health and well-being; one study found that humor could help lower anxiety as much as (or even more than) exercise can.
Tamar Chansky, PhD.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
A mindful person is reflective rather than reactive. They focus on the present moment. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a process that leads to a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present experiences, such as sensations, thoughts, bodily states, and the environment. It enables us to distance ourselves from our thoughts and feelings without labeling them as good or bad.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
By focusing our attention on the present moment, mindfulness counteracts rumination and worrying. Worrying about the future (e.g. I better remember to pay those bills and clean my house this weekend) and ruminating about the past (e.g., I should have done this rather than that) are generally maladaptive thinking processes. Of course, it is important to learn from our past and plan ahead for the future; however, when we spend too much time outside of the present moment, we can get depressed and anxious. In such cases, mindfulness can be an important tool for helping us to better focus on the present moment.
Research has shown that mindfulness helps us reduce anxiety and depression. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations.
Mindfulness works through a number of ways. It encourages us to open up and accept our emotions. As a result we are better able to identify, experience, and process our emotions. Mindfulness also encourages us to see things from different perspectives. For example, if your spouse snaps at you, you might blame yourself and worry that you’ve done something to upset him/her. If you are able to distance yourself from your immediate response of being hurt, you might remember that your spouse mentioned a hard day at work, and perhaps they snapped at you because they’re tired and stressed out. This new interpretation could alleviate some of your worry and negative feelings. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to benefit the following areas:
- Body awareness: Body awareness is the ability to notice subtle sensations in the body and self-report findings indicate that mindfulness leads to greater perceptions of body awareness. Being aware of your internal emotional state is necessary to being able to better regulate those emotions.
- Focused attention: Mindfulness practice improves one’s ability to focus attention. Neuroimaging studies have shown that mindfulness increases activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain area that is involved in executive function and attention. Through better control of attention, it can be easier to focus on a present task, rather than being distracted by worry.
- Self-perception: Mindfulness also changes one’s perspective of oneself. Buddhist psychology teaches that the self is not permanent and static, but rather made up of ongoing mental events. Two months of mindfulness meditation practices have been shown to increase self-esteem and self-acceptance.
- Physical health: Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to produce other health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels (a stress hormone).
Mindfulness in Practice
There is no big secret behind mindfulness practices. Any activity can become mindful by focusing on the experience of the present moment. For example, you can either mindlessly gobble down your meal or take a little bit of time and practice mindful eating by looking at the food, smelling the food, noticing the different flavors and the texture of the food while slowly eating it. Not surprisingly, it is much more enjoyable and satisfying when you eat mindfully than when you eat mindlessly. Interestingly, you will also notice that you will consume less when you start eating mindfully.
There are many practices that include mindfulness trainings, such as tai chi, yoga, and zen. There are many styles for each of these activities, so it is worthwhile to experiment with different practices until you find one that suits you. As you become more mindful, you will also notice that you will become more centered, happier, and less depressed and this in turn has a direct positive effect on your anxiety.
How to be Mindful Right Now
Focus on your breath for a few minutes. Feel your chest rise and fall, notice the sensation of the breath as it enters and exits your nose. When your mind wanders, simply return your attention to the breath. Focus on the present moment: the here and now. Notice this very moment; it feels good to be alive, right now.
If you don’t immediately feel a complete release of anxiety, remember: most of the benefits of mindfulness require consistent practice. While some changes bolster against anxiety even after one single yoga class, most benefits require several weeks, months, and even years to create a noticeable change. And, like any skill, you will need to continue to practice mindfulness after you start to maintain the improvements.
When we’re worried about something, “What if?” is the enemy. What if we mess up at work? What if we can’t complete our goals? What if everything falls apart?
Our default is to dwell on the potential of bad outcomes. As psychologist Rick Hanson explains in his book “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence,” our brains have a natural negativity bias — and before we know it, one troublesome thought can spiral out of control, leading to even more anxiety.
For those who deal with anxiety and anxiety disorders on a daily basis, it can be challenging to put an end to a fearful thought before it shifts into chronic stress. Fortunately, there are ways to train your brain to stop a worry-ridden thought in its tracks, says Peter Norton, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston. “The more you look for something or expect something to be there, the more likely you are to find evidence of it, so sometimes people can mislead themselves [when they’re having an anxious thought],” Norton tells The Huffington Post. Our deep trust in our own thinking is what leads us astray — but it’s also what can help us get back on track, he explains.
Here are some expert tips for getting rid of an anxious thought, before it’s able to spiral out of control:
1. Get in touch with how you’re feeling.
The first step to eliminating an anxious thought is to recognize when you’re feeling an emotional shift, Norton says. “Really allow changes in your emotions to be a guide to take a step back,” he says. “Those changes in emotions are [the first] red flag.”
That’s because our thoughts have a way of deceiving our emotions — in other words, we aren’t able to separate logic from feelings in a worry spiral. “It’s very common for people to not really be an astute observer of their own thoughts,” Norton says. “Because we’re so used to trusting our brains, it’s very difficult for us to sometimes take that step back and think about our own thoughts and say, ‘OK, I believe this is happening, let me reevaluate whether or not that’s true.'”
2. Don’t try to put it out of your mind.
It may sound like a paradox, but avoiding fearful thoughts actually makes anxiety worse, explains Dr. Mickey Trockel, M.D., a psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. “The biggest concern is when anxiety starts to create an avoidance cycle,” Trockel tells The Huffington Post. “When something is provoking those emotions, then avoiding it feels good — and because that feels good, it’s reinforcing the anxiety. Then, the next time the situation comes up, without any conscious decision-making, it creates greater intensity.”
Norton suggests confronting your initial anxiety in a mindful manner to keep it from worsening. Otherwise, avoiding those worrisome thoughts may cause them to manifest in other ways, such as nightmares or flashbacks. “Challenge your own thoughts and diffuse them, rather than hide them underneath the rug,” he says.
3. Ask yourself questions that put your fears in perspective.
This trick, which is used in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for severe anxiety, allows you to step outside of how you’re feeling and approach your thoughts in a logical way. “Evaluate the evidence for and against that thought,” Norton advises. “Weighing the evidence back and forth will help you come to a more rational view of the situation.”
Norton suggests mentally asking yourself questions in a way that reframes your fear. For example, “What do I feel is so dangerous or so bad about this current situation?” and “What do I think would be the worst outcome?” This prompts you to challenge those thoughts and move on from there. “This will help you learn to become a good observer of your own anxious thoughts,” Norton says. “It allows you to take a step back from them [and] reevaluate the likelihood or the actual realities of the threat in order to try to come up with a less-biased interpretation of the situation.”
4. Confront your fear in small ways.
Once you’ve managed to reframe your fear, Norton advises taking baby steps to overcome it. “Start with easier fears or easier situations first, then move up to more difficult ones as you become more successful in confronting your fears,” Norton says. For example: If you get anxious during public speaking, practice in front of a friend or two first. Doing this will give you time to build up your resilience to the anxiety.
5. Practice mindfulness meditation.
To eliminate anxiety-driven thoughts before they take off, Norton advises employing relaxation practices to calm your mind and the rest of your body. “The body and the mind work in concert,” Norton explains. “If one side is fired up, the other side is getting fired up. So by trying to relax or decrease your level of arousal, whether through meditation, relaxation exercises or deep breathing, you can typically start to bring the mental side of things down along with it.”
Trockel suggests setting aside just five minutes to practice mindfulness meditation exercises. By spending those moments just focusing on your breathing, you can eliminate the temptation of letting your mind wander to the worst-possible scenario. “The goal isn’t to breathe in a certain way, but rather to allow one’s attention to focus on the sensation of breathing,” he says. “Just five minutes of practice will make it easy to manage anxiety and allow you try it on the spot [when you start to experience those emotions].”
The practice also has long-term benefits if done regularly. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to change the brain in a positive way, help with weight-loss goals, lower blood pressure and even lead to better sleep.
6. Gradually build on your successes.
Once you’re able to catch yourself ruminating on an anxious thought, Norton says it’s all about practice until it becomes more second nature. “Try to short circuit that chain of thoughts and reevaluate the assumptions there,” he explains. “Once you’re comfortable with [what makes you fearful], move up to a more difficult situation. The great thing about confronting the fears is it also works well in concert with the thought challenging. It gives the person an opportunity to test out what really does happen in a situation . and you can actually see what’s more likely to come true.”
Trockel says no matter how you address anxiety, the most important thing is recognizing when you’re feeling stressed, and actively working to conquer it so it doesn’t consume you. “If [anxiety is] left unchecked, it can zap your energy and make life less fun,” he says. “Don’t allow it to change what you really want to do.”
You have deadline pressures at work. Or your kid is having problems at school. Or a health concern is nagging at you. Suddenly, anxiety has taken over your life. “Anxious thoughts activate the limbic system — the fear center in our brain — and it’s on a hair trigger,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.
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How does anxiety build up?
Anxious thoughts chase each other like a dog chasing its tail.
“Imagine a guy who thinks, ‘What if my hair is thinning?’” suggests Dr. Bea. “That creates anxious energy. He feels his head, checks in the mirror and asks his wife, who says, ‘You’ve got a nice head of hair.’
“That feels good for about 20 seconds, until he thinks, ‘She wasn’t really listening to me.’ Next thing you know, he’s online, searching for baldness cures. One of them looks good until he sees its side effects include ED and thinks, ‘That’s no good!’” Now he’s back to square one.
This is one small example of how trying to quell anxiety with reassuring thoughts, or to “fix” anxious thoughts with other thoughts, just doesn’t work.
It’s also exhausting. “Reassuring thoughts are like a short-acting drug; they wear off quickly,” says Dr. Bea.
What should you do if you’re anxious?
So what can you do if you notice yourself feeling anxious? Start by facing your anxiety, advises psychologist Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD. Then try these 9 ways to calm yourself:
- Think of yourself as a firefighter. Put out the flames of anxiety with some cool breaths. Breathe in and out, deeply and slowly. “When you slow down your breathing, you trick your body into thinking you’re relaxing or going to sleep,” she says.
- Cool down anxious thoughts. “Thoughts like, ‘I can’t stand this; this is awful!’ fuel the fire of anxiety,” says Dr. Albers. Instead, think about what you can and cannot change about the situation. Then take steps to change what you can, and work on accepting what you can’t.
- Get some perspective. Anxiety can stem from needless worry about a lot of things that aren’t important in the long run. “Consider how this will really impact you in five minutes, five months or five years,” she says.
- Soothe your system. Try some yoga stretches, or take a tennis ball and rub it under your foot or behind your back. “Find gentle ways to calm your body,” says Dr. Albers.
- Talk it out. Research proves that simply naming your feelings can help to calm you down. “This is easier to do when you share your feelings with others,” she notes.
- Don’t ignore. Anxiety is like a red flag, telling you that something needs attention. “Don’t ignore this sign — contact a professional to help you through it,” says Dr. Albers.
- Rule out other causes. Sometimes medical issues can mask themselves as anxiety or mimic its symptoms. “Don’t forget to get your checkup each year,” she says.
- Wait it out. “Sometimes, you just have to let anxiety come and go, like riding a wave,” says Dr. Albers. Remember that it will fade and that “This, too, shall pass.”
- Be mindful.Stay in the moment instead of jumping ahead. To bring yourself back to the present, try this 5 senses exercise. Hold your fist out, and extend one finger at a time as you name: 1 thing you can taste; 2 things you can smell; 3 things you can touch right now (your skin against the chair, a soft sweater); 4 things you can hear; and 5 things you can see in the immediate environment.
Adds Dr. Bea, “When you take in a sensory experience, your fear sensations fall away — the chemicals flow out of your body.”
What makes anxiety worse?
Avoid soothing your anxiety with things that can lead to more anxiety, advises Dr. Albers.
“For example, stress eating is like putting a Band-aid® on a gaping wound,” she says. “You want to deal with your anxiety directly.”
Dredging up bad experiences from the past or imagining scary scenarios in the future will just heighten your anxiety. When this happens, realize what you’re doing.
“Remind yourself that bad things happen relatively sparingly and that our brains are well-equipped to handle a crisis, if one occurs,” says Dr. Bea. “Be engaged in your real life, not in imagined moments.”
The best way to begin is to work on developing a new relationship with your thoughts.
“Thoughts are like breezes. They’re not good or bad, they just come and go,” he says. “You don’t have to react to them — ‘Oh, wow,’ works better than ‘Oh, no.’ Being grounded in the present moment, without judgment, is the place to be.”
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You’re 30,000 feet in the sky, rubbing elbows with complete strangers, a baby fussing three rows ahead and the tops of clouds looking back at you from the nearest window. Nothing could feel less natural than this. Your eyes dart to nearby passengers to see how they’re reacting to what feels like a cruel social experiment on being confined in a tiny, jiggling box at a ridiculously high altitude.
One person, face lit up blue from their smartphone, is laughing at whatever is streaming, another is pensively flipping pages through her half-devoured novel, and the flight attendant is smiling calmly while taking drink orders. Those around you seem at ease, so why does it take every ounce of willpower you have not to freak as your knuckles go numb from the death grip you have on the arm rest?
What Fuels Our Fear of Flying?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 6.5 percent of the U.S. population has aviophobia (a fear of flying), and roughly 25 percent experience some sort of flying-related anxiety.
“Some of the primary reasons some people are afraid to fly are a fear of crashing, a fear of being out of control, a fear of the unknown, a fear of heights, having lost a loved one in a plane crash and feeling claustrophobic,” says Ora Nadrich, a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and life coach. “Also, some people experience an overall sense of discomfort with the entire flying experience: airport procedures, crowds, turbulence, unappetizing food, cramped space and long flights.”
Anxiety is fueled by irrational, worst case scenario thoughts, and confined spaces are breeding grounds for this process.
“Anxiety is fueled by irrational, worst case scenario thoughts, and confined spaces are opportunities for anxious thoughts,” explained Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Struggle Well, Live Well. He added, “Our anxious thoughts can be so powerful that they even activate our physical systems. That means our breathing becomes shallow, our chest gets tight, our palms get sweaty, we feel nauseated and maybe even lightheaded.”
How to Overcome Your Anxiety
In short: you’re not alone in your fear, and the anxiety you experience leading up to, and while aboard, your flight is very real (even if ultimately unfounded). There are ways to squash those fears, though, and it starts with a deliberate mental shift.
- Know the Facts
You’ve probably read through safety statistics, or have at least been told that driving is more dangerous than flying. This is a good start, but the more you educate yourself on these facts, the less your anxiety will be able to creep it. eDreams, a global travel site, points nervous travelers to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data that states that there’s a one in 11-million chance of being involved in an airplane accident, and even then, 96 percent of passengers survive airline accidents. Additionally, airplanes undergo extensive safety testing, ranging from wing flexibility to exposure to extreme temperature and beyond. You are truly safer in an airplane than you are in your own home.
There’s a one in 11-million chance of being involved in an airplane accident, and even then, 96 percent of passengers survive.
In addition to reading up on safety statistics, educate yourself on the physics of flying and how planes work, in general. Gilliland says, “Understanding the basics of flying — like the phases of a trip and the sounds that planes make, can help. Without knowledge, anxiety leads us to make up really bad stories.”
- Release and Replace Your Thoughts
In addition to educating yourself, you must also work to combat all of those “worst case” thoughts. If you tell yourself the same thing over and over again, you may eventually believe it, which breeds anxiety. To stop the cycle, Nadrich recommended using a technique she calls, “release and replace.”
“You take a thought like, ‘I’m afraid to fly because I think the plane will crash,’ and replace it with something like, ‘I am aware that flying frightens me, but I believe I will be fine and the plane will not crash.’ By doing this exercise repeatedly, you will feel less anxiety because your positive thought will override your negative thought,” she says.
Other positive affirmations could be, “I am safe;” “I am fine;” and “I am in good hands.” Anytime you begin to feel afraid, repeat those phrases over and over again in your mind.
Even if your flight is only an hour long, that’s a good chunk of time to sit, stew and work yourself up into a panic. Prior to departing, create a feasible checklist of things you want to accomplish while up in the air, and then work diligently to check those items off. Maybe you want to read a chapter of your book, brainstorm birthday gift ideas, write those thank-you notes you’ve been putting off, work on a business project or organize images on your phone or computer.
Another way to distract yourself is to use a tool Nadrich calls a “visualization.”
“Imagine yourself somewhere that is picturesque and beautiful, either a place or country you have been to that you loved, or somewhere you would like to go. By seeing yourself somewhere that calms, soothes or pleases you – and allowing yourself to be fully there — it will begin to relax you and reduce anxiety in your body,” explained Nadrich.
Mental Health Your 7-Step Guide to Navigating Social Anxiety at a Networking Event
Visualization is a powerful tool to have in your back pocket: Research conducted by Dr. Elisha Goldstein showed that those who spent five minutes a day practicing a guided meditation exercise similar to the one above reported significantly reduced stress levels and enhanced feelings of well-being. You might even consider downloading a meditation app with guided imagery tracks on your phone to turn on during especially tense times like takeoff and turbulence.
- Focus on Your Breathing
If you’re up in the air and you begin to feel panicked, redirect your thoughts to your breathing. “Anxiety often leads us to breathe shallowly and rapidly,” says Gilliland. “Slow, big breaths can help us relax the body, and the mind usually follows.”
Nadrich recommended breathing in through your nose for two counts, holding for two counts, gently exhaling for four counts, and then holding for one count. Repeat five to 10 times. Deliberate breathing puts you in control of your body and your mind, allowing you to be the observer instead of the reactor.
According to The American Institute of Stress, “deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.” Focusing on your breath also shifts your focus from your mind to your body, which can help quiet racing thoughts.
Giving yourself more control over the entire flying experience requires practice and deliberate effort. But if you follow this advice, you’re on your way to calmer skies.
There are many types of anxiety, and all of them have different symptoms. But they tend to have one thing in common, and that’s repetitive anxious thoughts. If you have anxiety, you might catch yourself ruminating on all the “what-ifs” of life, or zeroing in on worst case scenarios.
This, of course, happens without your permission, as your brain runs away with you, overanalyzes, and focuses on stressful events. “[Repetitive anxious thoughts] can range from negative feelings about oneself to fearful thoughts about possible disaster or illness,” Claire Bidwell-Smith, LCPC, grief therapist and author of Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, tells Bustle. вЂњEven high-functioning people can experience these thoughts while going about their normal days and tasks.” If your anxiety symptoms are mild, these unwanted thoughts can still bring you down вЂ” and make your life far more stressful than it needs to be.
There is hope, however. “The good news is that it is absolutely possible to overcome repetitive thoughts,” Bidwell-Smith says. “Using a combination of basic cognitive-behavioral exercises, mindfulness, and meditation, it is very possible to break, and eventually eliminate, the cycle of receptive thoughts.” Here are a few tips and tricks for overcoming them and feeling better in the moment, according to experts.
Repeat A Positive Mantra
Whenever you catch yourself ruminating, call up a positive mantra and repeat that instead. “Using a soothing and repetitive phrase can break the cycle of rumination and replace the anxious thought with one that sends a message to the brain to restore the autonomic nervous system to a more serene state,” Bidwell-Smith says.
On a similar note, you might also want to listen to your favorite song, since it can help block out anxious thoughts. “Listen to music that evokes a calm and pleasant feeling,” Bidwell-Smith says. “Your brain will respond to any kind of soothing melody and will send a message of calm to your nervous system.”
Take A Relaxing Bath
Taking a bath, in and of itself, can be relaxing enough to soothe your anxious thoughts. But if you add in essential oils, the scent can get you out of your head even more.
“Providing yourself with a sensory experience can help to quiet thoughts and bring the focus back to your body and physical surroundings,” Bidwell-Smith says.
But the bath part isn’t entirely necessary. You can also carry anxiety-reducing essential oils вЂ” such as grapefruit, lavender, or frankincense вЂ” around with you so you can take a quick sniff throughout the day.
Get A Change Of Scenery
If you’re stuck in a negative thought pattern, try a change of scenery. “If you are outside go inside and find a comforting environment,” Bidwell-Smith says. “Or if you are inside, go outside for a calming walk. Changing your environment will distract your brain and also provide a different sense of security and grounded-ness.”
Call A Friend
Call a friend, call your partner, call your mom вЂ” whoever it is you like talking to most вЂ” and tell them about your anxious thoughts.
“Often, saying them out loud helps to externalize the thoughts and help you gain better control over them,” Bidwell-Smith says. It can also help to know you’ve got a support system.
Take A Deep Breath
Diaphragmatic breathing is an effective way to stop anxious thoughts in their tracks, so it’s definitely a skill you’ll want to keep in your back pocket.
“This is a technique of breathing in and out very slowly while relaxing parts of your body one by one,” Bidwell-Smith says. “This sends a message to your nervous system that all is well and that there is no need to be on alert for catastrophe.”
Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities.
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A core component of anxiety—be it subclinical anxiety or anxiety that meets the threshold for a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnosis—is anxious thinking that can at times feel uncontrollable.
Psychotherapies for anxiety help people address these thoughts in different ways. In psychodynamic psychotherapy, the roots or underlying (sometimes called unconscious) reasons for anxiety are unearthed. In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), thoughts are actively challenged or tested by behavioral experiments (for example, doing something that you are anxious about to experientially learn that the outcome will be okay).
In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), as in CBT, there is an emphasis on becoming more aware of the thoughts as thoughts and not truths. However, the next step in ACT is to learn ways to be “less fused” with the thoughts (That is, if cognitive fusion is the baseline, cognitive defusion is the goal).
By changing the way you interact with your beliefs, you may begin to experience some relief.
5 Ways to Defuse Anxious Thoughts
Here are five cognitive defusion exercises to try. Pick the one or two that most appeal to you, and try them repeatedly over the span of a few days. If it works, keep going with it; if it doesn’t, try another exercise on the list instead.
- Your Mind, With a Capital “M:” For the sake of this exercise, think of your mind as a separate entity from yourself. Name it “Mind.” When the anxious chatter begins, tell yourself something like, “Well there goes Mind again, chitchatting away” or “Wow, Mind is doing that thing he loves to do, telling me how nothing will ever work out.” By treating the mind as an external, rather than internal, creature you might create enough space between you and your thoughts to feel a bit better.
- The Car Radio That Won’t Turn Off: Imagine that you are sitting in the passenger seat of a car, and the driver has turned on an awful radio station that is playing a soundtrack of your anxious thoughts. You’re not in a position to change it or turn it off; instead, you must tolerate it and accept that the thoughts are there and that the noise is unpleasant.
- A Keychain in Your Pocket: You most likely carry a set of keys with you always. Try assigning each of your most common anxious thoughts to a specific key. When you use that key, make yourself think the corresponding thought. Notice that you can carry the thought and not always think it, and also that when you do think the thought, you can still use the key. It is possible to carry difficult beliefs with you and not let them dictate your actions.
- A Bossy Bully: Treat your thought like a bully on the playground of adulthood and ask, “Who is in charge here? Is my thought in charge or am I in charge?” If it helps, get a little angry at the thought—colorful language included—as you assert yourself against the bossy bully.
- Thoughts for Sale: Distinguish between a thought you are having and a thought you are buying as true. Label your thoughts: judgment, criticism, comparison, exaggeration, etc. Then ask yourself, “Do I want to buy the thought that I am ______________?” Consider what it will cost you and if it’s really a good investment.
Using Cognitive Defusion Exercises
The purpose of these exercises is not to change the frequency with which you experience anxious thoughts (though if that happens for you, fantastic!). Rather, defusion exercises are effective if they decrease your attachment to a particular belief or set of beliefs that are not currently serving you well.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Is there a possibility that you can turn off your anxiety? The part of the brain called the amygdala can function like a power switch for anxiety, studies show.
Most people like to think that depression is a sadness, but in reality, it is about a terrible emotional pain that includes difficulties with concentration and memory.
Anxiety has a close relation to fear and yes, fear can be helpful. If a projectile is coming your way and it looks like it may hit, you will have a burst of fear. The adrenaline that you feel will help you get out of the way. The part of the brain that gives us that dose of fear and anxiety is called the amygdala.
What is the amygdala?
The amygdala is like a sixth sense which keeps us aware of all kinds of dangers. When you become aware of something that might signal danger, the amygdala jumps into action and sends signals to the brain, which processes that information.
Then this information is sent to the body to evade the oncoming danger. That is why your heart begins to beat profusely and releases adrenaline, which acts to make your mind aware. This awareness sends motivation to your muscles.
If you constantly sense danger signals, it becomes almost impossible for you to stay calm and rational enough for the brain to switch off the amygdala.
To turn off the anxiety-related response of your amygdala, you need to change the way you view things. You must find a way to prove to your brain that this is a normal situation and not anything dangerous. You need a change of thinking that gives you a different emotion for how you feel about the situation.
To restructure your cognitive reflexes, you can utilize these steps:
- Relax as much as possible to focus on breathing.
- Take a deep breath for a few seconds and let out a long exhale.
- Think about what is triggering your anxiety. If you feel too anxious, then halt.
- Try breathing again and start the same process when you have calmed down.
- Pay attention to what you are thinking.
- In your situation, you will trigger automatic thoughts.
This plays an important role in discovering what is troubling you. Being aware of these thoughts is important to restructure your cognitive reflexes.
How to control your triggered thoughts
You need to be able to see what is really in front of you, versus what your anxiety is leading you to believe. Your thoughts are easier to control than your feelings. So, you need to change the thoughts that have made you feel negative, or they will probably reoccur.
You should also concentrate on the thoughts that come to mind when you visualize the situation. The thoughts you want to control are walking hand in hand with your anxious feelings. Write them down.
Now be realistic and evaluate these thoughts by asking the following questions:
- Is there any evidence to prove that your negative thoughts could be true?
- What is some evidence that makes these thoughts relevant?
- Is there anything to prove your thoughts could be false?
When you have triggered thoughts, you often believe them without question. That is why they have so much influence over you. There is a good chance that all the evidence doesn’t point one way, and this weakens the thoughts that control you.
It won’t be easy to convince your mind that your triggered thoughts aren’t true. The more positive evidence you can conjure, the better. It doesn’t even matter if you can come up with only a few things. All you need is support, to battle these triggered thoughts.
There is always a better side to things, and there are things about your situation that aren’t so challenging. Get a grip on your triggered thoughts and bring them into the light so that you can judge them objectively. Find out if you really have anything to be concerned with, not anxious about.
When you feel less anxious, you will be able to act more effectively, and that exiles anxiety. In turn, you must take a deeper look at what thoughts control your feelings.
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To be able to get a grip on these thoughts is challenging, but I think it is the key to overcoming so many facets of anxiety.By the way, I know that breathing helps so much. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that works…maybe with a joke thrown in there too. 😉
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