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What is Thought Stopping and How Does It Work?

Reduce Anxiety by Using Thought Stopping


Updated May 23, 2014

Panic disorder, and the anticipatory anxiety symptoms that often accompany it, can get in the way of living a full, peaceful and happy life. When panic (anxiety) attacks occur, the physical symptoms are often frightening and confusing. This, in turn, leads to thoughts that are focused on worry and doubt. You may become unsure of what you are able to do in the midst of these symptoms, or you may be convinced that you must avoid certain activities altogether. You may quickly become inundated with a chain of worrisome and negative repetitive thoughts that fill your mind throughout the day.

Many experts believe that your thoughts influence how you feel and how you behave. For example, if your thoughts are focused on worry or doubt, you may begin to feel a sense of helplessness, anxiousness or a lack of confidence. Your behaviors then mirror your feelings. You avoid trying new things or you don’t participate in the things you once enjoyed. This does not mean that your thoughts are solely behind your troubling symptoms. There are biological, environmental and other causes contributing to your illness.

What Is Thought Stopping?

One effective and quick technique to help you with 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.

Why Thought Stopping Works

The principles of why thought stopping works are pretty straight forward. Interrupting bothersome and unnecessary thoughts with a “stop” command serves as a reminder and a distraction. Phobic and obsessive thoughts tend to ruminate or repeat in your mind. 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 from damaging repetitive thought habits.

Using the thought stopping technique can 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 too, will healthy and beneficial thoughts — but in a much better way, of course!

Detailed instructions about how to perform thought stopping are provided in this easy thought stopping exercise.


Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. and McKay, M. “The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 5th Edition. 2000 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

McKay, M., Davis, M. and Fanning P. “Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life. 1997 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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