Thought-stopping. Staying positive in a crazy world.

by therapyjourney

I have taken some more concepts and techniques from The Power of Accepting Yourself by Michael Cohen. I aim to use these as part of my daily life where possible. By writing them down, and reading them back to myself at a later date, I make them more real and create a pathway in my brain to aid memory when I need to feel those inner resources.

Thought-stopping is a technique developed by Joseph Wolpe in the 1950s. As soon as you feel anxiety rising up inside you, say “stop” to yourself or out loud. Imagine a red traffic light or a cannon being fired at the same time. Stop, this is nonsense. Stop, I don’t need this. Stop, this is irrational. Focus on stopping the thoughts that are threatening to bubble up inside and cause troublesome behaviour.

Next, focus your attention on external sights and sounds in your immediate vicinity. Give your mind something to occupy itself with that uses your senses rather than your negative thoughts. After that, use a breathing technique to bring calm. The book suggests breathing in slowly through your mouth, silently saying the word ‘calm’. On the exhale, say the word ‘relax’, making it twice as long as the in-breath. Empty your lungs of old air and make room for oxygen-rich new air and with them, calming positive feelings.

The final chapter, entitled ‘Staying Positive in a Crazy World’ really hit home with me and I’d love to be able to keep all of this in mind when I let life become frankly too crazy.

1) Keep track of your irrational thoughts and challenge them.
When we hold an irrational belief, we demand that events be different from how they actually are. This is self-defeating and likely to cause upset. Discover, challenge and change those irrational thoughts. Take responsibility for how you think, feel and act.

2) Learn to laugh at yourself.
Humour is an effective coping mechanism. It can lift you out of a negative mood and able you to see the funny side of your mistakes and accept your foibles. Don’t take yourself too seriously. See the absurd side of life.

3) Accept change as part of life and be flexible.
Change is as inevitable as death and taxes! You can control your responses to change by seeing it as a challenge, not a threat. You can prepare for change in advance by learning about new things relevant to the change. You can seek advice from people going through similar issues.

4) Leave your comfort zone and take sensible risks.
Staying in your comfort zone feels safe and predictable but it can be boring and lead to frustration. You will never discover anything new about yourself, others and life if you don’t leave your comfort zone. When you do, you might do new things of which others disapprove. You might try something that clashes with your pre-existing beliefs. You might take on new tasks where success is not guaranteed.

5) Resolve to look reality in the face.
Rather than demand that an unpleasant reality must be different to how it is, change your demands into preferences, thus keeping less-than-perfect realities in perspective and not wasting your energy placing unrealistic demands on ourselves and others. Avoid exaggerating the horror of a situation – know that you have coped before, and will continue to cope.

6) Learn to accept uncertainty.
There are no guarantees of a positive outcome. Uncertainty creates worry, fear and anxiety when we don’t accept that it is an inevitable (and wonderful) part of life. Fantasising about worst-case scenarios won’t keep bad things from happening. In fact, worrying less actually sets you up for success far better, as we have learnt with the laws of attraction. Create a ‘worry time’ – a regular time and place of say 20 minutes every day where you can worry. If anxious thoughts cross your mind at other times, tell yourself you’ll worry about them later during the allotted worry time.

7) Build and maintain your relationships.
This takes time and energy, and when it comes to your partner, is likely to be a life-long commitment. It can be a surprise to discover that our knowledge of them is incomplete. To maintain successful relationships it is essential to be yourself. Avoid being how you think the other person wants you to be. Use effective communication, and where possible use “I” statements (‘I would really like…’) rather than “you” statements (‘you never…’).

8) Take time out to relax.
There are lots of different relaxation techniques that you can try, such as self-hypnosis, mindfulness, meditation, yoga and deep breathing.

9) Work to live: don’t live to work
Maintain a balance between work, rest and enjoyment. When you are at work, take breaks, eat well and add variety where possible. During your spare time, pursue a hobby that interests you. It can have many benefits.

10) Accept yourself – as you are.
Unconditional self-acceptance is different from self-esteem. Our accomplishments do not make us worthwhile, just as our mistakes do not make us worthless.

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