Lower Anxiety by Focusing Your Thoughts--Not Focusing on Them

Focusing your thoughts on anything other than anxiety lowers anxiety. When our thoughts race, it's hard to think about anything else--but you can change focus.

Focusing our thoughts is a powerful way to reduce anxiety because we're taking charge of our thoughts. A frustrating thing about anxiety is that it seems to take over. It invades our thoughts and runs wild with them. All types of anxiety involve racing thoughts, and racing thoughts are unfocused thoughts. Or perhaps they are focused, it's just that they're focused on worries, fears, negative self-judgments, and traps we're stuck in. You can calm your mind and reduce anxiety by focusing your thoughts.

What Focusing Your Thoughts is Not

Anxious thoughts are miserable. They lead to all sorts of unpleasant symptoms of anxiety. Also, because they constantly clamor around in our head, they control what we're thinking about. Of course, we hate that, so we tend to think about these thoughts and our anxiety quite a bit. This focus, however, is not what focusing our thoughts involves.

Focusing your thoughts is not:

  • Homing in on worries and fears
  • Getting stuck in your thoughts by arguing with them
  • Listening to what they are telling you and believing them
  • Paying attention to them and making decisions based on what they say

When we do these things, we are focusing on our thoughts. Since our thoughts are anxious, we're focusing on anxiety. Because worries and fears are controlling our thoughts, they're also controlling our actions (or lack of action).

What Focusing Your Thoughts Is

Anxious thoughts race through our minds. It's what they do. We, however, don't have to chase them. We can't always stop the racing thoughts, but we can turn our attention to something else.

This shift in focus, paying attention what we want to pay attention to rather than the anxious commentary rattling around in our head, doesn't come easily at first. It's something that we have to do on purpose, with intention. This is a process that involves:

  • Noticing that we're paying attention to our anxious thoughts
  • Finding something better to pay attention to
  • Turning our attention to this better thing, person, activity, etc.
  • Turning our attention to it again and again because doing this takes a lot of practice

The great part about this is that you get to choose what you focus on. Instead of anxiety telling you what to think, you now can pick what you want to think about and then what you want to do. Notice that the key is shifting your focus. Ironically, one of the most powerful ways to reduce anxiety is not struggling with it or fighting and resisting. Instead, a very powerful way to lower anxiety is to accept that it exists, let it do its thing in one part of your mind, and then choose something positive to focus on instead.

The Importance of Choosing Your Focus

This little story is taken from a book called Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps. It illustrates the power of focusing our thoughts.

Once there was a little tortoise who enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine. Her owners took her outside and put her in a big fenced-in circle of grass. But even though the pen was large, the tortoise felt trapped. The fence made her feel anxious, and she worried that she was stuck and would never get out. She kept thinking these thoughts, and she rammed into the side of it over and over again in an attempt to break it down. But it didn't work. After hours of ramming, she was exhausted. She gave up pulled her head, legs, and tail into her shell, and just lay there worrying about being trapped. She was so focused on her anxiety and fear of being trapped that she didn't even notice the open gate on the other side.

Do you focus on the walls of the fence, or do you focus on the big patch of grass and the gate? Anxiety makes us think about the fence, but we can reduce anxiety, and break out of the fence, by shifting our focus.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2017, December 14). Lower Anxiety by Focusing Your Thoughts--Not Focusing on Them, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

November, 16 2018 at 5:18 pm

Hi Tanya
Thanks for this post found by it very useful, I was practicing this and googled it and found your article which make sure so much sense.

November, 16 2018 at 7:15 pm

Hi Max,
I appreciate your comment and am really glad that this post was useful. Keep practicing and letting your curiosity and desire for knowledge guide you where you want to go!

Leave a reply