Woman covering eyes with hand, expressing fear or surprise. Woman covering eyes with hand, expressing fear or surprise.

Thoughts Don’t Control You: Manage Negative Thinking, Reduce Fear and Anxiety

 I feel I’m a better person now. I’m not being self-obsessed but literally, I have worked up on myself, specifically on my thoughts. And now I feel much better from within. In fact the world seems more beautiful, people seem nicer, and what else, I’m happier.

Anxiety and fear are not very new or uncommon behaviors, rather it’s everyday problems faced by all. We experience anxiety and think it’s due to something negative but it can also be due to various reasons. One of them being the ability to not know what will happen in the future.

Considering the neurological and brain working behind anxiety and fear response, you might be surprised to know that the two have the same circuitry involved.

Amygdala and Emotions in your Brain

An almond-shaped structure in the brain called the amygdala is actually the orchestrator of all anxiety-related responses of the brain. Whenever there is stress, which can be acute or chronic there are changes seen in the amygdala, both functional and anatomical.

The basic function of the amygdala is to assess your emotional condition based on what is happening in your environment. It then analyzes if there is a threat to you or not. It is basically a part of your brain that instructs it to send the fight or flight response.

The purpose of this response is to ensure you are safe and make your body prepared for what is yet to come. So that you can be fine in any circumstances no matter how fearful or dangerous.

But this has to happen in a state of actual danger to be biologically safe. If it gets activated very easily then the brain functioning will be very harmful because now it will act like you are in a dangerous situation. And since you’re not, this prolonged activity will create anxiety.

You and Your Thoughts

Do you know that your body is always working, in the sense that your brain is always in action? Even when you’re sleeping there will be a lot of things happening in your subconscious mind.

Also, according to a study conducted in 2020, it was observed that a human gets about 6000 thoughts every day. Well, this sounds astonishing. Right?

Now, that you know that the number is so large, and if you actually think back to yesterday, do you really remember thinking about 6000 things? I’m sure you don’t. Indeed, let alone 6000 it’s hardly possible to even think about the 60 thoughts that you had yesterday.

We interviewed Anna Harris, Clinical Mental Health Counselor at OnlineMFTPrograms.com, and asked her about managing anxiety and fear. Here is what she said:

Anna Harris
Anna Harris

“This is where getting professional help from a licensed therapist can be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, can be invaluable for those dealing with anxiety and fear.

Talking to a professional can help you to articulate what you are feeling and how/when those feelings emerge, and often simply having these discussions can help to mitigate the overwhelming nature of such feelings because you can bounce ideas and thoughts off another person.

In addition to the simple benefits of talking, therapists can help you develop plans or strategies to manage these emotions.”

Letting Go of Anxiety

This implies that these thoughts just come and go and they do not stay and occupy your headspace. Indeed, you’re not even consciously aware of their presence in your head. Some of these thoughts can be negative, some positive, and when you have a lot of negative thoughts several times a day, it might cause anxiety.

But remember one thing, sometimes or more you are unaware of the same.

So, what needs to be done primarily is that you have to become aware of your thoughts, of what you are thinking. Then only you can differentiate between the positive and the negative thoughts. You can then diffuse your negative thoughts and let them go so that anxiety doesn’t set in. Doing this multiple times trains your brain, and it becomes less anxious and fearful.

Claire Lopaty, LMFT at Claire Lopaty Psychotherapy, talked about applying EMDR and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies for such issues. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Claire Lopaty - Featured
Claire Lopaty

“EMDR is very effective in alleviating the brain’s fear response when exposed to certain stimuli. EMDR works by using bilateral stimulation while reprocessing trauma memories.

The amygdala, located in the limbic brain, is responsible for processing emotions and determining whether something is a threat. 

When something is processed as a threat, it gets sent to the thalamus, located in the lower reptilian brain. When this happens, our brain is essentially hijacked, and we go into self-preservation mode at the most animalistic level (fight, flight, freeze).

The use of bilateral stimulation helps the amygdala send the stimuli or trauma memory to the neocortex so that this response no longer occurs. 

In situations that elicit less intense fear and anxiety responses, even those that are innate to biology and the human experience, the use of CBT and DBT can be very helpful. CBT helps with changing unhelpful, automatic thoughts in response to certain stimuli.

DBT incorporates elements of CBT and also provides skills to help our body send more effective and adaptive signals to the brain in response to different stimuli.

When put into practice, neuroplasticity (our brain’s ability to change and adapt) allows for new and more effective neuropathways to be formed.”

The Worries in Your Head

The second step to treating this issue is maintaining your stressors and the worry that they bring along. We all worry about a lot of things, and we can not even prevent it no matter what. So, if we encounter a factor that is not under our control then the step ahead is to control the factors which we can.

In this case, we can control or manage the time frame around our worries. Or, basically set aside time in our everyday life which is dedicated specifically to thinking and listing down all our problems or things that are bothering us.

A more relieving exercise would be to actually write them down because then you will have it all in front of you and will be able to make better decisions based on these. It will release the negative thoughts and energy from your body and once it is curated you will avoid the habit of stressing the whole day.

Set aside a time, get this done, and then spend your day doing more productive activities.

In an interview with the Icy Whiz team, Aarti Jerath, a Psychiatrist at Miami Counseling Center, advocated for adopting active coping and exposure techniques. Here is what she said:

Aarti Jerath - Featured
Aarti Jerath

“When human beings are faced with a certain situation, they can interpret it as safe or as dangerous. The reason for the dangerous feeling could be related to a fundamental need from millions of years ago to be safe, whether it was a loud noise, darkness, feeling alone, etc. 

However, the truth might be a misperception of reality, and in reality, the situation is not fearful at all. Regardless, once the situation is misperceived as dangerous, adrenaline is released, and it triggers the sympathetic nervous system to lead to a fight-or-flight response.

This response can lead to feelings of anxiety, increased heart rate, increased breathing, and increased blood pressure. Consistent feelings of anxiety can lead to chronic stress, illness, misperceptions of most situations, and reduced ability to work efficiently.

Strategies to help alleviate and reconcile fear responses include active coping, which is avoiding anything that triggers the fear, and changing the perception of the fear, which includes challenging whether the fear is real.

Techniques to change the perception of the situation as fearful include systematic desensitization, therapeutic graded exposure, flooding, and aversion therapy. 

Systematic desensitization exposes individuals to their fears along with relaxation techniques to reduce the fear. Graded exposure uses systematic desensitization and goes from pictures invoking fear to real exposure.

Flooding is where one faces fear intensely and for a long time without being able to avoid it. Aversion therapy involves punishment or unwanted stimuli to deter unwanted thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Other strategies include changing the bodily reaction after exposure to fear, which includes deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga.

And, if there is a real problem resulting in fear, which can be changed, such as loud noises outside at night that disrupt sleep, then changing that situation if possible is important.

And if most of these strategies do not help alleviate fear, then using medication can be helpful.”

Brains’s Fear Response and How to Train Your Brain to Stop the Fear Response?

If you are scared of something, then you are and there is no question about it.

There will be reasons behind some fears like you may be scared to climb up heights because you had some accident at a height some years back. And now when you are at a height again, then to your brain that height is a trigger to start a similar response that it had started when that accident had happened.

But then some people are scared of lizards and if you ask them why, they might not know the reason because chances are that there is no reason.

So, this being clarified, we clearly can not change our fears but what we can change is our response to such situations.

So, if you are scared of something,g try to recreate the same in a smaller magnitude so that you can train your brain to accept and understand this stimulus and the reaction that it creates to just another normal body reaction. Once you start with a small trigger and go your way up, the brain is slowly trained to understand that there is not any actual fear involved and then you eventually do overcome your fear.

Dr. Shmaya Krinsky, PsyD, founder of Anxiety and Behavioral Health Psychotherapy, talked to the Icy Whiz team about the neurological aspects and strategies to combat anxiety and fear. Here is what he had to say:

Shmaya Krinsky
Shmaya Krinsky

“Understanding the Brain’s Role in Managing Fear and Anxiety

When it comes to anxiety and fear, our brain plays a vital role in how we respond to situations that scare us. Understanding the brain’s responses can provide valuable insights into managing these emotions effectively.

Strategies to Train the Brain and Alleviate Fear Responses
  • Exposure Therapy: Gradually Facing Your Fears

Exposure therapy is a powerful strategy for training the brain to alleviate fear responses. It involves gradually and safely facing what scares us, allowing our brain to learn that the feared situation isn’t as threatening as it initially seemed.

For example, consider someone who has a fear of dogs. Through exposure therapy, they would start by looking at pictures of dogs, then progress to watching videos of calm dogs, and eventually spend time near calm dogs under controlled conditions.

Each step is taken at a manageable pace, helping the person learn that they can handle being around dogs without overwhelming fear.

  • Inhibitory Learning: Learning to Handle Stressful Situations

During exposure therapy, another critical process called inhibitory learning comes into play.

Inhibitory learning means learning that you can handle stressful situations, teaching your brain over time that there’s less reason to be scared because you can manage those situations, even if your anxiety stays high.

In addition to learning that they can handle being around dogs, the person in our example also learns that they can cope with high levels of anxiety and manage any challenges that might arise.

They understand that even if they feel anxious, they can still handle the situation and manage their fear. This learning process helps retrain the brain’s response to fear, making it less overpowering and more manageable over time.

Reconciling Innate Fears with Retraining the Brain’s Response

It’s normal to have some fears that feel natural or innate, like being scared of heights or spiders. These fears might have evolutionary roots, helping us stay safe in the past.

While we can’t completely erase these innate fears, we can teach our brains to respond differently to them.

By using the strategies of exposure therapy and inhibitory learning, we can retrain our brain’s response to these innate fears. This combination helps make them less overpowering and more manageable over time.

For instance, gradually facing your fear of heights while reminding yourself that you can handle the situation, even if you feel anxious, can help your brain learn to feel less anxious when you’re high up.

In summary, understanding the neurological aspects of anxiety and fear can guide us in using effective strategies like exposure therapy and inhibitory learning to train our brains and alleviate fear responses.

While some fears may be innate, we can still retrain our brain’s response to them, making them easier to manage and reducing overall anxiety.”

STAY STRONG – Anxiety Busters: How to Combat Negative Thoughts

They say the brain is an amazing organ, if it can be molded; it can even be remolded.

So, if you do practice the steps to relieve stress and work towards the triggers that make you fearful; you can not only feel less scared but also train your brain to stop the fear response.

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

Last Updated on May 17, 2024 by Pragya


Anushree Khandelwal
  1. I really have a problem of getting afraid easily, even the slightest inconvenience shivers me.
    Reading this article made me feel like it can be controlled.
    I am really affected by the writer’s thoughts on the matter.
    I will make sure to apply them in my life and let you guys know the results..

  2. I am, too, a sufferer of anxiety who thought there was no way to cure this issue. Thankfully, I went through this article and got to know every problem has a solution. Next time, whenever anxiety triggers me, I will only think of positive thoughts to overcome it. Hope this works for me.

  3. Exploring anxiety and fear responses, the role of the amygdala stands out. Cultivating awareness of thoughts, scheduling worry time, and gradual exposure to fears offer practical ways to reshape the brain’s response. Your insights provide a valuable guide for managing anxiety through intentional efforts and leveraging the brain’s adaptability.

  4. Very informative article , it really helps the readers who feel anxious , the reasons mentioned on the article are indeed . I have seen the persons & personally i also faced this problem for many reasons , among them i can see few in this article to . The remedies also genuine .

  5. Practicing mindfulness has been a trans-formative experience for me.It has helped me to become more aware of mine thoughts and emotions and respond to them in a more constructive manner .Literally,thanks a lot in helping me out through this.

  6. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, plays a key role in anxiety-related responses. It evaluates emotional states and signals the fight or flight response based on perceived threats. Training your brain to curb the fear response involves becoming aware of your thoughts, differentiating between positive and negative ones, and letting go of the negative ones

  7. I never realized the power of mindfulness in overcoming fear until I read this. Thanks for shedding light on such an important topic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *