Stress and anxiety can cause our thoughts to race around our head – often worries about the past or the future. This can feel overwhelming and like you cannot “switch off”. As a results, you may experience difficulties concentrating or sleeping, and feel on edge all the time.
Here are three ways to reduce your anxious thoughts:
1. Write them down
Writing out your anxious thoughts can help calm them in multiple ways. First, the act of writing can help release physical tension and restlessness. Second, writing down thoughts slows them down. In the start, we may feel like we cannot write fast enough to capture all the thoughts coming in, but after a few minutes, thoughts will come in slower. Our brain has the chance to engage with the thoughts separately as they appear in front of us on the page. Third, writing thoughts down can help us gain an overview of what topics we are stuck on and what triggers us. It can help us to recognize patterns and organize our thoughts, helping us regain a sense of control over what is going on in our heads. And finally, writing things down can help reassure our brains that we will not forget to deal with them in the future and that we can go back to them when the time is right. As anxious thoughts often arise from our brain trying to alert us to threats in our environment, letting the brain know that we are aware of them and that we have noted them down, can allow the brain to relax and switch of the alarm.
2. Test them
We often take our anxious thoughts for granted and try to manage the anxiety rather than the actual thought. Many of these thoughts are built on core beliefs about the world that we developed as children and that subconsciously influence our perceptions and responses in the now. As they remain largely unchallenged, pinpointing these anxious thoughts and beliefs and then testing them against reality can help to put us in control of how much anxiety we will allow them to induce. This testing process requires us to name the thought, name the feelings it evokes, find evidence to support the thought, find evidence against the thought, and identify a more balanced view. Doing this once may not necessarily change the intensity of our anxious thoughts. However, repeating this process over time will help the brain to create new neural pathways that are then activated more easily when a thought arises – or in other words, eventually the new information (evidence against the thought) will be integrated into the thought itself so that it no longer triggers such intense stress.
3. Paint, dance and sculpt them out
Engaging with our thoughts with a creative outlet can help us to process our thoughts in a healthy way. It allows us to take some of our focus into the physical realm – be it painting, drawing, dancing, singing, sculpting, knitting or whatever floats your boat. Anxious thoughts are often more tolerable to engage with, if we are at the same time creating something. The key is to let the anxious thought be in your head and flow into your work. Create your own anxiety painting or create your own song that reflects how you feel inside. This kind of externalizing has been shown to provide anxiety relief and calm our thoughts. Another reason this works well is that you are allowing the anxious thought to be rather than trying to push it away. As anxiety has the job to alarm us of something being wrong, pushing it away will may it more frantic. Engaging with it, exploring it and letting it inform our creation allows it to be heard and then slowly release.