PUSH: An Approach to Reducing Anxiety

This coaching technique may help people cope better with stress.

Posted Apr 08, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

KEY POINTS

  • Anxious people often have trouble letting go of negative "what-if" thoughts.
  • The PUSH coaching technique can help people stop harmful thoughts in their tracks and focus on the positive instead.
  • While those with severe anxiety might want to consult a professional for help, PUSH may help relieve everyday stress.

I've changed irrelevant details to protect my client’s anonymity. Also, I've enhanced the model slightly to better serve readers.

Bob said that, into his 50s, he had always been an upbeat, easygoing person. Then, when he failed to get a promotion that he worked hard for, he suddenly changed. He found himself worrying about the next shoe to drop: Would his wife lose her job? Would his son have another angry outburst that would get him suspended again from school? Would the vaccine work long enough and well enough against new variants?

Talip Özer/Pixabay
Source: Talip Özer/Pixabay

I probed for a cause other than not getting promoted, from childhood to present, work to play, physical to spiritual. But he insisted that the change in his mental state came directly and exclusively from not getting the promotion.

We then examined possible approaches to reducing anxiety. What we settled on was PUSH: Positives, Unclench, Suppress, Hop.  It combines some techniques that have worked well with my clients.

Positives

Each night before Bob went to bed, he would, on a memo pad, list all the good things that occurred that day and that he was looking forward to, both tomorrow and longer-term. His initial list included:

  • His job
  • Taking a walk, seeing plants spring to life
  • Making dinner
  • Watching Longmire
  • Playing poker Thursday
  • Now vaccinated, a family trip

Whenever he started to unnecessarily worry or feel negative, he would consult that list.

Unclench

He would try to let go of the irrational feeling that worrying about the problem would stem it. In other words, he'd try to let go of an undue sense of control. This reflects one of Buddhism's core tenets: letting go of what one cannot control.

Suppress and Hop 

The moment he became aware of unnecessary worry and tried to unclench, he'd force himself, yes, force himself, to hop to something on the positives list or something else that's constructive.

I am not aware that the following metaphor has been examined by neuroscientists, but it has made sense to and has been motivating to a number of my clients: Like a muscle, the more you think about the negative, the bigger the memory neurons associated with the negative get, and the more it dominates your thoughts. So by suppressing the negative and replacing it with a positive, your brain’s positive “muscles” grow, and negative ones shrink.

During the session, we practiced PUSH, and I invited my client, as soon as the session was over, to make PUSH his number-one goal for at least the next hour. Then he was to assess whether the plan is working or should be scrapped or tweaked. I asked him to email me after the hour. He wrote,

It worked well, but it will take time for it to become a habit. In the meantime, I’m going to tweak the plan: In my memo pad, I'll write each time I’m tempted to be unnecessarily negative and how I responded. Did I let myself spiral down into uncontrollable worry, or was I able to stem it using PUSH. I’ll also notice what type of "hop" worked well: a particular thing I’m looking forward to? The soonest positive I’m looking forward to? A complex task at work or at home? I’m optimistic that PUSH will help.

People with clinical-level anxiety might well want to consult a professional. PUSH is a self-help tool aimed at people with sub-clinical, garden-variety anxiety.  I've used variants of it with many clients to real benefit. Might PUSH or a variant help you?

I read this aloud on YouTube.