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10 Ways to Deal with Distressing Thoughts

Lately, you’ve likely had an assortment of distressing thoughts that you can’t stop thinking. Maybe you’ve tried to come up with solutions for some of these worries, identifying what you can actually control. And that is incredibly important and helpful.

But other stressful thoughts—the ones you can’t really do much about, the ones that reek of uncertainty—still linger. And linger, making you feel awful and overwhelmed.

What can you do about these anxious thoughts?

What can sometimes help is to take a lighthearted approach, to use humor to greet these thoughts and lessen their impact and loosen their control over us. This doesn’t mean that your distressing thoughts are silly, or you’re silly or ridiculous for thinking them.

Everyone has these sorts of thoughts. Distressing thoughts are our brain’s way of keeping us safe. Because the louder the alarm, the greater the likelihood that we’ll heed its warnings, be extra vigilant, and not get eaten by a tiger or bear. Of course, the issue with most anxious thoughts that won’t go away is that there aren’t any tigers or bears.

In the new book The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times, mental health and anxiety experts share a variety of excellent suggestions for helping us effectively manage stressful thoughts. Here’s a list of creative, humor-based techniques from their book to try:

  1. Sing the thought to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
  2. Write the thought over and over.
  3. Make a poem using the thought.
  4. Draw or paint the thought.
  5. Translate the thought to another language.
  6. Recite the words backwards.
  7. Make the thought into a full script with a funny ending.
  8. Try to make the thought so bad that it’s absurd.
  9. Add the phrase “I am having the thought that” to your thought (or “I am seeing the image of” if an image comes to mind instead), repeating it as you go up and down a flight of stairs.
  10. Send the thought to the “spam folder.” When we receive a scam email (the one that says you’ve won some inheritance from a distant uncle and you just need to click the link and provide your banking information), we roll our eyes and mark it as spam. We don’t even think twice about trusting the content. And we can do the same for our anxious thoughts. As the authors remind us, “thoughts are imaginations inside your mind.”

If these techniques don’t work or resonate with you, that’s OK. The key is to remember that you are not helpless when anxious, awful thoughts arise. You don’t have to believe them. You can challenge them. You can thank your brain for trying to help and remind yourself that you are, indeed, resilient and you’ll cope with whatever comes your way. Or you can schedule a virtual appointment with a therapist. Or you can try all of that.

We are living in strange, unsettling times, so it makes sense that our stress and anxiety would increase. But that stress and anxiety also don’t have to ruin our days or shatter us. And sometimes simply gaining some perspective and trying several seemingly silly tips can actually be healing.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

10 Ways to Deal with Distressing Thoughts

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). 10 Ways to Deal with Distressing Thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Aug 2020
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