The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Behav Res Ther. 2016 Mar;78:13-8. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


Worry in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), takes a predominantly verbal form, as if talking to oneself about possible negative outcomes. The current study examined alternative approaches to reducing worry by allocating volunteers with GAD to conditions in which they either practiced replacing the usual form of worry with images of possible positive outcomes, or with the same positive outcomes represented verbally. A comparison control condition involved generating positive images not related to worries. Participants received training in the designated method and then practiced it for one week, before attending for reassessment, and completing follow-up questionnaires four weeks later. All groups benefited from training, with decreases in anxiety and worry, and no significant differences between groups. The replacement of worry with different forms of positive ideation, even when unrelated to the content of worry itself, seems to have similar beneficial effects, suggesting that any form of positive ideation can be used to effectively counter worry.

Keywords: Generalized anxiety disorder; Imagery; Positive thoughts; Verbal processing; Worry.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Optimism / psychology
  • Thinking