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.
- 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.
- 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!” (You’ll probably want to do this part in private.) Let your mind relax and go blank for about one minute. If the thought intrudes, shout, “Stop!” again. Say the positive substitution statements and affirmations you identified in step 2 above aloud. Repeat these substitutions for about three minutes. Try to visualize your success in the stressful situation as you repeat your thought substitutions.
- Important Considerations.
In order for thought stopping to be effective, you will need to 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. If you find that your stressful thoughts are becoming more frequent or if the exercise is producing increased anxiety, discontinue and talk to your doctor or therapist.