The Art of Reframing: How to Calm Anxiety and Transform Negative Thoughts

Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD

Licensed psychologist and wellness consultant

“I can’t deal with my anxiety anymore.” “Nothing has helped get rid of my anxious thoughts.” “Anxiety is ruining my life.” 

As I sifted through questions and inquiries this week, I encountered familiar echoes of a struggle I’ve intimately known: the pervasive whispers of anxiety. This letter explores the how of managing anxiety. 

As we delve into the realm of reframing, it’s essential to understand its profound impact on anxiety. Reframing isn’t just a technique; it’s a journey into the heart of our thoughts. It’s about questioning the narratives woven around our fears and anxieties, like peeling back layers to reveal a more authentic, calmer self beneath.

Understanding Reframing and its Impact on Anxiety 

Reframing involves shifting our perspective and finding alternative ways to interpret situations. I remember learning about this concept and visualizing anxiety within a frame, then imaginatively replacing that frame. This metaphor may resonate with you if you’re a visual thinker. The frame we choose can significantly alter our perception of anxiety – aiming for subtlety rather than alarm.

By changing how we think about things, we can calm our anxiety and regain control over our thoughts and emotions. Negative thoughts and anxiety often go hand in hand. When we experience anxiety, our minds tend to focus on worst-case scenarios and irrational fears. These negative thoughts can amplify our anxiety and make it difficult to find peace of mind. However, by reframing these thoughts, we can break free from the cycle of anxiety. Reframing allows us to challenge the negative beliefs that fuel our anxiety and replace them with more rational and positive alternatives. We’re changing the frame around our anxiety. 

Techniques for Reframing Negative Thoughts 

1. Cognitive restructuring involves identifying and challenging our negative thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and rational ones (see letter 5 for how to do this with specific situations). One effective way to practice cognitive restructuring is by keeping a thought journal. In this journal, you can write down your negative thoughts when you experience anxiety and then analyze them objectively. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support these thoughts and if there are alternative explanations that are more balanced and objective. By doing this, you can begin to reframe your negative thoughts and reduce your anxiety. This is a topic I walk you through in my course, Perfectly Human

Below is an example of cognitive restructuring. When restructuring a thought, it’s important it feels true to you and more balanced based on the evidence. 

2. Practicing mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. When you practice mindfulness, you can become aware of your negative thoughts as they arise and choose not to engage with them. Instead of getting caught up in your anxious thoughts, you can observe them from a distance and let them pass without attaching significance. This can help you break free from anxiety and create space for more positive and empowering thoughts.

~ Imagine your thoughts as leaves floating down a stream. Observe each thought without clinging to it. This practice helps detach from anxious thoughts, allowing them to pass without adding significance. You can try it using this guided meditation

3. Positive affirmations are positive statements you repeat to yourself to replace negative beliefs with more empowering ones. For example, if you constantly think, “I’m not good enough,” you can reframe that thought with an affirmation like, “I am enough as I am.” Repeating these affirmations can reprogram your subconscious and cultivate a more positive and confident mindset. This can help you combat anxiety and replace negative thoughts with more empowering ones. 

Below are some sample affirmations for reframing negative thoughts. Use these as a starting point for creating your own.

  • I’m not good enough. —> I’m enough as I am.
  • What if (all these bad things happen)? —> In this moment, I am okay.
  • I’m never going to achieve this. —> I’m trying my best and learning as I go.
  • I’m going to make a fool of myself. —> I’m going to show up and trust myself.
  • I can’t do this. —> I can do hard things.
  • Why am I struggling so much? —> This is tough. I can ask for support.
  • It’s too late for me. —> It’s okay to show up late.
  • I tried so hard and I failed. —> It’s okay to stumble. I trust my resilience to rise again.
  • I’m lazy. —> I deserve rest. 

Embracing the Art of Reframing for a Calmer Mind

Managing anxiety and reframing negative thoughts is a journey that requires practice and patience. By understanding the connection between negative thoughts and anxiety and practicing techniques such as cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, and positive affirmations, you can embrace the art of reframing and cultivate a calmer mind.

Remember, reframing is not about denying the presence of anxiety but about changing how we relate to it. It’s a process of seeing our fears through a lens of understanding and compassion, ultimately leading us to a place of greater peace and resilience.

Caught in anxious patterns like people pleasing or perfectionism?