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How to Redirect Your Anxious Thoughts in 5 Minutes

This fun exercise can help decrease anxious thoughts and improve focus.

Key points

  • Anxious thoughts can sometimes take over our headspace so much that we struggle to get back into focus.
  • Survivors of childhood trauma struggle with emotional regulation due to years of dysregulation, leading to feelings of anxiety and stress.
  • Laughing and feeling silly can sometimes help decrease anxious thoughts by increasing levels of serotonin.
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During my junior year of college, I took an acting class to fill up time on my schedule. Needing an elective, acting stood out to me because I always joked that I would have loved to be an actress in a comedy show or Broadway play. ("Joke" being the chosen word because while I love to watch others perform, I remain a horrible actor.) In class we performed an activity in which a student would sing a song, then another would jump in at any point with another song that contained the current word being sung aloud, or any song at all that reminded them of the current song being performed. I took this activity and adapted it to my work with clients who struggle with anxiety.

We all have times during our lives when we feel an increase in anxiety. Maybe it is a stressful time at work, or there is conflict in a relationship, or just a lot going on. It is during these times that you might notice more restlessness or nervous energy.

Survivors of childhood trauma sometimes struggle with grounding due to the chaos of the early part of their life. Their bodies learned to stay in a certain amount of emotional dysregulation, and calming activities can sometimes feel stressful. I find that some grounding techniques can often cause increased anxiety due to the amount of quiet and focus involved; sometimes it's necessary to start with a more involved activity to learn to redirect anxious energy.

Follow these steps for a fun exercise that can distract some of your anxious thoughts. This can be done in a group, in pairs, or by yourself.

1. Identify the first song that comes to mind. It can be any song, but it can be easier to start with a well-known pop song with easy lyrics. Sing the lyric that comes to mind, stopping only when you run out of words that you can remember.

2. Sing a song lyric that contains the last word sung from the previous song. You can start anywhere, just as long as this word from the previous song is in the new lyric. Continue to sing until you run out of memorized words, just as before. Feel free to hum the words if you can remember the sounds but not the specific words.

3. Continue until you feel silly. It’s even better if you laugh. It's great when you mess up and do not know where to start over, because this means that you are directing your energy toward the activity. The endorphins that come from laughter can help alleviate feelings of stress and improve focus on the activity at hand, decreasing space for anxious thoughts.

4. At the end, notice your body. Do you notice a decrease in tension anywhere? Perhaps your shoulders or jaw feel more relaxed. Perhaps you forgot, even just for a few minutes, what you felt anxious about. Laughter increases levels of serotonin, with known antidepressant effects that can help decrease some of the negative thoughts and feelings you are experiencing, even if just for a little while.

5. Repeat when and if necessary.


Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016 Jul;239(3):243-9. doi: 10.1620/tjem.239.243. PMID: 27439375. Accessed 2/6/2022.