While driving into work last Friday I had an episode of racing thoughts and anxious thinking that had me seriously contemplating turning around in the car and heading back home.
I was able to get through it however and decided it would be timely to post about how to stop anxious thinking and racing thoughts.
I’ll explain my little scenario and episode of disturbing anxious thoughts so you can follow along and then we’ll discuss how to stop anxious thinking and racing thoughts in general with some helpful tips for you.
As I said, I was driving into work last Friday and feeling stressed to begin with, so I was definitely vulnerable to feeling anxious right from the get go.
I had a big weekend planned with my family coming in from out of town and I had been working to get the house cleaned and in order for most of the week. I had to plan food, sleeping arrangements and also presents and cake as 2 members of my family were having birthdays (a daughter and my Dad). And it was Mother’s Day too so of course I needed stuff for Mom as well.
The planning for the weekend involved a lot of mental logistics.
So I was going into work knowing when I got home later my family would be there and it would be time for dinner. I would be right in hostess mode and not able to just relax & chill like I normally do after work. It was happy pressure, but still a source of stress nonetheless. As a result, I didn’t sleep well the night before.
That was the background leading up to the situation.
So back to the drive into work. I was mozying along listening to the radio and just transitioning into work mode. The radio program I was listening to had a little debate going on about a controversial magazine cover and was it going too far or something along those lines.
And then I had an intrusive disturbing thought out of nowhere. Something about me embarrassing myself in a very unladylike and crude way. It was shocking and caused me to have a pang of anxiety.
I changed the radio station so I could just hear music instead, but then the thought came back. And the thought that followed that scared the living crap out of me. What if I was going insane for real this time? And what if I switched to insane and became a blathering ball of jello and had to be committed to a mental hospital?
The racing thoughts continued rapid fire in my head one more frightening and disturbing than the next to where I pictured the final catastrophe- not being able to talk or function at work and having to be strapped to a stretcher and carted away.
I freaked myself out, had a panic attack, and had the strongest urge to turn the car around right then and there in middle of the road and head straight for home.
Thank God in heaven for working on my anxiety recovery because I did everything right after that. I turned the radio off and started talking to myself out loud (this is taking action- moving my mouth, and giving myself something to listen to besides the nonsense the anxiety was feeding my head).
“You are not going crazy, you will never go crazy. This is anxiety and nothing more. You have a very creative mind. The racing thoughts are not true. It was scary but it isn’t a big deal. You are fine. You are safe and in control.
It’s ok that you had a scary thought. It’s not true. Today is just like any other normal day at work. You won’t even remember it after it’s over. It is just a few hours and you can handle it.”
How To Stop Anxious Thinking & Racing Thoughts
1. Notice the first fear.
The first fear I had was the pang of anxiety I felt when that really disturbing thought popped up in my head. It was scary to me, it came unbidden and seemingly out of nowhere.
2. Do not add second fear to the first fear
This is all the “Oh no- what if this happens??” thoughts. You know, the catastrophic thinking that seems to happen automatically once we have that first twinge of fear… It builds on itself and gets bigger and more frightening until we are having a full blown panic attack or flight response to the fear.
This was my mistake. I felt the fear of the thought (first fear) and then instead of dealing with the fear I felt at that moment, I let the fear snowball and that lead to more anxious thoughts and then more and all the way to the point where I was shackled to a stretcher and being shipped off to the loony bin in my mind.
Luckily once the fear had peaked and I had the panic attack, instead of turning the car around, I did do positive self talk to enable myslef to calm down. This was dealing with the first fear rationally and employing self help techniques to calm myself down- (positive self talk, slow deep breathing, and staying focused on the present moment.)
I still felt weirded out as I pulled into the parking lot, but I knew I would be ok. I was now able to be in control of my thoughts, instead of the other way arouund. And truly once i got into work I was busy and it all faded into the recesses of my mind.
I knew turning the car around would solve nothing. The thoughts and anxious feelings would have instantly gone away, but it wouldn’t have helped me in the long run.
Just like when we run out of the room or escape to the bathroom, our symptoms go away for the moment. But this never solves the underlying problem. It just makes it harder to go back into the room or to work or whatever the next time.
So to reiterate, you can stop anxious thinking by first recognizing the first pang of fear you have.
Feel that fear, acknowledge it, do not try to deny it or stop it from happening. When you get a weird anxious thought that pops into your head, it’s ok. It’s just a thought. It’s not real.
The challenge is to not add any second fear to the first fear. You can feel a scary thought and just let it go. Know that it is just a thought and you do not have to fear it. Your imagination is working overtime because that is what anxious thinking does.
Instead, focus on the here and now. Focus on the present. There is always something you can do to make yourself feel a little better. Listen to your good voice of reason, assure yourself that you are safe and you will get through this.
Let a little time pass while you focus on doing some nice slow deep breaths (because surely you have started tensing up and hyperventilating) and telling yourself again and again, you are safe. You are safe.
3. Keep it simple.
Don’t overthink the process or make it harder than it has to be. When I wanted to turn the car around that was the clear sign my anxiety had gotten the better of me. I went back to the source of the fear- I was frightened of the freaky thought that popped into my mind- and worked my way out of it.
Anxious thinking and racing thoughts are frightening, they build on themselves and they seem very believable. But once you recognize the thought pattern, you can use your good voice of reason and anxiety self help tools to get you back into reality and into a calmer, peaceful state.
For further reading, here is a good article I found today on how to nix those negative anxious thoughts.
Do you think you can apply these tips to stop your anxious thinking/ racing thoughts the next time they happen?
I wish you peace,
How am I learning to be so good when my anxiety pops up? Simple, I use my Anxiety Self Help Road Map. I invite you to try this powerful method to put yourself in control of your fear- works like a charm.