Anxious thoughts are annoying at best and quite damaging to our mental health and wellbeing at worst. Part of the problem with these worries, fears, and what-ifs is the fact that once they form, they stick. It’s as if they’re covered in oozing tree sap so when they pop into your mind, they don’t leave. When we try to shake them of, they tighten their hold. When we try to argue them away, they grow because we’re giving them our full attention. We are focusing on all of our anxieties, and they stick together, growing larger and larger and threatening to consume us. Plain and simple, anxious thoughts are sticky so they don’t go away. It can seem as though we’ll never be able to loosen them. That is a common thought/feeling borne out of the frustrations of anxiety. It’s also false. You can remove your sticky thoughts. Mindfulness is a powerfully effective way to do it.
Anxious thoughts can stick around to the point of becoming obsessive thoughts. We ruminate about them, rolling them over and over in our mind and feeling their disruptive intrusions throughout the day and often into the night. If you’ve ever tried to argue with them or force them to go away, you might know that that doesn’t usually work. It’s something almost everyone tries, though—myself included—because we just want the anxious thoughts to stop, to go away. While the struggling and arguing doesn’t work because thoughts are sticky and you can’t shout sap off of a tree, you can turn to mindfulness.
A Mindfulness Exercise to Reduce Anxious Thoughts
According to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), we become fused with our thoughts. To break free from those thoughts, it’s necessary to become defused, to loosen ourselves from their stickiness.
Mindfulness is a way to gently do that. Mindfulness involves calming your mind, stilling your thoughts by focusing them on the present moment—the things our senses are taking in— and on visualization. The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety helps you take back your life from stress and anxiety, including from anxious thoughts. This exercise from the workbook helps with sticky, anxious, thoughts (while it makes more sense in the context of the workbook, it can be useful on its own):
You can unstick yourself from your anxious thoughts (what ACT calls defusion) through this and other mindfulness activities. The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety and Break Free are full of exercises, including mindfulness ones, to help you reduce anxiety and reclaim your life.
Journal to Get Anxious, Sticky Thoughts Out of Your Head
Start a journaling practice to strengthen and continue your quest to unstick yourself from your thoughts, including your anxious ones. Peek at these journals that guide you toward the quality life you want to live: The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal and The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety.