Anxiety provoking thoughts can be tricky. But, with some understanding and practice, they don’t have to be.

By understanding how thoughts behave, what they mean and what they don’t mean, and by uncovering our habitual reaction to thoughts, we can unhook from them. And as we unhook, our anxiety decreases.

The Pink Elephant

We have control over what we do with our thoughts. We don’t have control over what pops into our minds though.

For example, close your eyes for 15 seconds. While your eyes are closed try to pay attention to the thoughts that enter your mind. At the same time, try hard not to think about a pink elephant.

What happened?

Of course, you thought of the pink elephant.

Maybe it was front and center the entire time. Maybe you were able to force some thoughts to the front of your mind, but the pink elephant kept interrupting. Maybe you had a voice in the back of your mind repeating, “Don’t think about a pink elephant.”

There are two important points with this activity:

We don’t have control over the thoughts that pop into our minds

If we had control over the thoughts that pop into our minds, social anxiety wouldn’t exist. And therapists wouldn’t exist. We would simply choose not to place a worry or anxiety provoking thought into our minds. Problem solved.

We can’t force thoughts out of our mind. The more we do, the more it’s reinforced, and the louder it gets.

Thought suppression, which is trying hard to get rid of a certain thought, doesn’t work. It’s the same as trying to force yourself to relax. The harder you try the further away you get from a relaxed state.