Home > Health Library > Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts
having too much fear and worry. Some people have what's called generalized
anxiety disorder. They feel worried and stressed about many things. Often they
worry about even small things. Some people also may have
panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden feeling of
People who have
social anxiety disorder worry that they will do or say
the wrong thing and embarrass themselves around others.
can cause physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat and sweaty hands. It can make
you limit your activities and can make it hard to enjoy your life.
Healthy thinking can help you prevent or control anxiety.
The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about
yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head.
Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not
The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Look at what you're saying to yourself. Does
the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true.
Or it may be partly true but exaggerated.
One of the best ways
to see if you are worrying too much is to look at the odds. What are the odds,
or chances, that the bad thing you are worried about will happen? If you have a
job review that has one small criticism among many compliments, what are the
odds that you really are in danger of losing your job? The odds are probably
There are several kinds of irrational thoughts. Here are a
few types to look for:
The next step is to choose a helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts
is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or
unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember
them at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so that you can write down
any thoughts as they happen. Then write down helpful messages to correct the
If you do this every day, accurate, helpful
thoughts will soon come naturally to you.
But there may be some
truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to
work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write
that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.
If you want, you also could write down what kind of irrational thought
you had. Journal entries might look something like this:
Stop your negative thought
Ask what type of negative thought you had
Choose an accurate, helpful thought
"I get so nervous speaking in
public. I just know that people are thinking about how bad I am at
"I'm probably better at public speaking
than I think I am. The last time I gave a talk, people applauded
"I have to be in control all the
time or I can't cope with things."
"I can only control how I think about things
or what I do. I can't control some things, like how other people feel and
"I'll never feel normal. I
worry about everything all the time."
"I've laughed and relaxed before. I can
practice letting go of my worries."
"My headaches must mean there
is something seriously wrong with me."
"A lot of things can cause headaches. Most
of them are minor and go away."
Other Works Consulted
Hart SL, Hart TA (2010). The future of cognitive behavioral interventions within behavioral medicine. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 24(4): 344–353.
Layous K et al. (2011). Delivering happiness: Translating positive psychology intervention research for treating major and minor depressive disorders. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(8): 675–683.
Lightsey OR, et al. (2012). Can positive thinking reduce negative affect? A test of potential mediating mechanisms. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26(1): 71–88.
McKay M, et al. (2011). Changing patterns of limited thinking. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 27–45. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
McKay M, et al. (2011). Coping with panic. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 85–104. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
McKay M, et al. (2011). Uncovering automatic thoughts. In Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life, 4th ed., pp. 15–25. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Newman CF, Beck AT (2009). Cognitive therapy. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol 2., pp. 2857–2873. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of:
August 3, 2012
Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health & Sue Barton, PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health
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