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4 Steps to beating anxious thoughts

Wisdom says you can’t feel your way to good thoughts but you can think your way to good feelings.

Let me illustrate.

Imagine I have a deadline to meet, my taxes are due and I’ve done just about anything else instead of that work.

I feel just rotten everytime I think about it. If I follow that feeling, letting it mushroom, it sounds like this in my head:

You’ve left it too late.

You don’t know what you are doing anyway.

What makes you think you can run a business when you aren’t good at admin?

You should never have attempted something so ambitious.

Your business will fail.

There is no point in opening the tax files.

But what if the same feeling is responded to with true thoughts?

You’ve left it too late…I have, but I can at least make a start to it now instead of waiting longer.

You don’t know what you are doing…Sure, it would be unreasonable to expect I’d understand business tax without training. I’m on new territory and need help. This is why I asked a good friend and CA to be on my board. I’m going to schedule a call with him to ask any questions that come up now.

It takes some effort to retrain our brains. The longer we have had the habit of following a feeling wherever it leads, the harder it is to respond differently.

Habits are like hardened mud ruts that prevent us from steering out of them.

But our brains have NEUROPLASTICITY! If we are prepared to do the work of retraining our thinking patterns we get to make new ruts that will prevent negative thoughts just as powerfully as they enforced them before .

Encourage your child to try this four step response to anxiety


Some experts seem to encourage deep breathing as the magic bullet we need against anxiety - others imply that our best defence is in the mind not the body.

In my mind, stopping and taking a couple of deep breaths is a good first step.

The research shows:

  • breathing connects our brains and bodies: we are going to need both to ease the worried thoughts and the uncomfortable physical symptoms;

  • breathing slows down the escalation of feelings and panicked thoughts, making us more mindful and less reactive;

  • breathing triggers the ‘relaxation response’ which can neutralise all the neurochemicals that the amygdala sends into the body (Read Fight or flight from Paper Tigers: What Anxiety looks and feels like).

Karen Young, from Hey Sigmund, makes the crucial point that we must first practice deep breathing when we are calm to be able to do it when we are anxious.

She suggests simply breathing in for 3 counts, hold for 1, then slowly out for 3 hold for one and repeating that four or five times.

STEP 2: Think about your thoughts

I used to have a sign up in my classroom declaring the ACRONYM THINK

T - Is it true

H-Is it helpful

I-Is it inspiring (does it fit with what I like and want)

N- is it necessary

K- Is it kind

Some unhelpful, untruthful thoughts include:

Red Thoughts

Natasha Daniels explains that thoughts plant seeds of doubt and bring anxiety even when they are not true. Thoughts like “I can’t help worrying” is an example of such a thought.

‘What if’ Thoughts

We seldom ponder good ‘what if’ outcomes and they are not helpful with the choices we must make right now. Better to trash them, Natasha says.

Future Worries

Concerns about my future aren’t necessary right now. Natasha says we can give ourselves permission to worry about them later and therefore have the energy to focus on what is more pressing.

STEP THREE: Respond firmly and quickly

A quick firm green thought can defuse the untruthful unhelpful red thoughts. The trick is to get good at responding quickly. The longer we entertain untruthful, unhelpful thoughts the harder they are to defuse.

A GREEN THOUGHT response to ‘I can’t help worrying” might be; “It is hard for me not to worry but it doesn't make it impossible”. (See how this kind of thought accepts the anxiety but acknowledges that that doesn’t leave a person with anxiety without options.)

It’s important for you and me not to swoop in as parents and suggest green thoughts. We want to help our kids discover which thoughts change the direction of their thought patterns and choose to think those.

STEP 4: Get out of there (get distracted)

When a child manages to breathe, examine his thoughts and throw back a firm, quick green thought, it's important not to wait for more red thoughts!

Get out of there by getting distracted.

Natasha recommends that during a time of calm your child lists a number of things that are deeply calming, distracting and maybe a little mindless like reading an easy novel, watching Netflix or doing some engaging exercise.

By itself distraction is not enough to fight anxiety. If Step 4 was our only step it would be like putting a piece of tape over the flashing fuel light on our dash. But after a quick response to emerging anxiety, distraction can be just the ticket to move our minds and hearts onto something else.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to my conversation with Natasha this month why not do so now? Natasha can be found on Her parent training workshops are wonderful and your children might like the youtube video content she creates for them.

I also recommend the great videos for kids and teenagers on to help understand and tackle anxiety.

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