Thought Stopping to Avoid Panic and Anxiety

This controversial technique suggests stopping negative thinking

Thought stoping techniques.
Thought stopping may help you get relief from negative thoughts. Fotosearch/Getty Images

When panic (anxiety) attacks occur, the physical symptoms are often frightening and confusing. This, in turn, 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 avoid participating in activities you once enjoyed.

 

What Is Thought Stopping?

One technique that some people use to help with the intrusive negative thoughts and worry that often accompany panic disorder and anxiety 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.

Principles Behind Thought Stopping

The principles of why thought stopping work are pretty straightforward. 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.

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 too, will healthy and beneficial thoughts—but in a much better way, of course.

Thought Stopping May Not Work for You

Thought-stopping can be an effective self-help 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 coming rushing out at once. 

Most psychologists don't recommend thought stopping for patients since it's believed the thought rebounding that can occur is more damaging that 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 just stop thinking bad thoughts.

If you find that your negative thinking and anxiety have become overwhelming, it may be time to consult with a treatment provider. A therapist can help you to work through these issues and develop more cognitive behavioral strategies to assist in dealing with your thoughts. Additionally, your therapist can make referrals when needed, giving you access to additional treatment options.

 

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 biological, environmental, and other causes contributing to your illness, which can best be sorted out by a healthcare professional. 

Sources:

Leahy, R. "Why Thought Stopping Doesn't Work" Psychology Today, July 2010.

Otte C. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the Evidence. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011 Dec;13(4):413-21.

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