Part of the terror of anxiety is the force and power of the racing thoughts that accompany it. Adrenaline reaches a fever pitch, sending the body into pure fight or flight mode.

Two things are essential at this point: to slow down, and to focus on something outside of yourself. To slow down, because your mind and body are running at breakneck speed; and to focus on something external, because the whole power of anxiety is that it wraps you up inside yourself and turns your mind into a prison cell.

Here are four practical steps to take to begin to slow down and shift focus:

Reach out. It is natural to retreat from others during the peak of anxiety: while you hate your racing thoughts, they are all-consuming. However, retreat is actually the worst thing you can do, because it makes it even easier to focus on your thoughts. This is the time you need to reach out to your support group. Call one of your friends or family members and tell them the substance of your racing thoughts. Be detailed. Get it all out on the table. Since you speak slower than you think, your mind will slow down as you verbalize your thoughts and fears.

Change locations. If possible, move to a different location: if you are in the house, get out. If you are at work, take a break and walk around. Physically changing location can assist you in mentally changing direction.

Work out. The problem with anxiety is that it tends to breed apathy: you want to sit and chew your fingernails, figuratively speaking. It will often take an act of will to physically get up and get moving, but it is worth it. Physical exercise releases endorphins into your body and brain, which can help you to feel better. Additionally, working out can distract you and therefore break the thought cycles in your mind. A competitive sport may be especially beneficial (i.e., racquetball rather than jogging), since it requires your mental attention in addition to your physical attention.

Be creative. Engage in an activity that will take up brain and thought space. You can’t think about two things at once, so you want to try to shift your thoughts toward something positive and pleasant. As mentioned above, sports can fill that role. Hobbies are another primary source of creativity. Volunteer work may do the trick. Your job may draw upon your creativity. Whatever it is, try to give it 100% of your attention.

© 2009 Paula Marolewski

Author's Bio: 

Paula J. Marolewski provides challenging and interactive adult Bible studies for individuals, Bible studies, small groups, and adult Sunday School classes at Sink Your Roots ( The above article is an excerpt from Fire in My Mind.