Use Thought Stopping to Reduce Anxiety

Illustration of a cloud and a ladder

Christina Reichl Photography / Moment / Getty Images

One technique to help you manage the intrusive negative thoughts and worry that often accompany panic disorder, anxiety and agoraphobia is called “thought stopping.” The basis of this technique is that you consciously issue the command, “Stop!” when you experience repeated negative, unnecessary, or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive and realistic.

Identify Your Stressful Thoughts

Start by monitoring your bothersome and unnecessary thoughts. Write down the thoughts that are causing you the most trouble and pick one that you would like to work on. Start with a thought that's easy to visualize and realistic to work on; you can tackle more complicated or abstract stressful thoughts as your skill with the technique progresses.

Create Positive Thought Substitutions

Write down positive statements and affirmations next to your stressful thought. For example, you can replace the stressful thought, “I’m so anxious, I’ll probably start to panic and embarrass myself if I accept the invitation to go to the concert,” with:

  • I’ve been in anxious situations before and have succeeded.
  • I am confident that I can control my anxiety and panic by using the relaxation techniques I have learned.
  • I know that my medications are working to prevent me from having a full-blown panic attack.
  • I will go to the concert and have a great time!

Repeat and Replace

Close your eyes and think about the stressful thought. Try to imagine yourself in a situation in which the thought may occur. Repeat it in your mind for about three minutes and shout “Stop!” This shout is your physical cue to turn your mind away from your imagination and toward a place of mental stillness.

Let your mind relax and go blank for about one minute. If the thought intrudes, shout “Stop!” again. Recite your positive substitution statements and affirmations. Repeat these substitutions for about three minutes. Visualize your success in the stressful situation as you repeat your thought substitutions.

As you re-visit this negative thought, the shout should fade to a normal voice, which fades to a whisper. After the whisper, you should think "Stop" in your mind. 

Important Considerations

For thought stopping to be effective, you must practice it throughout the day for several days. The unwanted thoughts are likely to continue to recur during the initial days of this exercise. They should, though, gradually diminish.

Thought stopping may not work for everyone, and some psychologists think that the technique might actually make the problem worse. If you find that your stressful thoughts are becoming more frequent or if the exercise is producing increased anxiety, discontinue this technique and talk to your doctor or therapist.

Was this page helpful?