If you struggle with anxiety, you’ve likely found yourself stuck in an anxious thought loop. You know what we mean. When one worried thought leads to another and another. Maybe you saw something on TV or read an online article about something upsetting. Now, you’re just doom-scrolling through the entire internet with your thoughts running wild. It’s a lot, and anxious thinking can overwhelm us really fast. Let’s start with a deep breath. Okay, now, let’s review a quick, five step cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercise you can do at home any time you’re struggling to stop anxious thinking.
Step 1 – Identify the Source of Your Anxiety
First and foremost, where did this get started? Really consider and identify what you’re worrying about. Think about the answers to the following questions:
- Did something happen to you to trigger anxious thinking?
- Did you see something on TV or on the web?
- Okay, so, what did this triggering event get you worried about?
- Are you concerned about your finances, your health, your loved ones?
Step 2 – Explore the Likelihood of Your Worst Case Scenario Thinking
Alright, now that you’ve pinpointed what you’re worried about, let’s really catastrophize. What is the absolute worst thing that can happen if what you’re worrying about comes true? Do you have that worst case scenario in mind? Okay, so answer the following questions:
- Have you made similar predictions/worried about this in the past?
- What has happened in the past when you worried about this?
- Is there anything you can do (besides worrying) to prevent what you’re concerned about?
- Do you have methods of coping if the wore case scenario happens?
Step 3 – Consider the Best Case Scenario
You may be feeling even more stressed now that you’ve been really diving deep and thinking about the worst case scenario, so let’s go in the opposite direction by answering the following questions:
- What is the best possible outcome?
- How would you feel if this best case scenario happened?
- re there steps you could take to get closer to a best case scenario?
Step 4 – Determine the Most Likely Scenario
Now that we’ve thought through the extremes, let’s find the most likely scenario. In most cases, it’s somewhere between the best and worst case scenario. Actually, many people find that the thing they’re fixated on isn’t likely to impact them very much at all. Consider the answers to the following questions:
- When you’ve experienced this or similar worries in the past, what was the outcome?
- Have you seen other people in similar situations? What happened to them?
- Are there steps you could take to get closer to a best case scenario?
Step 5 – Calculate the Costs of Continuing to Worry
Finally, now that you’ve explored best, worst, and most likely scenarios, it’s time to consider the potential negative consequences of continuing to focus on the anxiety-causing issue. Answer the following questions:
- Does worrying about these things impact your own wellbeing?
- Does anxiety keep you up at night?
- Does it cause you to feel sick?
- Are your relationships being negatively impacted by worrying?
- Is your career suffering?
Bonus Step – Talk it Out with a Therapist
Still feel stuck in your negative thinking or find yourself getting repeatedly triggered into anxious thought cycles throughout the day? We get it. At the Center for CBT in New York City, we partner with people who are dealing with anxiety to help them learn exercises like this one that give them back control over their anxiety. When you’re ready to start feeling less anxious, let’s talk. Get in touch with our team using our online scheduling request form.