Anxiety Discussion Questions: 13 Exercises to Find Peace

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Are you a bundle of nerves? Do worried thoughts occupy your mind? Is anxiety keeping you from living the life you want?

Self-exploration is a powerful way to combat anxiety. It’s easier to deal with your worries when you know what they are and where they come from. We’ve put together 13 exercises based on concepts in several books—from classics to new titles, from secular sources as well as Buddhist and Christian works.

Read on to find dozens of anxiety discussion questions based on the concepts in The Art of Happiness, Unwinding Anxiety, The Power of Positive Thinking, and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Exercise 1: Motivate Yourself to Be Less Anxious

These anxiety discussion questions are based on The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. Reflect on how you can pivot away from unrealistic expectations and toward realistic, constructive goals to reduce your anxiety.

  1. Write down a recent occasion when you experienced anxiety. Describe what expectations of yourself you feared you couldn’t meet. (For instance, in a social situation, you feared you wouldn’t be able to make good small talk.)
  2. Think about how, next time you’re in a similar situation, you can pivot away from the need to meet those concrete expectations and toward the goal of being a better person. What alternate, simpler goals could you strive toward? (In a social situation, your goal might be to simply become a better listener.)
  3. Now, put yourself back in this situation and try to re-experience it with the goal of being a better person. How does this feel different from working toward meeting specific expectations? Does it take some of the pressure off? Do you feel you can set this goal for yourself in future situations?

Exercise 2: Unwind Your Anxiety Loops

These anxiety discussion questions are based on Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer. Brewer argues that anxiety comes from habit loops—and that many of our unwanted behaviors start off as attempts to cope with anxiety. In this exercise, you’ll map out one of your own anxiety loops.

  1. Describe a situation where you’ve experienced anxiety. What was the situation? What were your symptoms?
  2. Did the anxiety trigger any problematic behaviors?
  3. Now, break that situation down into one or more habit loops. Remember, a habit loop consists of a trigger, a behavior, a result, and an implicit lesson. How did the anxious response you described above fit into this scheme?
  4. If this were to happen again, how could mindfulness help you deconstruct this behavior loop? Which of Brewer’s specific techniques do you think would be most helpful to you and why?

Exercise 3: Cultivate a Peaceful Mind

These anxiety discussion questions are based on the classic book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Peale says it’s important to fill your mind with positive thoughts and peaceful images.

  1. What’s your “memory visit” that you can call up when you need to find peace? Describe it in detail and explain how it makes you feel.
  2. Meditating on peaceful words is another method for restoring peace. The author likes the words “tranquility” and “serenity.” Think of some words, lines from a poem, or Bible passages that resonate with you. Write them here.
  3. Sometimes a sense of guilt can diminish our inner peace. Peale says the answer is to put the situation in God’s hands. Is there something you feel guilty about that’s eating away at your inner peace? Try putting the situation in God’s hands and releasing it. How does this make you feel?

Exercise 4: Let Go of Fretting

In his career as a pastor, Peale found himself being hurried from obligation to obligation. He writes that the frantic pace of life can increase our tension and anxiety, leading to a lack of peace.

  1. What’s a common situation in your life that leads to you feeling overwhelmed and lacking peace?
  2. The next time you’re in a situation like that, what’s something you can do to take a step back and regroup?
  3. Controlling your physical reactions is one way to keep calm. For example, it’s hard to be mad if you’re lying down, and it’s hard to argue when you’re whispering. The next time you find yourself getting mad, try lying down or whispering. Write down how it works for you.

Exercise 5: Ditch Your Worried Thoughts

Peale writes that living by faith can help you break the worry habit.

  1. Replace your worried thoughts with peaceful thoughts. Think of calm, hopeful thoughts. Imagine these thoughts pushing your anxious thoughts out of your mind. How does this make you feel?
  2. Do you dwell on past mistakes? Try the doorframe method. At the end of the work day, place your hand on your workplace’s doorframe and breathe all of the negative energy into it. Leave the worries and anxiety of the day behind as you walk away. How does this exercise make you feel?

Exercise 6: Focus on the Present

The anxiety discussion questions in the remaining exercises are based on another classic book—How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. Carnegie contends that, too often, we focus on the unchangeable past and the far-off future rather than fully living in the certain present.

  1. Describe one way that ruminating on the past disrupts your ability to live in the present. (For example, you worry that you made a bad first impression on a colleague, so you’re withdrawn and uncomfortable while talking to him in the present.)
  2. How can you consciously pull this thought of the past into the present? (For example, “Joe wouldn’t try to chat with me if I’d made a bad first impression. Starting now, I’ll assume he likes me and reciprocate his friendliness.”)
  3. Describe one way that focusing on the future is distracting you from living in the present. (For example, you constantly daydream about moving from the city to the countryside, causing you to miss out on all your city has to offer.)
  4. How can you consciously refocus your thoughts away from the far-off future and onto today? (For example, “I’d like to spend my evening on the porch of a farmhouse, but that’s not where I am right now. Let’s see what interesting events are happening nearby tonight.”)

Exercise 7: Analyze Your Problem & Make a Decision

Carnegie writes that, when you’re faced with a problem, you’re much more likely to find a solution by analyzing the situation than worrying about it.

  1. Describe the facts of a situation that you’re currently worried about.
  2. What is the main source of your worry—that is, what are you actually worried about?
  3. What are the possible solutions to this problem?
  4. Which solution do you think is the best course of action?
  5. How can you start acting on this decision, right away?

Exercise 8: Put an “Emergency Stop” on Worry 

If you find yourself in a stressful situation with no time for analysis, Carnegie advises you to put an emergency stop to your worries and try to find ways to improve your circumstances while you await the outcome.

  1. Describe a stressful issue that you’re currently waiting for the outcome of. 
  2. Think through the possible consequences of this situation. What is the worst possible outcome?
  3. Imagine this worst possible outcome will happen. What would your next steps be?
  4. How can you improve your current situation while waiting for the outcome?

Exercise 9: Reframe the Small Stuff 

The anxiety discussion questions in this exercise are about reframing—looking at your worries through a new lens. Carnegie asserts that small worries have the power to take over your thoughts and emotionally exhaust you. Reframe the way you think about them to take away their negative power.

  1. Describe a small annoyance that’s taking up space in your mind. (For example, it’s been raining for a week, or your child keeps interrupting you while you work from home.)
  2. How can you reframe this irritation as something more pleasant? (For example, you might think about how good the rain is for your garden, or reflect on how working from home gives you valuable time with your family.)

Exercise 10: Move Forward From a Past Action or Decision 

While you can’t go back and change your past actions and decisions, you can work on managing them in the present.

  1. What’s a past action or decision that you’re ruminating on? (For example, moving to a city you don’t like or acting very rudely toward a waitress.)
  2. How can you manage or mitigate this action or decision in the present? (For example, you can start looking for jobs in a different city, or go back to the restaurant to apologize and tip fairly.)

Exercise 11: Do Something Productive

When faced with a stressful situation, Carnegie explains that it can be hard to break out of your worrisome thoughts by mental power alone. These anxiety discussion questions will help you adjust your attitude by doing something productive.

  1. Describe a stressful or worrying situation you’re currently dealing with. (For example, there will be layoffs at your work next month, or you have to get surgery with a long recovery period.)
  2. How are you worrying about the situation? (For example, “What if I’m included in the layoffs? What if I can’t find another job?” or “What if the recovery takes extra time? What if I can’t leave the house?”)
  3. How can you instead concern yourself with the situation and take action? (For example, you freshen up your résumé and start scoping out jobs in your area. Or, you start a new hobby you can continue in recovery and call up your friends to invite them to visit while you’re homebound.)
  4. How do you think these actions will improve your attitude? (For example, updating your résumé reminds you that you have strong, in-demand skills. Scheduling visits with friends gives you an aspect of recovery to look forward to.)

Exercise 12: Make Lemonade

Carnegie writes that setbacks become less worrisome when you focus on the valuable lessons they can teach you. These anxiety discussion questions are about making lemonade out of life’s lemons.

  1. Describe a current or recent setback. (For example, you got hit with a huge unexpected expense, or your relationship just ended.)
  2. What lessons can you draw from this experience? (For example, you learned how to make a monthly budget and now understand the necessity of an emergency fund. Or, being single allows you to learn more about your individual interests and what you want from your next relationship.)
  3. What positive outcome can you draw from this setback? (For example, you were forced to examine your spending which revealed many ways you can save more money. Or, you now have the opportunity to start a relationship with someone whose values better align with yours.)

Exercise 13: Enjoy Your Work

Finding a way to enjoy your work can reduce your boredom and worry and increase your energy.

  1. Describe the work you do that makes you feel bored, frustrated, or anxious.
  2. How can you force yourself to find your work interesting? (For example, creating a personal challenge to increase your data entry speed each day, or setting a goal to get 100% of your copy editing tasks finished at least one day before their deadline.)
  3. What can you gain by finding your work interesting? (For example, your data entry efficiency helps you get accepted for a similar, but much more interesting job or your editor-in-chief promotes you as her personal copyeditor.)
  4. Describe the pep talk you’d like to give yourself before heading into your work. (For example, “Even though data entry isn’t my passion, I can still stand out and show my dedication to hard work. My small daily improvements are setting me up to make a big step into work I love.”)
Anxiety Discussion Questions: 13 Exercises to Find Peace

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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