Panic Disorder Coping Thought Stopping to Avoid Panic and Anxiety By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC LinkedIn Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 25, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Amy Morin, LCSW Medically reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Justin Case / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Techniques Principles Behind Thought Stopping Why It May Not Work Alternatives to Thought Stopping When to Seek Help Thought stopping is a technique that some people use to help with the intrusive negative thoughts and worry that often accompany panic attacks. The basis of this technique is to stop unwanted negative thoughts and replace them with neutral or positive thoughts. When anxiety or panic attacks occur, the physical symptoms are often frightening and confusing. This condition leads to intrusive, repetitive thoughts that are focused on worry and doubt. These thoughts may cause you to experience a sense of helplessness, anxiousness, or a lack of confidence. Your behaviors can then start to mirror your feelings. For instance, you may avoid trying new things or participating in activities you once enjoyed. Thought Stopping Techniques While thought stopping may be used in therapy, you don't need a trained clinician to practice this cognitive technique. The first step in thought stopping is to identify an unwanted worry or thought. The next step is to stop the negative thought. Traditionally, this is done by saying "Stop!" either aloud or in your head every time you have the negative thought. Other ways to stop negative thoughts in their tracks include: Clapping your hands or snapping your fingersGetting up and movingImagining a big, red stop signSnapping an elastic band on your wrist The final step in this process is to replace your negative thought with a positive and rational one. For example, you might try replacing those negative thoughts with positive self-talk such as telling yourself that you can deal with it. Principles Behind Thought Stopping The theory of why thought stopping works is pretty straightforward: Interrupting bothersome and unnecessary thoughts with a “stop” command or something more positive serves as a helpful reminder and a distraction. Thoughts of fear and worry tend to ruminate or repeat in your mind if you suffer from panic disorder. Left unchecked, they become automatic and occur frequently. If you’re using thought stopping, you become aware of unhealthy thought chains and divert your attention away from damaging, repetitive thought habits. In addition, using the thought stopping technique may give you a sense of control. When followed with positive and reassuring statements, you are breaking the negative thought habit and reinforcing a sense of reassurance. If unhealthy thought patterns have influenced how you feel and how you behave, so will healthy and beneficial thoughts—but in a much better way, of course. Why It May Not Work for You Thought stopping can be an effective strategy to help some people overcome negative thinking and gain a new perspective on life. However, this technique may not be suited for everyone and can even backfire in some circumstances. For example, some people find that trying to push anxious thoughts down only makes them build stronger until they all explode or come rushing out at once. In fact, most psychologists don't recommend thought stopping. It is believed the thought rebounding that can occur is more damaging than just dealing with the negative thoughts in a direct way. It can create a feeling of responsibility or blame for a person having negative thoughts without actually figuring out where the thought came from in the first place. And for those with serious mental illnesses, it's not effective to tell them to simply stop thinking bad thoughts. Alternatives to Thought Stopping Some people might find thought stopping useful. However, there are also other strategies that may be more effective for dealing with intrusive thoughts and anxious feelings. Acceptance Thought stopping can often work as a form of avoidance. Rather than confronting and coping with the thought, you are simply avoiding it. Instead of halting or pushing aside unpleasant, anxious, or intrusive thoughts, practicing acceptance can allow you to move past these thoughts without letting them contribute to your anxiety. You can practice acceptance by avoiding ruminating on the thought. Instead, let it pass through you without judgment and remind yourself that such thoughts can only hurt you if you let them. Relaxation Techniques When you feeling yourself experiencing anxious thoughts, practicing relaxation strategies can help you keep calm and move past the intrusive worries. Examples of relaxation techniques you might try include visualization, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. The more you practice, the better able you'll be able to calm yourself quickly whenever you feel overcome with anxiety. When to Seek Help If you find that your negative thinking and anxiety have become overwhelming, it may be time to consult with a mental health provider. Anxiety may become worse over time, so tackling these feelings as soon as possible can be helpful. A therapist can help you to work through these issues and develop cognitive behavioral strategies to assist in dealing with your thoughts. Your therapist can also make referrals when needed, giving you access to additional treatment options. Your doctor or therapist may recommend medications along with psychotherapy. A Word From Verywell It is also important to remember that while many experts believe that your thoughts influence how you feel and how you behave, this does not mean that your thoughts are solely behind your troubling symptoms. There are often biological, environmental, and other causes contributing to your mental health condition, which can best be diagnosed and treated with the help of a healthcare professional. Find Relief With the 7 Best Online Anxiety Support Groups 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Wenzel A. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology. SAGE Publications; 2017. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Anxiety disorders. Reviewed December 2017. Richter J, Hamm AO, Pané-Farré CA, et al. Dynamics of defensive reactivity in patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia: Implications for the etiology of panic disorder. Biol Psychiatry. 2012;72(6):512-520. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.03.035 Kaczkurkin AN, Foa EB. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2015;17(3):337-346. Eagleson C, Hayes S, Mathews A, Perman G, Hirsch CR. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in generalized anxiety disorder. Behav Res Ther. 2016;78:13-8. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017 Magee JC, Harden KP, Teachman BA. Psychopathology and thought suppression: A quantitative review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2012;32(3):189-201. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.01.001 Marchetti I, Koster EHW, Klinger E, Alloy LB. Spontaneous thought and vulnerability to mood disorders: The dark side of the wandering mind. Clin Psychol Sci. 2016;4(5):835-857. doi:10.1177/2167702615622383 Bystritsky A, Khalsa SS, Cameron ME, Schiffman J. Current diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. P T. 2013;38(1):30-57. Additional Reading van Tuijl LA, Glashouwer KA, Bockting CLH, Tendeiro JN, Penninx BWJH, de Jong PJ. Implicit and explicit self-esteem in current, remitted, recovered, and comorbid depression and anxiety disorders: The NESDA study. PLoS One. 2016;11(11):e0166116. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166116 By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Panic Disorder Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.