I know I am…

Prior to becoming a therapist, I used to battle a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). To this day I still remember how difficult it was to cope with it.

I want you to know that you can beat anxiety!

I’m going to give you one of the most effective anxiety-stopping techniques and a cheat sheet that helps you practice them.

But before I do, I’d like to quickly show you how powerful our minds are.

Let’s suppose two people are in the same situation of receiving an email from their manager.

The email says “I’d like to speak to you after your lunch break if that’s possible”.

As soon as Person A reads the email, their anxiety kicks off. Their heart starts racing. They get hot and sweaty. They even have difficulty breathing.

Person B, on the other hand, has already replied to the email and is now considering sandwich options for their lunch. They didn’t get any anxiety whatsoever.

Why did Person A and Person B react so differently to the exact same situation?

What’s the missing piece of the puzzle?

Their thoughts – that’s actually the MASTER PIECE of the puzzle! How they reacted to the situation was largely determined by their interpretation of it.

Person A thought, “I must have done something wrong, I’ll get fired”, which led to feelings of anxiety. Person B thought, “Ok. It’s probably about a new project”. That thought did not cause them anxiety.

The way we think determines how we feel.

According to the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach, which is a clinically-proven and highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders, it’s not events that bother us. It’s the way we interpret them.

The meaning we attach to any situation gives rise to our feelings.

A simple thought about something bad happening is strong enough to cause anxiety in matter of seconds.

It’s useful to know that negative thoughts that lead to negative feelings (e.g. anxiety, irritability, sadness) are commonly described as “Negative Automatic Thoughts” or “NATs”.

When we feel anxious, we have a number of unhelpful NATs about what’s going to happen to us, to others and what our future would be like. There’s a tendency to predict the worst things happening.

Such thoughts can be very intrusive, disturbing and scary.

Because they pop up into our minds automatically, we believe them to be true. We think they’re facts.

But decades of clinical research and practice have shown that NATs are very inaccurate. Most of the things we worry about never happen.

Therefore, we shouldn’t believe our negative thoughts blindly.

“I won’t pass my probation” for example

This may be a negative thought someone’s having because they’re finding it quite difficult to write reports.

A NAT like this can cause many unpleasant feelings, including anxiety.

If that person entertains the thought further, more NATs about worst-case scenarios are likely going to arise:

  • “I’ll be embarrassed”,
  • “I won’t be able to cope”,
  • “I won’t be able to find another job”.

This type of thinking, often referred to as “catastrophizing” is very common in anxiety.

To put it simply:

If we keep having thoughts about the worst things happening and we keep believing them without question, we will continue being stuck in the vicious cycle of anxiety.

So, what should we do to stop anxiety?

Well, if negative thoughts lead to anxiety then it stands to reason that using skills to manage them will not only stop anxiety in any triggering situation, but they will also prevent it from occurring in the future. I’m excited to tell you that the techniques I’ll give you now are the proven way to accomplish this goal.

1. The Scientist Trick

The first thing to do when you realize you’re feeling anxious is to pause and reflect. Imagine being a scientist who has to describe this experience objectively. Without any judgement or suppression, answer the following questions in your mind:

  • What’s the situation I’m in?
  • What are my main thoughts/fears/worries/concerns right now?
  • How am I feeling?

‘‘Email from Manager’’ Example:

Q1: Received an email from my manager, asking to meet.

Q2: ‘‘I must have done something wrong, I’ll get fired.’’

Q3: Anxious

Describing your experience from a scientist’s perspective may sound like a simple task, but it’s quite helpful one.

While you’re making sense of the situation objectively, you’re activating a part of your brain that’s responsible for higher level cognitive functions, such as emotion regulation, problem-solving, decision-making and acting with your long-term goals in mind.

This gives your body an opportunity to calm itself down.

You’re also extracting the main NATs that are making feel anxious which prevents them from multiplying and causing you more anxiety.

2. The Fact-Checking Technique

This is by far my clients’ most favorite technique for stopping anxiety!

Once you’ve caught the main thoughts/fears/worries/concerns that are making you anxious, you need to put them to the test.

Before you believe they are the ‘‘the absolute truth’’ do some fact-checking. This means examining their validity by gathering evidence for and against them.

Answer the following 4 questions in your mind:

  • Is my negative thought based on any proof, experience, or reality?
  • Do I have any evidence to assume that’s true?
  • What’s the evidence against?
  • What’s the conclusion in light of all evidence?

‘‘Email from Manager’’ Example:

Q1: I’m not sure, let’s see.

Q2: Well, I received an email from her asking to see me but I guess that’s not proof that I’ve done something wrong or that I’ll get fired. I feel like I would but that’s no proof either. So I guess there’s no evidence, no.

Q3: The email didn't specify the purpose of the meeting or say anything about wrongdoings or getting fired. I've never received a negative feedback about my performance. My manager has told me approximately 10 times so far that I'm good at my job. I've been praised about my attention to detail multiple times over the years, so technically the chances of me having done something wrong without realizing are very slim. Some of my colleagues have made mistakes in the past but nothing bad happened as a result. So even if I had made a mistake, this doesn't mean I would get fired automatically. Even though ad hoc meetings happen very rarely, they still happen. I've been to two of them and both of those times the senior management wanted to discuss new projects.

Q4: I have no reason to assume the worst because there's no evidence to back it up.

As simple as this technique may seem, it’s actually one of the most effective skills used in CBT.

Since anxiety makes us assume the worst, the chances are that after exploring all the evidence you’ll reach to the conclusion that your NATs aren’t factual. And that can be such a liberating realization, one that brings you instant anxiety relief.

You lose trust in your thoughts – you lose anxiety!

3. The Middle-Case Scenario Technique

This technique is my personal favorite because I came up with it years ago when I was struggling with generalized anxiety disorder.

I thought: ‘‘I’m predicting the worst things happening and this makes me feel so overwhelmed. But how is that fair to me? How am I helping myself? If I’m going to acknowledge the worst then it’s only fair to acknowledge the best as well. Then I can meet in the middle and come up with the most realistic and likely to happen scenario.’’

Since then, this technique has helped hundreds of my clients switch off their worry and anxiety.

So next time you feel anxious because you predict the worst would happen apply this technique. Answer the following 3 questions in your mind:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • What’s the best that can happen?
  • What’s the most likely-to-play-out scenario?

‘‘Email from Manager’’ Example:

Q1: Having done something wrong and getting fired.

Q2: Being praised for my latest report.

Q3: Discussing future projects.

4. The Best-Friend Technique

When faced with challenges we often forget how capable we are of calming ourselves down and coming up with solutions to our problems.

I’d like you to think about all the amazing advice you’ve given your loved ones when they were going through difficult times. How were you able to do that? Well, all you did was look at the situation from an objective perspective and your “wise mind” delivered the answers.

You know way more than what you give yourself credit for. You just need to learn how to activate your wise mind when you’re the one going through difficult times.

The Best-Friend Technique is perfect for that.

It’s a powerful way to develop an alternative perspective to your NATs by switching the gears and imagining giving advice to someone you love deeply.

When you feel anxious, you turn to your wise self for guidance by simply answering the following 2 questions:

  • What would I say to my best friend if they were in the exact same situation?
  • What advice would I give to them?

Then follow your own advice – it’s the best one!

‘‘Email from Manager’’ Example:

Q1: Given the fact that there isn’t any evidence to assume you’re in trouble, I honestly think you have nothing to worry about. You’ve told me so many times before how happy your manager is with your work. And that’s no surprise: you’re working really hard to accomplish your career goals.

Q2: I advise you to focus on finishing your task now then go to the meeting. You’ll see that everything will be fine.

Putting It All Together

I hope everything I shared with you today has helped you understand your anxiety a bit more and you feel very excited to use your new techniques.

How do you apply all of them in less than 5 minutes? Easy. By saving the anxiety-stopping cheat sheet on your phone and referring to it when you feel anxious.

It will direct your mind towards more helpful way of thinking. As you know by now, thinking in a more helpful way would allow you not only to stop anxiety in any given moment but also to prevent it from occurring in the future.

All it takes a shift in perception to create a new reality.

A reality where you’re in charge of your anxiety, not the other way around!

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