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  • Elizabeth McMahon Ph.D.

Your Secret Weapon for Fighting Worries and Fears

Learn how this “Universal Rule” can instantly decrease anxiety.

Your Secret Weapon for Fighting Worries and Fears

  • The stronger your emotion, the harder it is to think logically. Emotion can hijack your brain.

  • Learn a new secret weapon in the fight to not let fear, anxiety, or worry take over your brain.

  • The "Universal Rule" test helps you sort realistic fears from false alarms. Learn how.

You learned how to create a fear vs. facts dialogue table in my past three blogs Listening to Worries Can Actually Make You Less Anxious, Practical Tips on Changing Anxious Thoughts, and How to Effectively Talk Back to Worries and Fears. Creating a dialogue table is a way to challenge anxiety-provoking thoughts and strengthen your thinking brain in its struggle with your emotional, reacting brain.

Emotions make it hard to think

The more your primitive, emotional, reacting brain is activated, the harder it is to activate and listen to your smarter, logical, thinking brain. A fear vs. facts dialogue table helps you to question the thoughts making you anxious, stressed, fearful, worried, or upset and replace them with more factual, logical, and helpful thoughts.

Houston Fighting Worries and Fears Appoinment

Practice makes you better

The more you write and review your dialogue tables, the more you believe and act using facts and logic. Creating and rereading the tables helps you access your thinking brain even while you are flooded with emotion.

Fears vs. facts

A fear vs. facts table has two columns and multiple rows. The left column is “Worries, Fears, Distressing Thoughts”; the right column is “Facts, Evidence, Logic, Perspective”.

Write anxiety-triggering thoughts in the left column, one thought per row.

Simply putting fears into writing may activate your thinking brain

Some worries lose their power as soon as you see them in writing. You literally view those fears from a different perspective. You gain emotional distance.

Read the three earlier blogs on how to create a fears vs. facts table.

What if you think, “My thought is true”?

When the anxiety-provoking thought seems true, pull out your new secret weapon: the “Universal Rule”. Test the thought’s credibility by restating it as a universally applicable rule or law that holds true for everyone.

Realistic thoughts pass the test

Take the thought, “I’m scared to walk on highways. Walking on highways is dangerous.” When you restate it as a "Universal Rule": “People agree that walking on highways is dangerous” the original thought passes the test.

Here are some more examples:

Fear: “I am embezzling at work. There’s going to be an audit. I am afraid I’ll be fired and prosecuted.”

Restated as a Universal Rule: “Audits are likely to reveal embezzlement. Embezzlers are fired and prosecuted.”

Fear: “Driving is dangerous because I have uncontrolled seizures.”

Restated as a Universal Rule: “It is dangerous for anyone with uncontrolled seizures to drive.”

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Unrealistic thoughts flunk

Some scary thoughts seem convincing but fall apart when restated as a “Universal Rule”. Here are some examples:

Fear: “I made a mistake. My boss will think I can’t do my job and I’ll be fired.”

Restated as a Universal Rule: “Everyone who makes a mistake is fired.”

Restated, the original fear is pretty obviously not true. It’s good to minimize mistakes and learn from them, but everyone makes mistakes.

What about these examples?

Fear: “It is not safe for me to drive because panic will make me crash the car."

Restated as a Universal Rule: “Everyone who has panic symptoms crashes.” Or “Panic symptoms make every driver crash.” Or “No one drives safely when scared.”

Fear: “There’s turbulence! The plane is going to crash!”

Restated as a Universal Rule: “Every plane that hit turbulence has crashed.” Or “No plane has landed safety after experiencing turbulence.” Or “Every flight that encounters turbulence crashes.”

Fear: “The person I was dating broke up with me. No one will ever love me.”

Restated as a Universal Rule: “Everyone who ever had a breakup is alone.” Or “No one has found love after a breakup.”

Fear: “My parents do not accept my sexual orientation or gender identity. No one will accept me.”

Restated as a Universal Rule: “Everyone thinks like my parents on gender issues.”

Houston Fighting Worries and Fears Appointment

Try it right now

Write down an upsetting thought. It will only take a minute. Go ahead.

Now, restate that thought as if it is universally true, as if it applies not just to you but to everyone. Notice what happens. Did the thought suddenly seem less credible?

The next blog in this series discusses what to do when your fear is realistic.

Thanks for reading and best wishes for a happier, less anxious life.

Elizabeth McMahon, Ph.D., - Website -


For more information on Fears vs. Facts Dialogue Tables, see McMahon, E. (2019). Overcoming Anxiety and Panic interactive guide. San Francisco, CA: Hands-on-Guide.


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