What if I don’t get the job? What if I fail that test? What if something awful happens to my husband on the flight? What if the presentation is a mess?
Did I say something to make her upset? What did we even talk about? I must have said something offensive without even realizing it. Ughh, I’m such an idiot. This is probably why she was so upset. Why do I always do that?
Why isn’t he returning my email? He must’ve hated my ideas. Why can’t I be more creative? I should’ve waited to send the email.
Naturally, when we’re having any kind of anxious thoughts, we yearn to make them disappear. So maybe we fight with our thoughts. No, that’s not true! Maybe we plead with them. I’m just so tired of thinking this way. Please go away. Please.
And we likely judge ourselves very harshly. We think we’re weak for being worried. We think we’re being childish or silly or ridiculous. And, of course, this just makes things a whole lot worse. We continue ruminating, and ruminating, about the same unhelpful, hurtful, unsupportive thoughts. And we find ourselves unable to think about anything else.
Don’t think about anything else. In fact, don’t focus on your thinking at all.
Instead, focus on your behavior. That is, according to psychologist Goali Saedi Bocci, Ph.D, in The Social Media Workbook for Teens: Skills to Help You Balance Screen Time, Manage Stress & Take Charge of Your Life, the key is to practice distraction. She notes that “distraction is a therapeutic technique that refers to replacing anxious thoughts with activities that will get our minds off the distressing scenario.”
For many of us those activities revolve around one thing: our phones.
But what’s more helpful in dealing with anxious thoughts is to unplug from our devices. In The Social Media Workbook for Teens, Bocci includes a long list of healthy activities we can do instead (which, she notes, is adapted from The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook).
Below are some of my favorite activities. Make a list of activities that resonate with you, and add your own ideas, as well. It’s important to have a written copy, because when we’re in the throes of anxious thoughts, it’s really hard to think of anything else (let alone to be rational or creative).
- Attend a new class at a yoga studio.
- Ride your bike.
- Dance in your room, or take a dance class.
- Jump on a trampoline.
- Get some fresh air.
- Write a poem.
- Go to a bookstore or the library.
- Draw or doodle.
- Cook your favorite dish.
- Organize a space in your home.
- Read a book.
- Savor a piece of dark chocolate.
- Make a vision board.
Other activities you can try: meet a friend for lunch; take up a new hobby; draw something you see (or smell, hear, taste, or feel); go to the park; stretch your body; put on your favorite music and take a hot shower; or watch a funny film.
When anxious thoughts arise, one of the best things you can do is to engage in an activity that you genuinely enjoy. This helps to interrupt the ruminating cycle, relieve stress, and trigger new thoughts.
And it helps with something that’s perhaps even more important: It reminds us that we are not helpless, and we are not stuck. And our anxious thoughts do not run the show.