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An Anxiety Trick

Lauren Bacall

The other night, after climbing into bed, my mind started whirring. One of the boys had a situation that was worrying me, work was especially busy and generalized anxiety was doing its thing. Then I remembered something…

In my twenties, I had seen a therapist for a few months, and she was so, so wise. One of the many pieces of advice she had given me? When my thoughts started going in circles and obsessing, and those worst-case-scenarios were escalating, I should picture a big red stop sign in my mind. STOP!

Just… STOP.

So, I tried the trick, and it really helped. How simple yet genius is that? Somehow having a visual cue can jolt you out of your thought process. I’ve used it a dozen times since then, when trying to fall asleep or walking around town or whenever I need to just shut my damn brain off. I wanted to pass this along to anyone else who wants to try it!

P.S. Wise words.

(Photo of Lauren Bacall by Nina Leen, 1945. Graphic design by Diana Moss.)

  1. This sounds so simple and trivial but it does absolutely work.

  2. Such simple, but wonderful advice. Thank you for this reminder!

  3. Sam says...

    I went to a mindfulness workshop just last night & we learnt about STOP :

    Stop
    Take a breath
    Observe
    Proceed

    Look up the STOP practice X

  4. Devon says...

    This type of visualization is great. A therapist once also told me when I had irrational or simply unhelpful, anxious thoughts to imagine them like weeds, then imagine myself plucking them one by one and tossing them away. It’s always helped calm me.

  5. Jane says...

    I tell myself :

    it doesn’t exist.

    Because it’s just a thought, it is not real, it simply doesn’t exist !

  6. Margaret says...

    Thanks for talking about this. One trick my therapist gave me was to schedule a time to think about, and write down, whatever I’m anxious about. Like 4pm on Tuesday. It really helps during busy times when my general anxieties are floating around with actual tasks that need doing and decisions that need to be made, and I don’t feel like I can “turn off” my thoughts without something important slipping through the cracks. But if I don’t at least pause the thoughts, they interfere with work or sleep or having fun. And the writing it out helps because it becomes pretty clear which items (dripping sink, finish work memo) can be dealt with, and which (what if it rains on my outdoor wedding, what if someone I love gets sick) are out of your (and your obsessive thoughts’) control.

  7. SLK says...

    When my mind won’t stop spinning over a certain situation, my trick is to tell myself that I get one more time to run mentally through all the issues. Once I’ve completed that final time, that’s it. I’m not allowed to dwell on it anymore. If my mind tries to go back to it, I tell myself that it’s not allowed because that one last chance was used. Also, I learned from somewhere a few years ago to say a simple prayer asking God to give me traction to get out of the mental rut I’m in.

  8. Lucy says...

    I definitely needed to read this today. I have a work problem that I won’t whether it will be solved for another ten days so I will be using this technique every night until then!

  9. I have a wonderful anti anxiety tool my sister taught me. If we eat junk food all day every day, we feel awful. Similarly if we feed our minds a constant stream of negative morsels, we will feel awful. So here’s the tool: at night when you put your head on your pillow think of three things you did that day that made you laugh or feel happy, proud or positive. Such a simple, yet healing bedtime ritual.

  10. Emily S. says...

    I also struggle with anxiety and love your very real (and somehow for me, always timely) posts about it. I recently went to see a therapist for my anxiety. Her advice for the same situation: think to yourself, “it’s just a thought.” Seems so simple but it really helps. Xoxo

  11. I would look at others who were laughing and smiling and wondered to myself, why would I be anxious when everyone else is having a good time? A bit of mind control works for me.

  12. SL says...

    Just recently, I was very anxious for 2 wks in a new job, which resulted in vertigo spells and cold fingertips. Then I saw something on TV where this wise person was asked if they were anxious about winning, and she replied ‘Will worrying help?’ That’s when it dawned on me.

    Being anxious for a job task won’t help the task be any easier or faster to resolve. Being anxious before a flight will not affect the pilot’s judgement, or improve the weather fluctuations. This was a revelation for the practical me. It’s no use getting anxious, the situation or problem is out of our hands usually. Just deal with it as it comes. And the generalized anxiety went down.

  13. You need to read the book my mom wrote! She is a therapist and wrote an entire book using the mental image of a stoplight. It’s called “Stop Breathe Believe.”

    It’s a combination of mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and utilizing breathing techniques. Highly recommend though I am a biased proud daughter.

    https://www.amazon.com/Stop-Breathe-Believe-Mindful-Thought/dp/1499169442/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1471152430&sr=8-1&keywords=stop+breathe+believe

  14. juliea says...

    ha, I have a similar technique when my (night time) mind is buzzing with imagined worse case scenarios and general stress/problems and so on. I imagine all the thoughts in a room (in my brain I guess) and I slam the door closed on them. Sort of closing them off. Then I tell myself to leave them alone and not open the door. It actually helps.

  15. Lillian says...

    I deal with anxiety everyday (both outright fear and general worry) and used to binge eat to take the edge off, but 6 years ago I began a 12 step program that changed everything. There I learned something very similar to STOP and that is that I can’t think my way out of anxiety. However, I’ve found that writing and taking action always works. If I catch myself ruminating, I try to pause (or get up out of bed if it’s in the middle of the night) and write out what’s on my mind. Once I have what I’m future tripping about on paper and am essentially looking at it head on, I do a little meditation acknowledging that I’m not in control and that I’m going to act as if something greater than myself (what they call a “higher power” in the 12 step program) has totally got this. I “act as if” by doing the next right thing (taking the next step whether it be something mundane like doing the dishes or something more directly related to what I’m worrying about) and letting the end result unfold.
    I’ve found that the combination of surrendering the big picture and showing up 100% for what is right in front of me has made all the difference. I will probably always deal with anxiety but I’m so grateful to be moving forward in spite of it and have gained an incredible sense of mastery knowing that I’m doing what’s within my power and that is enough.

  16. Ha! Who would’ve thought it would be that simple. I’m going to give this one a go next time and see what happens :)

    Christina | http://www.cuddlepill.com

  17. kate says...

    Thank you! I needed this now! I come to your site when im feeling anxious. Reading random things helps me; but today i really needed firm advice.
    Thank you

  18. I’ve never heard of this technique but I’m going to try it. My anxiety usually hits late at night, too. My best technique to combat it is to make a gratitude list in my head of ten things I’m grateful for that happened that day. It’s so calming and really keeps my perspective in check. I’m usually asleep before I’ve reached ten things!

  19. Jami says...

    YES! I was so surprised when this actually worked for me. I thought my anxiety was super special and resistant to simple fixes (don’t we all?) but the good ol’ stop sign is actually an enormous help.

  20. Kaitlin says...

    A similar trick that I use, particularly useful for children (and children at heart), is to give your anxiety a name and then tell it that is should go away. I try to visual my anxiety (his name is Alexander…like Alexander and the Terribly Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) walking away and closing the door behind it.

    It’s interesting how we all have different tricks that work for us, many of which are quite similar. <3

  21. Kathryn says...

    Thank you for talking about anxiety! It’s something I struggle to talk about with my friends because it feels so personal and scary, but it’s something I feel we should be more open about so that we can normalize it and de-stigmatize. It feels nice to know there are so many others that are in the same boat. Thanks so much for making anxiety part of the conversation!

  22. Heather says...

    Brilliant and simple.

    I’ve used this little graphic many, many times since first seeing it.

    It really helps me breathe slower and focus.

    http://i.imgur.com/gHqs9mU.gifv

  23. Mallory says...

    My therapist used to tell me the exact same thing! Outline the letters in your head, picture the setting in as much details as possible, the anxiety melts away! Glad you are sharing this technique on a larger platform!

  24. That’s great. It’s also good to switch the channel, like you do when you are watching tv and you don’t like what you are watching. Imagine you are holding the remote control and you change the channel. Your thoughts being tv channels. With the stop sign you’d turn off the tv, maybe that’s even better, ha!

    Alina
    http://www.eclecticalu.blogspot.com

  25. Chantel says...

    Joanna, I seem to remember a post of yours from years ago that recommended the phrase, “this is not a story I need to tell myself” in moments of anxiety when your mind is running away on you. I’ve used it countless times and it works really well!

  26. Madeline says...

    I will NEVER forget when you wrote the post about picturing your life as the Grand Canyon. Changed my life! Thank you for always being so inspiring Jo!

  27. Maria says...

    Thank you so much for this! Lately my anxiety has been trying to come back and I need every piece of advise I can get to stop that from happening!!

  28. conny says...

    Ok…you just brought up, a matter, which before being a mother, did not even knew a parent could feel. Sometimes I get anxious when my daughter has some kind of issue, as she does not have “real” friends, or isn’t part of a group at school. This takes up a lot of my mind and many sleepless nights. My question: How should we as parents deal with that? Do we have to get involve or just leave them “learn a lesson” and get hurt, but for a greater purpose…I really have no idea, but would love to hear your opinion or other parents´.

  29. Laura C says...

    Thank you so much Jo. I really needed this at this very moment. How do you deal with anxiety when it is caused by others?
    My therapist is helping a lot with EMDR, and she has told me to meditate and br mindful, but it is very difficult at the beggining. My mind is soo full of “dirt” that I find very difficult to meditate.
    The worst of all is, how do you deal with anxiety when your husband does not believes in therapies and depression issues? I feel so alone in this.
    Thank you Jo and thank you readers for your helpful and lovely comments.
    Xoxo

  30. Steph says...

    Thank you.

  31. Lynn M says...

    Thank you for this!!!

  32. I constantly deal with chronic anxiety. Now more than ever. You have confine you thoughs in a space and keep traped there anf instead of hoping and praying for them to end try to go right through them ad solve them. If not it works out. Im learning that mok and more. Its so tiring to overthink.

  33. Janine Laiden says...

    This post is a shining example of why I love this blog so much. Thank you.

  34. Twyla says...

    I love reading everyone’s coping skills – I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of anxiety (some of it real and some of it imagined). I do a mental visualization that seems a little silly – but totally works for me. I imagine I’m standing on my favourite ocean beach, in a bathing suit and with a big margarita in my hand – totally in vacation mode. In front of me in the sand is a gigantic wooden catapult. I take whatever or whomever is stressing me out and set them on it – usually they’re belittling me or berating me as I do it. I hear all the words that make me sick with anxiety. I take a big sip of my margarita and push the lever with my foot – that problem or person goes flying a million feet out to sea and lands with a gigantic splash. I always smile at this point and just sit and enjoy the mental stillness. It works every time!

    • Brittany says...

      I am going to have to try this because your visualization is just amazing.

    • Julia says...

      Makes me smile as I read it. I know instantly who I would like to place on this catapult!

    • Theresa says...

      Love this!

  35. Julie says...

    I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was in my teens. I’ve come to just accept it and deal with it as it comes. If I feel any sort of panic or excessive anxiety/worry trying to take over, i find a quiet place (sometimes not physically, but in my mind if I have to) and focus on something completely mundane, such as trying to name all the countries, or girls’ names starting with the letter M. It slows my breathing and gives me a chance to recenter myself.

  36. Christie says...

    I have anxiety too, and last night I was having anxious thoughts and did the same thing as you Jo! Instead of the visual cue I said to myself ‘Just think about something else’.

    I try to remind myself that I’m in charge of my own thoughts and feelings, and if my thoughts are dark they don’t HAVE to be – just stop and think about something that makes me happy.

    Not a solution for all anxiety of course, but it works for me most of the time. :)

  37. I find this poem so very comforting, perhaps some of you will as well:
    The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    As an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

  38. I was good until the beginning of this week. The impending doom of school start for my TWO high schoolers….a freshman and a senior. No reason to freak but there I was….repeatedly waking up at 4:30am.

  39. Sydni says...

    So weird how we forget that we shouldn’t worry… Have to remind ourselves.

  40. Kelley says...

    I’ve been doing something similar lately. When my brain’s spinning like that and I’m going downwards, I just tell myself that I’m no good to anyone if I’m exhausted in the morning…that its not doing me or anyone else in my life any good to lay there and stew. So I just tell myself to stop. And if I really can’t sleep, I get up and work on something constructive. It helps.

    I’ve found that since having my two kids, my anxiety is more manageable. I think its because they need me to be as well slept and as present as possible . Part of my brain kicks in and just knows that I’m the adult in the room now and have to be there for them, so I try to take better care of myself to take care of them. It still creeps in, but its better. Five years of therapy probably helped too:)

  41. Hannah L says...

    I started dealing with anxiety and panic attacks after the birth of my first child. By ‘started dealing’ I mean, I learned that it’s been an issue for me for a long time, but I never had the categories or vocabulary to articulate it as anything other than my norm.
    A traumatic birth was the catalyst in revealing past untreated traumas and all the fallout from them that I had bottled up sooo tight.
    A few ‘self help’ things have helped, like yoga, supplements(magnesium and Vitamin D specifically–many chronic anxiety sufferers are drastically deficient in one or both of these nutrients and deficiency creates a vicious cycle of anxiety and physical depression), and traditional talk therapy.
    Deep rhythmic breathing, and journaling also have made a difference.
    It is sooo encouraging to read how others deal with their similar issues! Anxiety can feel so isolating! And it’s anything but isolated.

  42. My anxiety recently decided to come out of hibernation and it sucks! It’s so darn exhausting! I hate that I’m aware of it & realize some of my thoughts/worries are lame, but still can’t shake it off. Lately I’ll tell myself It’s Okay to Not be Okay—i don’t have to in a happy mood every day all day.

    Xo Lendy
    http://www.twoplusluna.com

  43. Thank you so much for bringing this up! I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. The first time I experienced anxiety, I was in high school. I suddenly had panic attacks and then started to avoid situations so I wouldn’t feel this dreadful feeling again. But when my phobia started to impact my travelling abroad, it started to really bother me and something happened. One day, I said to myself “NO, this is it, I am so tired of it, I won’t let it control my life”. It was like finding a magic switch and from that moment on, I realized that you can have power over your thoughts and that anxiety doesn’t have to own you. I am still struggling with anxiety (every now and then it lurks right before bedtime), but then I always try to remember that I have the power within me to tame this creature and I will say something like that ” OK, here you go again, I hear you but I won’t let you ruin my life and waste my energy on you. Thank you”

  44. Jules says...

    I like this tip & have heard it before & I am enjoying reading other people’s tips too!

    Recently, I was worrying about something kind of ridiculous & my husband said ‘well, I know you need something to worry about’. That really struck me & made me think. There is always something I’m worried about whether it’s worth worrying about or is just my mind getting out of control. Since then, I’ve tried to be very conscious about it & am trying to do better!

  45. trisha says...

    wow, it’s as if you knew i needed this bit of info TODAY.
    thank you

  46. Lina says...

    Look up the DARE respond, it is a life changing protocol for anxiety. Not affiliate or anything just that after a few years of therapy, discussing the possibility of going back to taking medication it has put a quite different perspective. My therapist whom I meet every two weeks didn’t schedule an appointment he said come back when you feel like it. ;0)

  47. Rachel says...

    One of the most powerful anxiety tricks I’ve ever found, taught to me by my father: “You can’t worry when you’re counting your blessings.” And it’s true!

    • Julie says...

      I love this! Thanks!

    • Leah says...

      How wonderful. What a wise father.

  48. Kate says...

    When I’m worrying about the little things, I sometimes stop and ask myself: ‘Will I remember this when I’m 90?’ Usually, the answer is a big fat no! Then I can just move on with my thoughts.

  49. Mara says...

    I have suffered from anxiety most of my life — the worst of which occurs when my head hits the pillow, or when I have a slow period at work I take to Googling my anxieties (recent terrorism, plane crashes, car accidents,etc). I do however find it SO helpful to remember to acknowledge that anxieties are there, but not indulging in them (by Googling!). My therapist would always say, “Look at the DATA. What data tells you that that will happen?” and by verbalizing all the bits of “data” that show it’s likely to not happen, I can calm down tremendously. BIG fan of therapy for anxiety — if you have been suffering a while, please seek out someone that can give you coping tips. I’m a bit fan of journaling, too! Once I get pen to paper I can sleep better and wake up feeling mentally cleared.

  50. Emily says...

    I love this discussion & advice!

    Almost every night before I go to bed I’ll think of a nonsense “what if” scenario to distract myself from anxiety & worrying but so I do have something to think about. What would I wear to tea with the Queen? What if everything in the world was the color blue? What would it be like to be a squirrel?

    Sometimes my husband thinks of them for me and then asks me in the morning what I came up with. And if I fall asleep quickly, I can recycle the same what if the next night, or add onto it.

    The key is something silly enough that it doesn’t stress me out but interesting enough that it’s truly distracting.

    • Gabrielle says...

      This is genius and such a light headed way to deal with the darkness of anxiety. Thank you!

  51. Katherine says...

    Going to therapy regularly helps me a lot. Just knowing that there is a designated time and place for me to talk about my worries helps keep them from invading the rest of my life. I can kind of mentally shelve it, because I will talk about them on Tuesdays at 4.

    My therapist has a really lovely thing that she suggested. She believes that a lot of our anxiety and worries come from our inner child, or a very childlike place–but we don’t treat those worries and anxieties with softness, but rather we are hard on ourselves and frustrated when we have them. She has me keep a picture of myself from when I was really young on my phone, and when I start to get too anxious or upset I look at my little self and imagine how I would comfort that little worried girl, and how I’d try to both listen to her fears but also soothe her. It’s a trick that really helps me be gentle with myself xo

    • Eliza says...

      What a sweet idea! I love that.

  52. Echo says...

    Thanks for the great tip Joanna! A friend of mine was in counseling for PTSD, and his counselor told him that when his mind went back to the stressful scene, to pause it in his mind like a movie. Next, take that frozen image and turn it sideways & upside down, make it bigger and smaller. This helped him disassociate from the story and see that he had control over it. It always stayed with me :)

    • Twyla says...

      Great suggestion!

  53. Nikki says...

    This might make me sound like a total nerd, but I always get anxiety right before I try to go to sleep which makes it so hard to fall asleep/makes me anxious about going to bed, so I listen to Harry Potter audio books on my iPod. It’s honestly perfect – I already know the stories so they don’t keep me up, but they’re interesting enough to distract me, Stephen Fry’s voice is soo soothing, and the best part is that I can keep my eyes closed (actually, it’s easier to pay attention to the story with my eyes closed in the dark!), so I eventually fall asleep. Distraction is the best way for me, personally, to deal with my anxiety, but sometimes even that doesn’t work. So, it helps me to recognize that there’s nothing I can do about a situation at that given moment (like I said, anxiety always strikes when I’m lying in bed for some reason!), and that helps calm me. I’ll be freaking out and just think to myself, “you can’t do anything about it right now,” put in my headphones, crank up some Chamber of Secrets, and eventually get some sleep.

  54. Dawn says...

    This post reminded me when I gave handmade Guatamalan worry dolls to my daughter and niece when they were little to ward off the ‘worries’. They would tell their dolls their troubles at the end of the day to get them ‘out’ of their minds before sleep. Maybe this may work for adults too on some level or form?

  55. sarah says...

    Great discussion!
    I love the stop sign idea because it is IMMEDIATE. And the more you employ that technique, the more aware you will be of mounting anxiety.

    I love any and all mindfulness tips and tricks and I can’t wait to read through the comments…. Here’s a great one I heard recently…

    Whenever your mind is spinning and you want to get it to stop:
    Notice 5 things you can see
    Notice 4 things you can hear
    Notice 3 things you can feel
    Notice 2 things you can smell
    Notice 1 taste

    I do it with my kids too…It really forces you to be AWARE of your five senses and it takes a few minutes to actually think about each one.

  56. Writing things down and prayer both help me tremendously! Also, exercising is a must or I will notice I am losing my mind every other week.

    Praying for you Joanna. Thank you for being so open.

  57. Lana says...

    The woman who was watching my kids for a few weeks this summer recently showed my six-year-old a scary movie. For about a week my daughter has been petrified to go to bed, so two nights ago I put on the Little House audio books. She gets so wrapped up in the story that she forgets all of the other things whirring around in her brain. I can only imagine it doing the same for adults and sometimes kid-lit is so perfectly simple that it might be better than adult books on audio.

  58. Rosie says...

    I also love the trick of counting backwards from 100… By 7s! nothing gets you to stop worrying like mental math!

  59. Shannon says...

    I read an article somewhere – quite possibly from one of your links – that shared the wisdom of telling yourself “you know nothing” when anxiety starts spinning. I love it and I use it often. I also share it with my students at work. Something about telling myself that I know nothing about whatever I’m worrying about is very liberating. Take that and that, Anxiety!

  60. I’ve been battling a lot with anxiety this year and this really helped me: I bought a beautiful journal and face two blank pages every morning. On the left hand page I write down all my stresses, disappointments. After I have ’emptied those out,’ I write about everything I am grateful for and things I am excited for in the future, filling the negative space with positive thoughts!

  61. Why not? I’m going to try it. I could use it right now.

  62. Erin G. says...

    Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I remember or read aloud Deepak Chopra’s law of detachment… something about it is so soothing when I am in a spiral of making outrageous future predictions based on the current state because that’s preferable to uncertainty.

    The law reads essentially: Allow yourself and others the freedom to be as they are. Do not force solutions – allow solutions to spontaneously emerge. Uncertainty is essential and your path to freedom.

    Side note: part of my anxiety included an element of feeling guilty for having such “ridiculous” thought patterns. Recognizing and addressing them without being hostile to oneself and accepting the tendency (while still challenging it!) makes me feel better.

  63. I love that! It’s funny, I was recently trying to remind myself of how I used to stop my frequent bad dreams when I was a kid. I loved the Care Bears, and whenever something bad was happening in my dream I willed them onto the scene and they lined up and used their powers to take out the bad guy. It worked every time! The STOP sign might be a good replacement for my adult life :)

  64. Catherine says...

    Everyone has such great ideas!! Reading all of these suggestions has been awesome. Thank you for writing such an important post. It’s really nice to know that each of us is not alone in our struggle to alleviate our anxiety.

  65. Blaire says...

    My yoga instructor once told me while trying to meditate and clear my head to treat and visualize all my thoughts, worries and conversations as cartoon thought bubbles. Take each bubble and pop them. They truly would disappear and deliberately popping them was very empowering

  66. I have had the same issue (understatement). Waking up in the middle of the night was the worst. Sometimes I would just give up and let me mind run through every thought ever. The only thing that has worked for me is exercise. I haven’t had this problem in the two years I’ve been working out.

  67. I came across a technique that’s been super helpful for me—-when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I close my eyes and picture a large, jagged rock in the middle of a turbulent ocean and gradually begin using my mind to make the waves calmer and calmer. I think this was related to something that Marcus Aurelius used to do to calm his nerves.

    • Carrie says...

      I love that!

  68. Kristin says...

    I took away two great tips from the Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. If you’re having ruminating thoughts he suggests putting a distinct or even silly voice (i.e. Bugs Bunny, James Earl Jones) to the thought. And if you’re having awful visions (i.e. plane crash, car accident, etc), which I oftentimes do, turn that vision into a cartoon. Both take the ‘power’ away from the thought/image and make it less fearful. These suggestions have worked wonders for me!

  69. Julie says...

    I have a trick for anticipatory anxiety–like being anxious about an upcoming flight or an interview or a social event. I give myself permission to be anxious but only that day and only a little while beforehand. Knowing that I don’t have to suppress or feel guilty about the anxiety when it’s actually happening lets me totally let go of it in the preceding days. Yes, I’m still anxious for a little while, but it’s usually not for very long and so much better than worrying for days and days beforehand. It’s sort of the procrastinator’s trick for anxiety.

  70. Nataly says...

    My mom would always say: just shake it off! All while making a shoulder shaking it off shimmy type of movement. Hearing her voice and seeing her make that move in my head always helped. I competely forgot about that while going through building up nerves, anxiety and nightmares the last 2 weeks. Thanks for allowing me to remember my mom’s words and for these great suggestions.

  71. deb says...

    thank you for this post and for all the comments…really needed it today :)…

  72. Jules says...

    I think visuals can be so powerful. My friend told me not long ago that when his mom would yell at him growing up, he would picture a rain coat on himself and would let the words “fall down” without touching him. I loved that.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      How beautiful. My friend says she pictures herself in the middle of a glowing pink bubble and the words can’t get through.

    • Katie says...

      I love this! I used to picture God’s hands and place all my worries in them. Even if you’re not religious, the visualization of moving all your stresses into someone else’s hands helps. Let someone else worry about the things keeping you awake. It’s out of your hands.

  73. Haley says...

    My therapist suggested two things I find very helpful.
    1) Reflect on the current situation. Are you actually in any real physical danger at the moment? Likely not – so the fear/anxiety you’re feeling is purely created in your mind. Use this method to let go of the mind tricks and see the moment as it truly is.
    2) Take a few minutes to take slow deep breaths through your nose. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the system that operates your ‘at rest’ functions). It will calm you and lower your heart rate; this is very helpful for anxiety attacks. Mouth breathing only worsens your anxiety as it stimulates your sympathetic nervous systems, or the ‘fight or flight response’.

  74. Alyssa Leister says...

    Totally needed this right now! Had a pretty bad bout of anxiety this morning!

  75. Lauren says...

    I’ve been seeing a grief counselor to deal with grief and PTSD after the unexpected death of my younger sister last year, and she has recommended something that helps me with anxiety. She said to write down the thought/thoughts/worry on a piece of paper, and then to literally place that in a small box somewhere at home. It’s essentially letting yourself get a ‘break’ from the thought- it still exists, it’s out there, but you have it on a shelf for now, and can stop obsessing over it. And you know that it’s there, and is ‘safe’ in a place where you won’t forget about it. It has been helpful. I actually bought some decorative boxes and bowls to decorate my bookshelf, and will sometimes write the worry down and put it in one of those. It’s a ritual to step away from the thoughts. Ruminating on them is the worst, and quickly spirals out of control for me- this helps me put the brakes on. This has helped give me some relief when my anxiety is at its peak!

    • Kate says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Lauren. I’m glad you have found some support!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you so much for your comment. I gave totally had that feeling of not wanting to “forget it” when I’m worried about something — so the advice to write it down makes a lot of sense.

      Also, I’m really sorry to hear about your sister. You must really miss her. Sending a big hug.

    • Eliza says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish you peace and for the bad thoughts to stay in their boxes where they belong.

  76. Anamaria says...

    I suffered from horrible anxiety attacks as a child, and every now and then I still have to deal with anxiety at night. I used to imagine a dumpster and throw all of my bad thoughts away.

    I will definitely try this!

  77. I’ll definitely give this a try next time I’m feeling anxious! Thanks Joanna!

  78. Melissa says...

    I practiced something similar last night when I was irritated with my husband and negative thoughts started spiraling, assuming negative intentions, and I closed my eyes and told myself to STOP. Worked beautifully…

  79. Ingrid says...

    I often am awake for hours with negative thoughts going round and round. I’ll try this. I appreciate the responses as well. Thanks, everyone!

    • Stasha says...

      I love this skit so much!

    • Catherine says...

      Haha, me too! I love that skit!

  80. Robin says...

    My mom (a yoga teacher) always used to tell me to say to myself, on a long exhale: SOOOO WHAT. Breathe it out like a mantra. I always really liked that. She’s a wise woman :)

    • Megan Cahn says...

      I love this! Trying it right now…

    • Love this idea! Definitely will try it too! I took a meditation class, and the teacher told us to use the mantra “So-Hum” which totally reminds me of your So What mantra!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Love this.

  81. I use to suffer from really bad anxiety. It still comes and goes every now and then. I never heard of this technique before! I’m definitely going to try it out :)

    http://www.thebeautydojo.com

  82. Lauren S. says...

    This is actually a trick I used to have one of my second graders use (he had some anger/anxiety issues), and it worked wonders! So glad to hear this as a method for adults, too!

  83. Sil says...

    Thanks for the tip! I’ll try it next time my anxiety arises.

  84. Kellie P. says...

    One thing that really helps me with this is to not do any activity that stimulates the brain — social media, thought-provoking book, even an engaging conversation — for the hour or so before going to bed. Also, exercise. :)

  85. Colleen S says...

    Telling my mind to stop doesn’t work. I have to go to my “happy place,” and hope that works.

  86. Great idea; a few frustrated times I’ve thought “LET IT GO” to try to clear my head, but that just got the song stuck instead ;)

    • Amy says...

      Haha same problem here!

  87. I’ve found that using the Headspace app really helps me. That gentle Aussie accent telling me to breathe deeply and to recognize and release my thoughts is really calming. Just 10 minutes deescalates me from a 7 to a 2!

  88. Lauren says...

    This is a great tip. When my brain is going in circles, sometimes it helps me to literally give myself “permission” to delay thinking about things until the next day. Something about that language really works — it lets me off the hook, and is a helpful reminder that worrying is often unproductive. I’m not going to come up with a solution at 2am.

  89. Sarah says...

    The only thing that has actually helped with my anxiety (after lots of therapy, experimenting with sleep and diet) is exercise. I hate to recommend it, because it’s so hard to find the time and get into a routine. I always have to force myself to do it. But, when I have a good week, and am finding ways to elevate my heart-rate, I can almost literally feel the chemistry changing. I don’t know if it’s reduced cortisol or what, but I feel less strung-up and vigilant, and my mind is quieter.

    • Clara says...

      You are me! Excercise is the absolute best way for me to stay in a good mental state. 30-40 min. of brisk walking, every day if possible (every other day if not) INSTANTLY lifts my mood and calms my mind. It’s amazing. I too actually feel the chemistry of my brain change. It’s the best. I supplement with yoga too, maybe once or twice a week. It’s very relaxing to me.

    • Kellie P. says...

      Totally agree with you! Having two little kids, it’s hard to make time, but I have found that I need to exercise in order to stay calm, so it’s worth it.

    • Clara says...

      Kellie P., same! I also have two little kids. It’s hard to make time but I feel a million times better when I keep at it :)

    • Dawn says...

      I wholeheartedly agree with exercising to alleviate anxiety (and stress). I’m trying to slowly get back to running, because it was one of the only things to tire me out physically + mentally, in a good way, and just really put everything in perspective. Also, yoga worked wonders…

    • Lauren E. says...

      I really hate to exercise but I see a noticeable difference, too, in my moods, my level of tiredness, my appetite, etc when I don’t workout at least twice a week. I’ve started waking up at 6:25 every morning and just waking up that half hour early to sweat it out before getting ready for work makes all the difference. I never wanted to admit it was true, but it is!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Great great great reminder and encouragement. Thank you so much.

    • Sarah says...

      Love this discussion! You know what I did the other day? I was at the park with my kid, and while he ran around, I got on the ground and started doing sit-ups and push-ups. The other parents looked at me like I was nuts, but if my son’s excising, why shouldn’t I!?

  90. Another anxiety tip – Go through the letters of the alphabet and name a fruit for each one. A- Apple, B-Banana, C-Cantaloupe, D-Dragonfruit….etc. My therapist recommended this and it really helped me at night!

    • Caroline says...

      Great tip! I can see this being especially helpful when the anxiety chatter is on a constant loop.

    • I love this trick for when I can’t fall asleep. I usually do it with animals, but fruit is a good idea too…or book titles…lots of options! It’s just hard enough that it distracts, but not interesting enough to keep you awake.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh yes! Good one. I’ve heard this tip with boys and girls names.

  91. Needed this today. Love reading all the comments, too.

  92. I so need this. ;)

  93. Carrie says...

    I’ll have to try this! Essential oils help me a lot! I had a guy quit on me yesterday putting me in a huge bind and I just could not get over it. I was so stung by his actions. I went home and used one of my roller blends and even after a year of using oils, felt shocked at how much it helped to calm my thoughts.

    • Lauren says...

      I want to try using oils, but feel overwhelmed with where to start? do you recommend any certain products/blogs?

    • Carrie says...

      I started with DoTerra and have just stuck with that brand because the oils have proven themselves so effective. Their website has a good amount of information on each oil, and Pinterest has a lot of good info too since it sources from websites all over.

      My anxiety blend is made up of Balance, Serenity (both DoTerra proprietary blends) Vetiver and Lavender. Seriously works so well for me. I apply it topically to my wrists and inhale slowly. It works on the limbic system in the brain which is connected with your breathing, heart rate, hormones, etc.

      I’d recommend starting with Lavender, it’s my favorite :) Aura Cacia has a good Lavender and you can get that in Fred Meyer

    • Lauren says...

      Thanks, Carrie!

  94. I love these types of tricks, they really do help. I do a breathing exercise, breath in for 4, hold for 7 and breath out for 8. It’s supposed to have a tranquilizing effect that gets more effective the more you do it! I can feel it working immediately. The stop sign would be a good complementary exercise.
    I sometimes get caught up in negative self talk, sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it but I can feel my mood shifting. I got good advice from a book called “Super You” which said, just tell that voice to “Shut the f*&# up!”. That works REALLY well! LOL It’s just my inner mean girl who really has no purpose at all, so I shut ‘er down!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hahahaha love that!!!

    • Leah says...

      Your “shut the eff up” is my favorite technique and the one I’m most likely to remember!

  95. I find journaling really helps when I can’t get to sleep. I give myself a 3 page requirement at least – that way you have to get to the bottom of what’s really keeping you up. This is also a great tool if your ever feeling general anxiety anytime because it helps me to get passed whatever negative mantra I’m repeating in my head.

  96. One trick I still use, I read years ago in a Susan Jeffers book. I just say to myself “I’ll handle it.” It makes me feel competent and strong.

  97. Ashley says...

    I’m seeing a therapist right now and the best advice she gave me was to notice and acknowledge the anxiety is there but don’t participate or indulge in the anxiety. I love creating that barrier and giving myself the ok to feel anxious but the praise to not let myself fall into the emotional trap that comes with anxiety.

  98. Anna says...

    My trick in this kind of situation: putting all the thoughts in a big box, locking it up and leaving it on the bottom of the ocean. Then I tell myself: “no more thinking today. You can think about this again tomorrow.“ I find this really helpful

  99. kelly says...

    I do something like this too but picturing Darth Vader’s mask (haha). I am a total crier – commercials, memories, minor tiffs with my fiance, etc. It totally freaks him out when I cry at the drop of a hat and I would get frustrated with myself because it’s not like I’m TRYING to cry! Someone told me to picture Darth Vader whenever I get that face-tingle-thing that I’m going to cry, and every time I do it sort of gives me a calm, steely resolve and I stop feeling that urge. Weird but works!

    • Jules says...

      As a big Star Wars nerd I LOVE THIS!!

    • Carrie says...

      That’s so cute!

  100. Christie says...

    I learned that in therapy a decade ago, as well, when I was having anxiety issues (surrounding the bar exam!). The other night, I read my 5 year old a story that was unexpectedly scary, and he told me he couldn’t stop thinking about it. I gave him this advice. I told him that when his mind wanders to those thoughts to just say “Stop,” and then think of something else I told him he might need to do it a lot, but eventually the thoughts would go away. Later that night, I heard him in his room saying “Stop!” every once in a while. He hasn’t said anything about the scary thoughts since.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my goodness, what a sweetheart! He sounds like a smart and sweet little boy.

  101. Allison says...

    My mom told me about a workshop she took once where they talked about everyone having a “favourite” negative thought pattern and they all got told to close their eyes and think of theirs. Then the teacher took out a phone book and dropped it on the floor making big bang that startled them all. She said it was to show them they could stop thinking about whatever it was. Just hearing about this experience and reminding myself of it has been helpful. It’s good to remember we can acknowledge a thought and then let it go.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s really cool!

  102. That’s great! It puts you in charge of your mind and emotions. Thanks for sharing. Another trick is to put your finger tips together and weight until you feel your pulse in your fingers. I don’t know what it is about that, but it works like a charm for me.

  103. Cynthia says...

    Sleep is not only an elixir but a gateway to the heavens and the angels who will gladly help us in our earthly trials. Don’t wait for your mind to race or your brain to shut down…simply close your eyes and ask the angels to guide you. If you have a specific question, feel free to ask. I guarantee you that in the morning you will have more clarity. We are not alone.

  104. The crazy thing with anxiety is that it’s SO easy to imagine that you’re the only one who struggles with it, and that everyone else is just breezing through life with all smiles and rainbows, so thank you Joanna for publishing such easy, relatable little hacks, and for being so honest about your own daily struggles.
    I’d love to know more about your experience with therapy that you mentioned, would you consider doing a post about it?
    Thank you for being my daily go-to site for escapism, inspiration and beautiful photography!
    Love from Peru!
    http://www.emiliewalker.com

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I would be glad to! I’ll work on it!

  105. lisa says...

    I totally suffer from whirring brain syndrome at night, retracing all my anxieties. As a kid, I would pretend I was in a coma as a way to still my nerves and body and eventually calm my mind. As an adult I used hypnobabies for birthing and I find it so useful. Highly recommend (for life, not just labor)

  106. Yes yes yes to this. Something that seems obvious when you think about but was such a revelation to me when I read it: you can’t always control what happens, but you can control your own thoughts. There’s a sentence in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love that’s always resonated with me: “You have to choose your thoughts the way you choose your clothes in the morning.” Meaning, don’t let negative, useless thoughts take over your mind; if they come, let them go, and choose something else to think about.

  107. Another good one that I heard was to picture your hands coming together in prayer, and then going back out to a “T”/wingspan shape, and control your inhale as you come in, and then exhale as you go back out to arms outstretched. Works every time!

  108. Elly says...

    Love that you publish this kind of content! I was taught this as one of the techniques to help with my M.E/ C.F.S because being fearful is massive energy drain, but I think its so helpful for any kind of anxiety, spiralling thoughts or obsessive thinking. Its really cool when you think about it as re-routing these thought patterns and connections in your brain. We were told that it works even better if you physically use a signal to yourself so put a hand over your heart and/ or your stomach, or put a hand out in front of you and then say “STOP” out loud. You feel really silly at first but I’ve found it really works for me. If you’re out and about or with other people I just put a gentle hand over my heart and mouth stop or just say it in my head.

    We also got told that after we do it we should congratulate ourselves and say good job for catching that thought etc so it turns into a positive thing that we’re doing rather than constantly reprimanding ourselves for having these thoughts that already leave us feeling vulnerable.

    Lots of love from Scotland x

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love the idea of putting your hand over your heart.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      And saying congratulations to yourself. How lovely, Elly.

  109. I love this. I’ve been meditating each morning for a few months now, and one technique they teach is visualizing a calm and peaceful mind. Which truly does help! This post made me think of that.

    – Dara || http://www.peoniesandhoneybees.com

  110. Natalie says...

    Sometimes the most literal things are the only ones that work for me – this is so helpful! Thanks for always being so honest and open and for sharing your little life hacks with us.

  111. s.montgomery says...

    It is posts like this that make you so relatable Joanna!

    As a reader, it feels so thoughtful and sweet of you to share little tricks that work for you.

    Reminds me that we are all doing the best we can and to be gentle and helpful to one another!

  112. This is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing!! My brain has been rather anxiety-ridden lately and I’ve been trying to slow it down so this seems like such a good approach to try out. I also try to focus on my breathing and removing myself from the immediacy of everything in order to view it all from a distance. Hope your brain has slowed down a bit :) xxx

  113. jill c. says...

    oh i really really needed this today…i have to go back for another ‘test’ (medically speaking) today and will find out results tomorrow…i’m terribly anxious about it all so thank you for this..i’ll be telling myself to “stop” often these next couple of days.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’ll be thinking of you, Jill! Xoxo

    • Kate says...

      I hope everything is okay, Jill!

    • Leah says...

      As someone who just had a mastectomy in July, I know what you’re going through. Until you receive your results, it’s kind of like you are holding your breath to a certain degree. I hope you receive good news tomorrow.

  114. jill c. says...

    oh i really really needed this today…i have to go back another ‘test’ (medically speaking) today and will find out results tomorrow…i’m terribly anxious about it all so thank you for this..i’ll be telling myself to “stop” often these next couple of days.

  115. We can always use a good anxiety trick. The ‘Do you worry too much?’ post is one of the most powerful things I ever read and I still keep the Grand Canyon in mind when things get out of control ;) Thanks for sharing. XO

    http://cafesocietyxxi.blogspot.de/

  116. Ooooh I’ve never actually tried thinking of a visual cue to stop my anxiety late at night! I have the same problem with my thoughts going in circles, so I’ll definitely be giving this a try!

    Steph – http://www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

  117. I’m definitely going to try this. I live alone in Paris while I write my thesis so I always have bouts of freaking out and racing thoughts: “can I drop everything and just go home?” “What am I going to do about (insert random administrative struggle here)?”

    • Paris can be really intense. But you’re not alone !! I’ll be moving there soon and don’t know anyone. Hang in there, Diana! :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      You guys should meet up!! Email me if

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sorry that comment went through too quickly — I meant to say: email me if you would like me to connect you guys over email! Xoxo

  118. Ashley says...

    This might sound silly but I try to visualize a bubble blowing up to surround my worry then I take pin and pop it! It helps validate and dismiss the thought.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      What a great one! Thank you, Ashley!

  119. Addie says...

    Oh thank you, I needed all of this today – even the P.S. – what a magnificent letter :)

  120. I have the same issue when trying to sleep. Except, I like to beat myself up at night for all the things I didn’t get done during the day or that I did wrong. And I imagine worst-case scenarios that are all my fault. Your post reminded me of an article I once read by Hands Free Mama:
    http://www.handsfreemama.com/2013/12/10/the-bully-too-close-to-home/

    She says, “Stop! Only Love Today.” And it’s something I have to constantly be reminded about for myself as well. I guess, first and foremost, I have to be nice to myself which I had never really thought of before I read that article..

  121. Kali says...

    Love this. I have the same issue and a good therapist of mine once told me to tell myself, “See how you feel about it tomorrow.” Sounds silly and simple but it always works. It gives my brain relief that I can’t and don’t have to conquer anything right now and can give everything due diligence the next day.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Love this.

    • Judy says...

      I use that idea too! I pretend to put my worry in an imaginary box on an imaginary shelf and think, I’ll pick that up tomorrow. Tonight is for resting.

      Or sometimes, I’ll pray and tell God: Here’s a worry for you. And another. And another. You got this, Lord!

      Now, I’ll pray for you when my anxiety creeps in too!