4 Simple Phrases to Halt Anxious Thoughts

Our resident Stresspert, Hilary Jacobs Hendel, has 4 simple phrases we can use to help halt anxious thoughts. Both a licensed therapist and award-winning author, Hilary works with clients in techniques that bring them back to the moment to reduce anxiety and stress. You can find free resources on emotions and the Change Triangle tool for emotional health at hilaryjacobshendel.com and follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


TL;DR:

  • Anxiety has mental and physical side effects like back tension and inability to focus
  • A short term solution is finding a phrase you can repeat that makes you feel calm and relaxed, such as:
  • This is temporary
  • Everything is going to be OK
  • One day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time.
  • Just because I feel anxious in this moment doesn’t mean in reality things are worse than the moment before.

  • Many people I know blame and judge themselves for feeling anxious. Myths like we should just be able to “get over it” or use “mind over matter” to stop emotions and distress are so damaging as they create shame for what is a natural part of being human. If we are alive, we will feel anxiety at times.


    Anxiety affects both the mind and body. Symptoms of anxiety include but are not limited to shortness of breath, increased heart rate, neck and back tension, stomach aches, headaches, inability to focus or think clearly, and more. The good news is there’s much we can do to reduce anxiety in the long and short term.


    In the long-term, we can learn to process the buried core emotions and conflicts that lead to anxiety. By tending to our core emotions and allowing their inherent energy to flow up and out, over time we grow calmer and more confident.


    But there are also a number of short-term strategies to halt the cycle of anxiety. One tool that cannot be underestimated is soothing self-talk. Speaking supportive words to ourselves will provide relief, much like a parent reassures a distressed child.


    Want to experiment with soothing self-talk? With a stance of kindness towards yourself, trying to hold aside any self-judgment, speak the following phrases to yourself. See if the words relax you, calm your beating heart, allow you to breathe a little deeper, or lower the tension in your muscles. Even tiny shifts are important and can bring a sense of mastery that you have some control over your nervous system—which you do!


  • "This is temporary."
  • It's true! Covid 19, civil unrest, a fight with your spouse, or any event or mood won't last forever. As Melissa Etheridge sings, “The only thing that stays the same is change.” And, we humans can sustain stress for long periods of time. We are resilient. Remember no matter what’s happening and how bad you feel, "This is temporary!" Say it again and again. It’s temporary!


  • "Everything is going to be OK."
  • The future is unknown, not only now, but always. But there is no sense in triggering our nervous system into states of panic. We can tell ourselves everything is going to be OK, and it most likely will be.
    If you're too much of a realist or a pessimist, you can modify this phrase to "Everything is probably going to be OK” or "If everything is not OK, I will handle it." Try out different versions and see what calms the anxiety in your body. Click here to try a gentle experiential exercise to practice being your own good parent.

  • "One day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time."
  • When emotions run high, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. This is the time to slow way down. Remind yourself the only goal is to get through the next minute, hour, or day. Shift your focus to figuring out a pleasant and calming activity that you can do right now to get through a tough moment.
    For example, recently I woke up feeling really anxious after having several calm days. I knew I was anxious because my heart was beating fast and my body felt like it was vibrating. I reminded myself that my goal was to "slow down and take it a minute at a time." I read my list of state-changers. State-changers are concrete activities that with some reliability shift us out of anxiety and into a calmer state. I advocate for developing your own personal list of state-changers. 

    Here's what I tried to downshift my anxiety: 

    • Dedicated 5 minutes to grounding and breathing.
    • Vacuumed my bedroom.
    • Exercised.
    • Took a very hot bath, with grapefruit scented bubble bath (my favorite), and with classical music playing in the background. This strategy engaged three of my senses, touch, smell, and hearing, to try to relax my nervous system.
    • Made a cup of herbal tea for myself.
    • Wrote.

    It took a few hours, but eventually, I started to feel a bit better. If none of those methods had worked, I would've told myself, "Hang in there! Tomorrow is a new day, and you will probably feel better in the morning." 


  • "Just because I feel anxious at this moment doesn't mean in reality things are worse than the moment before."
  • Anxiety has a funny way of generating catastrophic thoughts. When you are very anxious, it's important to pause and notice your thoughts. If you think the world is ending or you'll never be happy again or you've ruined your life, notice that and then remind yourself it's just a feeling or it's just a worry. It doesn't mean it is true.


    The way we talk to ourselves matters and affects how we feel and think. I hope you will try some of these phrases (or some of your own self-soothing phrases) and see if they offer any relief. If not, you can at least feel good about the effort you made to help yourself. Working with anxiety and the emotions that underlie anxiety is a lifelong practice. The idea is to get into an experimental state of mind and have a wide variety of tools, positive self-talk mantras, state-changers, and the Change Triangle, at your disposal. It's about practice, not perfection.

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