- 4 Ways To Diffuse Everyday Anxiety
- Find the path of least resistance
- Train your muscles for relaxation
- Schedule ‘worry time.’
- Don’t get caught in the fear storm
- Three Steps to Combat Anxiety
- Cognitive Defusion
- What is Cognitive Defusion (CDef)?
- The Problem With Cognitive Fusion
- How Does CDef Work?
- When is CDef Particularly Useful?
- Defusion Metaphors
- Passengers on the Bus Metaphor/Exercise
- CDef Techniques
- Technique #1 “I notice…”
- Technique #2 Label your Thoughts
- Technique #3 “Thank you Mind”
- Technique #4 Practice Mindful Watching
- Defuse Your Anxious Thoughts With These 5 Strategies
4 Ways To Diffuse Everyday Anxiety
It’s the fear that things won’t work out you’d hoped they will. It's the panic you get when plans change. Or when anything changes.
It's the wired exhaustion that comes from an addiction to busy-ness.
It fuels the perfectionism in your projects and tasks.
It's everyday anxiety, that can distract us from the magic of the present moment.In our society, this type of stress has become a habit. One that I witness wreak havoc on progress towards a happier and healthier life in my clients, friends, family and even myself.
Here are the mindset hacks I have used to diffuse everyday anxiety and restore peace:
Find the path of least resistance
I consider this to be the one most sacred rule of which I live my life.Life wasn't meant to be hard. It's a playground to create what we want and should allow us to experience massive amounts of joy and peace.
Peace isn’t something you find one day and never struggle to hold onto.
Should you find you have a task to complete or a new goal to achieve, find the path of least resistance. If one way of achieving it is met with massive resistance, stop, and be open to another way, one that feels better to you.This one practice alone can be instantly calming.
Train your muscles for relaxation
Systematic muscle relaxation training is a strategy used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to reduce anxiety.
You can do this on your own – very simply – by choosing a specific muscle, or set of muscles, (such as your upper legs, abdomen or neck muscles) and purposefully tensing them for seven seconds followed by purposeful relaxation of them for fifteen seconds.
Online guided meditations with muscle relaxation are a great tool for this.
Schedule ‘worry time.’
Scheduling in ‘worry time’ is a classic intervention in CBT used to help you gain control over anxiety and worry.
Here’s how it works:
Find a quiet space all to yourself. Set a timer, for no longer than 45 minutes (less is better) to journal and think rationally about the anxiety-producing thoughts. Two extremely helpful questions I use with clients in my practice are:
How can I see this differently?
How can I feel better about this?
After your timer goes off, ‘worry time’ is over. End your session with a meditation or muscle relaxation. When fear, worry or anxiety creeps in – outside of ‘worry time’, try to ‘save it’ for your next scheduled session.
Don’t get caught in the fear storm
Fear storms: when your deepest worries come to life.
Fear is all-encompassing. Anxiety takes over. You create problems that aren’t really there. You find new levels of pain, overwhelm and frustration to exist in.
I've learned there is a quiet and calm eye to the storm, waiting for us all along. You can find this place by recognizing when in your thoughts are spiralling control and attempting to loosen your grip on those thought patterns.
Whether it’s through finding a positive distraction, reciting affirmations or by recognizing that you cannot solve the problem in this very moment – consciously pulling yourself the storm is often the fastest way to calm your nerves.
Peace isn’t something you find one day and never struggle to hold onto. It is every day work and it is challenging. The good news? We are all capable and deserving of it.
Cheers to finding your peace!
READ NEXT: 5 Simple Ways to Lighten Up When Things Feel Heavy
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Three Steps to Combat Anxiety
Do you have anxious thoughts that won’t go away? Are you afraid of feeling anxious? Do you avoid what you fear? If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, welcome to the world of parasitic anxieties and fears. In this world, anxieties drain your resources and return nothing of healthy value. Worse, they can go on as if they had a life of their own.
Anxiety is a common worldwide disability that cuts across national, racial, age, gender, and economic boundaries. Parasitic anxieties surface anytime from childhood through old age. These facts may be interesting and informative. But, if you suffer from anxiety, what can you do to combat and overcome this misery?
Although some parasite anxieties are more tenacious, you can learn to defuse any with evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methods.
Georgia State University professor Andrew Butler (Butler et al 2006) published a meta-analysis of 16 meta-analyses (a meta-analysis is a study of studies) that demonstrates that CBT is effective for a broad range of conditions including anxiety. It's also a premier self-help method.
Let's look at three steps in the direction of ridding yourself of parasite anxieties: think about your thinking, accept your anxious feelings, and engage the problem. These steps put you on the path to confident composure.
Think About Your Thinking
The feeling of anxiety is among the most dreaded of feelings. It has to be that way. Survival anxiety keeps you away from the paths of danger. However, parasitic anxieties are fabricated ego dangers, such as threats to your self-image. One ego danger is thinking of yourself as a weak person because you feel anxious. The only thing weak is the idea.
Recognize your anxious thoughts, and you can do many things to defuse them. I’ll give a few examples that point to correctable core features within parasite anxiety thinking, and a few cognitive distortions worth exposing.
What if anxiety thinking is common. Here are two what if examples, possible meanings, and sample ways to contest these anxious thoughts.
1. “What if I went to a party and everyone saw that I was anxious?” Probe and see what the question means. Let’s suppose it translates into this statement: “I’d be mortified and couldn’t live it down.
” There is an assumption imbedded within the question: Everyone would see that you were afraid. That's also an exaggeration, and here is another: You couldn’t live it down.
The assumptions and exaggerations are correctable cognitive distortions.
2. “What if I got fired and couldn’t find another job?” That’s another statement in disguise. Translate the question into a statement. For example, “If I lost a job I’d be powerless to find another.” Losing a job is an assumption. Never finding another job is an exaggeration. The assumption and exaggeration are correctable cognitive distortions.
By digging into the meaning of anxiety thinking, you can expose big lies, such as you are powerless over your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. With practice, you can defuse this thinking. However, you won’t get beyond the joys of this intellectual change unless you teach yourself to stop cowering before your anxious feelings.
Accept Your Anxious Feelings
Overcoming feeling stressed out about feeling anxious is a big challenge.
By working on accepting your feelings of anxiety, you may find that by allowing anxiety to run its course, you’ve done something to control a feeling that may have seemed out-of-control and overwhelming.
For example, you can look at the flow of anxious feelings as a temporary rush of adrenaline. The hormone takes several minutes to lose its potency. You can, of course keep reigniting the feeling. Nevertheless, your adrenaline rushes last only so long.
You can accept anxious feelings by accepting the parasitic thoughts about situations that trigger them. Acceptance, however, does not mean complacency.
You can accept that parasite anxiety thinking and feelings exist, and accept that you can review and revise them to eliminate the assumptions and exaggerations that are part of that process.
If you inch in this direction, you are neither powerless over your thoughts nor powerless over your anxious feelings.
Engage the Problem
Exposure is a gold standard for overcoming parasitic fear situations that you feel anxious about encountering. Behaviorally engage what you parasitically fear, and you can progressively master such fears. Master the fear, and you have one less thing to feel anxious about encountering.
It is important to set attainable goals for how much you’ll do at anyone time. Stretch to meet the goal. If you back away too soon, or avoid the challenge all together, you’ll practice procrastinating. You’ll get a specious reward for retreating, and that’s not good. That is why it is so important to set meaningful, measurable, and attainable goals for this exposure exercise.
Accept that it takes time for the primitive brain to figure out that there is no physical danger. You’ll be less ly to feel disappointed with gradual progress through exposure, or other means of quelling parasitic anxieties.
Build Confident Composure
Although I’m sure that they exist, I’ve yet to meet anyone who felt thrilled at the prospect of facing up to a debilitating anxiety. Combating negatives can get tiresome, even when you are self-improving and reducing the degree and frequency of parasite anxieties. However, there is a side benefit beyond relief from anxiety, and it may be a big one.
Some CBT anti anxiety techniques are transferable to situations where you have opportunities that may take plowing through uncertainties. If you are not afraid of feeling uncertain, you can take advantage of opportunities you believe are worth pursuing.
You are also working to build confident composure.
With confident composure, you recognize that you can directly command only yourself, and you choose to do so. You don't demand that the world change for you, and you don't need it to. You drive your actions with productive intension.
With this softer but stronger view, you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. Your psychological resources are more available to defuse, finesse, or directly manage your fears, anxieties, and conflicts. You are better prepared to advance you enlightened self-interests.
Is this condition of mind worth striving to experience? You decide.
For more guidance on how successfully to combat anxiety, click on: The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety (Second Edition)
Butler, A.C., Chapman, J.E., Forman, E.M., & Beck, A.T. (2006). The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Clinical Psychology Review, 26(1), 17-31.
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Download the Full Article
In this module, we will:
- Define cognitive defusion (hereafter labeled as CDef)
- Explain the difficulty with cognitive fusion
- Describe how CDef works
- Identify when CDef can be particularly useful
- Offer two metaphors to help get unstuck (defused) from painful and self-defeating thoughts
- Outline four CDef techniques
What is Cognitive Defusion (CDef)?
CDef (originally called cognitive distancing by the founder of cognitive therapy, Dr. Aaron Beck) is a process where — under certain circumstances — we choose a different relationship with the stream of thought that flows through our heads. This different relationship can be characterized by:
- more distance from negative thoughts
- more mindful i.e. observing our thoughts rather than swept up with them
- less willing to take our thoughts seriously i.e recognize thoughts don’t often correspond to the breadth and depth of reality
- more focus on direct experiences e.g.feelings, observations, sensations
The Problem With Cognitive Fusion
To appreciate the benefits of CDef, we first need to understand the qualities of cognitive fusion.
Cognitive fusion refers to the pairing together of thoughts and direct experience so you can’t distinguish between the two. Almost everything we see and experience is labeled, categorized, dissected, compared and evaluated. These mental processes contribute to cognitive fusion.
This is what the mind naturally does; and it works for most types of problem solving. Indeed, at times our cognitive capacities can produce the desirable and fulfilling state of flow, which erases the boundary between the self and some absorbing, challenging task. This higher level thinking mode is the basis of our scientific, technological and artistic achievements.
But when this mind machine, the machine that labels, compares and judges, is turned on ourselves, we often have a different outcome. Not infrequently these labels and judgments are negative and global (e.g. I’m worthless, I’m a failure…he’s selfish…they’re mean). We then become fused with these judgments.
They come to define ourselves and our experience in a manner that doesn’t do justice to complexity or nuance. Nevertheless the negative judgments become our reality. If we use the metaphor of life as a journey, a journey that involves meeting challenges, enjoying the scenery and leading a valued life; then these judgments are road signs( e.g.
” You’re lazy”, Why try?”) that distract us from the journey and prompt us to drive into a ditch.
CDef enables us to not obey these road signs even if we still observe them.
How Does CDef Work?
The assumption in applying CDef is: problematic thoughts themselves are not the problem; but the fusion with those thoughts is the problem. CDef highlights the following question: Who is going to take charge of your life? You or your mind?
CDef works by promoting this mindset and offering a set of skills.
The mindset is one of having a partnership relationship with our thoughts; particularly our negative recurring thoughts.
The partnership relationship means we don’t try to suppress or vanquish the difficult thoughts that pop up in our heads; but nor do we defer to them. This relationship means that we determine which thoughts are workable i.e.
help us solve problems and proceed down our chosen road of life. If the thoughts are workable, fine; if not, don’t let them drive you into a ditch.
The set of skills promoted by defusion strategies include:
- Evaluating thoughts as to their workability i.e. are some set of thoughts enabling you to live a rich, meaningful and valued life? Or are they creating needless pain?
- A more acute sense of viewing thoughts as thoughts. This produces less entanglement with problematic thoughts. Also, greater flexibility in behavior.
- Staying in the present. Defusion gets us our head and more into direct experience.
When is CDef Particularly Useful?
- For trains of thought that are long-standing and repetitive. Especially for fused conceptualizations of the self, such as “I’m worthless”, “I’m broken,” etc. Such thoughts may have a stale quality, but they continue to have a significant impact on our mood. CDef can lessen that impact.
- When we have struggled to challenge the accuracy of our negative thoughts (cognitive restructuring) but remain stuck. CDef can reduce the impact of such thoughts without having to change the content or even the frequency of the thoughts. In CDef we don’t battle difficult thoughts; we let them come and go.
- When we see our thinking is a barrier to moving in a positive direction, CDef can help us bypass such thoughts as “What if?” and “I couldn’t stand it if” and take risks in line with what we deeply want. CDef helps us move in the direction that might bring us fulfillment.
- When we are dealing with a chronic stressful situation and very well may be dealing with it in a realistic way; but don’t want to focus on the stress and sense we have the option of more vitality, more flexibility in the situation.
The following metaphors can facilitate an understanding of fusion and defusion. They can also be used as exercises to experience defusion.
Hands in Front of Face Metaphor/Exercise
Put your hands in your lap, side-by-side as if they are pages in a book. Your hands represent your thoughts, particularly your repetitive, negative thoughts. Now slowly bring your hands up to your face to where they are almost touching your face and covering your eyes, so you can only see between the gaps of your fingers.
Notice how hard it is to see much other than your hands. You’re entangled by them. You’re cut off and disconnected from your environment. Very little information can get in.
Imagine what if would be to go around all day this. How difficult it would be to act effectively or respond to life’s challenges.
This is what we meant by fusion.
Now, slowly lower your hands and return them to your lap. Notice what happens as the
space between you and your hands (thoughts) increases. Notice what happens between you and the room; how much more information is coming in, how much easier it is to engage in the world and take effective action.This is what we mean by defusion.
Notice also that your hands (thoughts) haven’t disappeared: they’re sitting right there. And if there is something useful and workable you can do with them, by all means use them. If not, just let them sit there.
This is what we mean by defusion. We get some space from our problematic thoughts, some flexibility in our behavior.
Passengers on the Bus Metaphor/Exercise
Since we see people or things as separate from ourselves, another way to defuse language is to imagine thoughts as people or objects. The Passengers on the Bus metaphor capitalizes on this method. It also highlights two other therapeutic processes: acceptance of difficult feelings and value-driven action.
Let’s see if we can look at some of the thoughts and feelings you have been struggling with through a different perspective.
Imagine your life journey is driving a bus. Now picture the bus and yourself as the driver. There are passengers in the bus and you are picking up additional passengers
Think of these passengers as your thoughts, feelings, bodily states, memories, fantasies, and so on. Some of these passengers (thoughts) are quite lovely , “I have great kids.” But a whole bunch of them? Not so much.
In fact many of them are thoroughly obnoxious: bullying, intimidating, shaming, etc. (“Don’t do it, You’ll make a fool of yourself”, “Deep down, you’re just a selfish person,” “Why bother?” “No one who really knew you could love you.”)
These passengers don’t hesitate to speak up and criticize you. Furthermore, they start telling you how to drive, “Turn left here, pull over,slow down, speed up.”
So, as the bus driver, what do you do? You could argue with them or tell them to quiet down, I suppose. You could even stop the bus and really try to reason with them.
But notice: You’re not driving the bus anymore, you’re dealing with them and there can be a lot of them; and some of them are pretty strong.
Chances are — instead of bowing to reason — they will tell you to do what they say, or else they might have to get right in your face. If you do obey them, they say, well maybe they might back off.
But here’s the thing: You are the driver of the bus. You may not be able to silence or totally control them, but the passengers can’t make you do anything. Are you going to obey them, try to control them? Or keep driving the bus, making the stops you want to make, moving toward your destination?
These techniques can be used in our moment-to-moment stream of thought, particularly when it is repetitive or self-sabotaging.
Or you can practice these techniques. To practice the techniques, you should first take the following step:
Think about the typical negative story you have about yourself. Crystallize that story into a short phrase. This is typically a harsh self-judgment, such as “I’m a loser,” “I’m incompetent,”. Focus on that phrase, for a minute or two in order to elicit a sense of fusion with the phrase. Then let that phrase be a target for practicing the defusion techniques.
Technique #1 “I notice…”
This involves adding the phrase “I notice I am having the thought..”to your recurring difficult thoughts. Adding this phrase frequently to your repetitive painful thoughts will begin to change your relationship with that thought.
Technique #2 Label your Thoughts
This involves labeling the kind of thought you are having. There are two options or levels with this technique, both of which are effective.
(1) Label your thoughts as descriptive or evaluative (almost all thoughts fall into one of these two categories).
• Descriptive thoughts point to direct experience. Descriptive thoughts point out any aspect of something that we can perceive with one of our five senses i.e. see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, touch it.
• Evaluative language pretends to derive absolute truth about the implications of that experience (i.e. that it is good-bad, fair-unfair, right-wrong, weak-strong, etc.)
(2) Label the kind of thought you are having e.g. “I notice my mind machine producing a memory” (or an image, a fantasy, a question, a qualification, a blame statement, a should statement)
(3) Label the possible nm in your thinking. You may be aware of the labels cognitive therapists teach their clients such as catastrophizing, mind reading, all or none thinking, jumping to conclusions, filtering, personalizing, etc. If so,use them as labels e.g. “I notice my mind is catastrophizing (or jumping to conclusions, personalizing, etc).
(4) Come up with short phrase for your repetitive,sticky thoughts (e.g. “there’s my l’m incompetent thought”)
Technique #3 “Thank you Mind”
The spirit here is to not take your difficult thoughts too seriously; or get into a struggle with them. When your mind generates harsh and painful thoughts, you “thank” your mind in a somewhat sarcastic manner, perhaps similar to how you might respond to a rebellious teenager who is saying something provocative to get a rise you.
Technique #4 Practice Mindful Watching
Mindfulness involves paying attention to your thoughts with an attitude of acceptance, openness and curiosity. Set aside time (at least five minutes) when you try to notice thought after thought after thought without trying to control or evaluate. If you find yourself controlling or evaluating then notice that and then notice what thought comes next.
There are a couple of imagery strategies that can help mindful watching. These are closed eyes techniques.
(1) Thoughts on a screen. Imagine yourself in a movie theatre or in front of your television and picture your thoughts — words or pictures — on the screen, rolling credits.
(2) Leaves on a stream. Imagine yourself in a forest sitting on a bank next to a
beautiful slow moving stream. It is the fall so there are leaves floating down
the stream. Notice the leaves floating down the stream. Then pay attention
to your thoughts. Then when a thought (word or picture) pops up, imagine
putting it on a leaf floating by. Put the next thought on the next leaf.
Try to sit by the stream for at least five minutes and notice the leaves with
your thoughts on them float by.
Defuse Your Anxious Thoughts With These 5 Strategies
CaiaImage / Getty Images
A core component of anxiety—be it subclinical anxiety or anxiety that meets the threshold for a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnosis—is anxious thinking that can at times feel uncontrollable.
Psychotherapies for anxiety help people address these thoughts in different ways. In psychodynamic psychotherapy, the roots or underlying (sometimes called unconscious) reasons for anxiety are unearthed.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), thoughts are actively challenged or tested by behavioral experiments (for example, doing something that you are anxious about to experientially learn that the outcome will be okay).
In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), as in CBT, there is an emphasis on becoming more aware of the thoughts as thoughts and not truths. However, the next step in ACT is to learn ways to be “less fused” with the thoughts (That is, if cognitive fusion is the baseline, cognitive defusion is the goal).
By changing the way you interact with your beliefs, you may begin to experience some relief.
Here are five cognitive defusion exercises to try. Pick the one or two that most appeal to you, and try them repeatedly over the span of a few days. If it works, keep going with it; if it doesn’t, try another exercise on the list instead.
- Your Mind, With a Capital “M:” For the sake of this exercise, think of your mind as a separate entity from yourself. Name it “Mind.” When the anxious chatter begins, tell yourself something , “Well there goes Mind again, chitchatting away” or “Wow, Mind is doing that thing he loves to do, telling me how nothing will ever work out.” By treating the mind as an external, rather than internal, creature you might create enough space between you and your thoughts to feel a bit better.
- The Car Radio That Won’t Turn Off: Imagine that you are sitting in the passenger seat of a car, and the driver has turned on an awful radio station that is playing a soundtrack of your anxious thoughts. You’re not in a position to change it or turn it off; instead, you must tolerate it and accept that the thoughts are there and that the noise is unpleasant.
- A Keychain in Your Pocket: You most ly carry a set of keys with you always. Try assigning each of your most common anxious thoughts to a specific key. When you use that key, make yourself think the corresponding thought. Notice that you can carry the thought and not always think it, and also that when you do think the thought, you can still use the key. It is possible to carry difficult beliefs with you and not let them dictate your actions.
- A Bossy Bully: Treat your thought a bully on the playground of adulthood and ask, “Who is in charge here? Is my thought in charge or am I in charge?” If it helps, get a little angry at the thought—colorful language included—as you assert yourself against the bossy bully.
- Thoughts for Sale: Distinguish between a thought you are having and a thought you are buying as true. Label your thoughts: judgment, criticism, comparison, exaggeration, etc. Then ask yourself, “Do I want to buy the thought that I am ______________?” Consider what it will cost you and if it’s really a good investment.
The purpose of these exercises is not to change the frequency with which you experience anxious thoughts (though if that happens for you, fantastic!). Rather, defusion exercises are effective if they decrease your attachment to a particular belief or set of beliefs that are not currently serving you well.
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