What is Thought Stopping and How Does It Work?

A cognitive-behavioral technique to replace 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 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.

In addition, 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.

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. 

If you find that your negative thinking and anxiety have become out-of-control, 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:

Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. and McKay, M. The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 6th Edition. 2008 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

McKay, M., Davis, M. and Fanning P. Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life," 3rd ed., 2007 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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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