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How to handle anxious thoughts on the move

Anxious thoughts can often take us by surprise. With a bit of reflection and planning, you can learn to understand these thoughts and address them in the moment. This can be especially helpful when you have to make quick decisions about how to act.

What are anxious thoughts?

Anxious thoughts centre around fear and unease. They can take many forms, including unpleasant images or a worried voice. Everyone experiences anxious thoughts at times. They can be a perfectly natural reaction to everyday events and challenges, like meeting a deadline or having a disagreement with a co-worker. Anxious thoughts occur because your mind is trying to keep you safe. They can help you to focus or take extra care when needed. However, if they become overwhelming or too frequent, they can negatively affect daily life and relationships [1, 2].

How do anxious thoughts affect relationships?

When anxious thoughts become unhelpful, they can have an impact on how you operate in a relationship. On one hand, you might avoid your partner or shy away from intimacy. On the other, you might become more dependent on your partner, afraid of being abandoned.

Taken to extremes, both of these responses can be problematic as it means one partner must work harder to keep the relationship going, ultimately increasing the likelihood of relationship breakdown [3, 4, 5, 6, 7].

Thriving couples have a reciprocal relationship. They recognise the need to work on their relationship and themselves. During times of adversity, couples who pull together can actually make their relationship stronger. One way to do this is by sharing your anxious thoughts with your partner and looking for solutions together [8, 9]. 

When do anxious thoughts become unhelpful?

Whenever these thoughts begin to disrupt your day-to-day life, it’s important to seek help. Therapy, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), can provide you with tools to help effectively treat anxiety.

One of the metaphors ACT uses to describe how anxious thoughts can become unhelpful is Passengers on a Bus. Imagine you’re a bus driver who drives down the same old road, sticking to what you know instead of choosing to take any risky turns off your route. Your passengers give you biased advice, which represents your anxious thoughts. Any time you attempt to take a more exciting route, your passengers protest and demand you stay on the same old road. The metaphor suggests that in order to follow a different route, you must accept that your ‘passengers’ are a part of the bus but not in control, and continue on the route you want to take [5].

How can we address anxious thoughts in the moment?

It can help to recognise anxious thoughts as they occur. An easy way to do this is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness can also guide you to the most helpful route.

One way to practice mindfulness is an ACT skill called ‘Dropping Anchor’. There are three parts to this skill, which you can remember by using the acronym ‘ACE’ [11]. By using this skill, you can metaphorically drop anchor, acknowledging the anxious thoughts in your head before re-engaging with your life.


A – Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings

What memories, sensations, and emotions are showing up for you right now? Remember to be curious and kind to yourself.

C – Come back into your body

Engage with your physical body. Press your feet into the floor, stretch out your neck or shoulders, or take a few deep breaths.  Whatever will help you reconnect with your body.

E – Engage with what you were doing

Remember where you are and what you were doing. Look around the room and notice five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Then bring your full attention to what you were doing.

Try practising this for a few minutes three or four times when needed! You might want to write it down or take a screenshot to help you remember.

By Helen Molloy


[1] NHS. (2024). Managing anxiety. Better Health, every mind matters. Anxiety - Every Mind Matters - NHS (

[2] Harris, R. (2022). Chapter 8: Frightening images, Painful memories. The happiness trap : stop struggling, start living (New edition). Robinson.

[5] Harris, R (2019). ACT Made Simple : An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, New Harbinger Publications. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[3] American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th).

[4] Darcy, K. Davila, J. Beck, J. G. (2005). Is Social Anxiety Associated With Both Interpersonal Avoidance and Interpersonal Dependence? Cognitive Therapy and Research, Vol. 29, (No. 2), pp. 171–186 DOI: 10.1007/s10608-005-3163-4 sjny108-cotr-NY00003163.dvi (

[5] Porter, E., & Chambless, D. L. (2017). Social Anxiety and Social Support in Romantic Relationships. Behavior therapy, 48(3), 335–348.

[6] Cantazaro, A. and Wei, M. (2010). Adult Attachment, Dependence, Self-Criticism, and Depressive Symptoms: A Test of a Mediational Model. Journal of Personality, 78: 1135-1162.

[7] Meek, VeryWellMind. (2022). How Anxiety Affects Relationships. Anxiety In Relationships: Signs, Effects, and Ways to Cope (verywellmind.covm)

[8] Barlow. A, Ewing. J, Janssens. A & Blake. S. (2018). The Shakleton Relationships project. Shackelton_Relationships_Report_2018_8pp_v5.pdf (

[9] OnePlusOne. (2021, 11. 24). Rowing Boat [Vimeo]. Rowing boat | OnePlusOne on Vimeo

[10] Harris, Russ. ACT Made Simple : An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, New Harbinger Publications, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central,

[11] Harris, R. (2022). Chapter 5: How to drop anchor. The happiness trap: stop struggling, start living (New edition). Robinson.

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