Exit and Support Network

Thought-Stopping and Thought-Switching

(To help control agoraphobia)


One of the major problems in agoraphobia is the anticipatory thoughts about what "might" happen. People continue to focus on these negative thoughts and seldom examine the real chance of those horrible consequences occurring.

For example, many people fear "going crazy" or losing control, although past experience has shown that this hasn't happened. People inappropriately think they got out just in time or they were just "lucky."

It's this constant obsessing about "what ifs" that soon creates the belief that they are true. It's like brainwashing. If you fed people only one side of an issue, over and over, they will believe it.

Agoraphobia is actually a fear of fear. People are afraid of being afraid. They develop the habit of running or avoiding anytime they feel the feeing of fear.

That's why anticipatory anxiety is such a problem. It creates the feeling of fear and causes people to avoid or turn back long before they have a chance to see that they'll survive. It creates a vicious circle. Unless people can break that circle or prevent it from gathering momentum, it will intensify their tendency to avoid.

arrows going in a circleAnticipatory Thoughts→Anxiety and Physical Symptoms→Increased Fear.


This tendency to anticipate negative outcomes becomes a habit. like all habits, it's not easy to break. To break it, people must learn to:

  1. Stop the anticipatory thoughts before they gather momentum.
  2. Replace the thoughts with more rational, positive thoughts.

To accomplish this, they must practice daily thought-stopping and thought-switching techniques. Occasional practice will have little effect in overriding and breaking this negative habit.


The purpose of thought-stopping is to learn how to stop negative anticipatory thoughts before they gather enough momentum to create panic.

Try this experiment. Sit down and begin thinking about something you have to do. As you contemplate this event, allow your mind to think all the negative thoughts it usually does. Notice how your anxiety mounts and your fear increases as you focus on all the "what ifs."

Do it again, only this time:

  1. Put a rubber band on your wrist and allow the thoughts to come into your mind.
  2. As soon as it enters, shout to yourself, "STOP," and then snap the rubber band.
  3. Then "let go." Breathe deeply and divert your attention to something pleasant and neutral. Controlled breathing will help the body to relax during a panic attack. Count to four as you take a slow, deep breath, then release it in a slower, controlled exhalation to the count of eight and repeat this for several cycles. This will help if you are breathing fast or holding your breath.

Whenever you have a disturbing thought, practice the thought-stopping exercise. Frequent practice makes it easier to stop the thoughts. As you go through your daily routine, try to use this method every time. Interrupt the thought as soon as it starts, every time it starts. If you're with other people, say "STOP" silently to yourself.


People with agoraphobia develop and practice negative thinking. Learn how to replace negative thoughts with positive, rational thoughts. Here is a list of negative thoughts and positive, coping ones. Recovery depends on reducing anxiety and earning how to cope with it.

  • I become anxious when I begin to feel lightheaded.
    I may experience these feelings, but I don't have to let them control me. I can choose to stay in the situation in spite of them. I will remember to breathe slowly through my nose.
  • I might faint in public.
    Since I have never fainted in the past, I won't faint now or in the future.
  • What if I panic when I'm in public?
    The panic won't harm me and will pass quickly if I don't fight it. I will say "forget it" or "so what if."
  • I'm afraid I'll have a heart attack.
    It's just anxiety and will pass. I'll focus on what is really happening instead of my irrational thoughts.
  • I'm afraid of going crazy.
    I won't go crazy. I never have in the past. Besides, this isn't how people go crazy.
  • I'm afraid people can tell if I'm having an attack.
    No one can tell. It only seems that way because I feel it so strongly. No one has ever said they noticed. I'll focus on what other people are saying and it'll pass.

How to Use Thought-Switching

  • Write negative thoughts you frequently have on separate cards.
  • On another set of cards, write positive, coping statements about each negative thought.
  • Carry the positive cards around with you--one statement per card.
  • Take ten minutes when you get up in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon to read the cards and really hear what they say.
  • Periodically during the day, go through the cards when you have a few minutes to spare.
  • Read them one last time before you go to bed.
  • You can also put them on a tape and play it back to yourself as you practice.

This is an amazingly successful technique for reducing your anticipatory anxiety. Positive, rational thoughts interrupt anxiety by getting people to focus on what is real instead of what their negative fantasies tell them. Through practice, the positive, rational thoughts begin to outweigh the negative thoughts. people can cope more effectively.

However, without practice, they'll experience only minor benefit. Patience and practice are the key ingredients.

~Info compiled and posted by Exit & Support Network™

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