Escaping a loop of unwanted thoughts

I am writing this post to help a client who has been experiencing overwhelming, unwanted and seemingly uncontrollable frightening and distressing thoughts. I hope that it might be helpful to whoever reads it. I have a great deal of personal and professional experience of escaping this continual negative loop by using a number of tactics based on powerful affirmations, loving self-care and self-acceptance, calming meditation, supportive networks, empowering journalling and knowledge-building bibliotherapy.

Affirmations

In my experience, affirmations can be an incredibly powerful tool to counter painful feelings and negative thoughts when you have to try and put them to one side to get on with your day or, indeed, your life. I learned of the power of affirmations through the work of Louise L. Hay and I have many of her recordings, which I, and the clients who I recommend them to, have found helpful.

Examples of affirmations:

This will pass.

I can handle it.

am dealing with this.

All is well in my world.

I am in control of my life.

I am loving, lovable and loved.

I am confident and competent woman/man.

Every day, in every way, I get stronger and stronger.

It is important to remember that these are affirmations and not truths. If you have a bad day, it doesn’t mean they are not true and not working, and that you really are not any of the things you started believing in. The point is that you are acting as if they are true in order to condition yourself to believe them. But we all have bad days and it is helpful to have some acceptance of this fact and concentrate on loving and caring for ourselves instead.

Loving self-care and self-acceptance

Be active in loving yourself and looking after yourself. Put yourself first. We need to love and accept ourselves and have self-empathy before we can truly love, accept and empathise with others. Avoid self-criticism, self-blame, self-reproach – don’t put yourself down – there are plenty of others who will do that for you so work hard to build yourself up instead. There are lots of ways to increase self-confidence and self-esteem – beginning with those affirmations. One effective method of self-care to help look after yourself when you’ve been having a rough time of it and you are in a dark place is to parent yourself. Imagine being both child and parent and the parent in you is charged with looking after the child in you. I find this an extremely loving way to nurture the self by being kind and gentle, by asking what the child inside needs and attending to those needs in a loving and caring way. I work with clients using this type of inner child work, which I learned through training in the Penny Parks method.

Calming meditation

There are a wealth of free and high quality meditations available via the Internet through resources such as YouTube and iTunes. Listening to a meditation can really help calm the stress and anxiety when you get stuck in a negative thought loop and I highly recommend finding out which ones work for you so that you can access one quickly if you are feeling panicky or frightened, and get to know the ones that you really enjoy so that you can plan to spend time in the evening after work meditating and relaxing when you recognise the need for calm and relaxation. There are different types of meditations either with guided (talking), or just music with nature sounds and pictures. I have recently discovered that Tina Turner has now devoted herself to Buddhism and meditation and she has provided many YouTube videos for us to enjoy – quite a few of them with children singing, which seem to have their own healing qualities.

Supportive networks

It is very hard to deal with life’s problems all alone – some problems are impossible to manage all by oneself. Building a good support network can be key to looking after ourselves and knowing how to ask for help and who to talk to when we recognise this could help are healthy coping skills. When we get stuck in a negative thought loop, talking can help so it is very useful to have some numbers of appropriate people or agencies to call in an emergency. There are many helplines for general distress such as the Samaritans, which is a wonderful resource for anybody feeling alone and desperate in the small hours when everyone else is asleep.

Empowering journalling

Writing a journal morning and night can really keep us on track when trying to cope through difficult times when we might be faced with many challenges throughout the day.

In the morning you may ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel this morning?

What challenges do I anticipate today?

What coping methods will I use today to help me manage stress and build resilience?

By asking yourself such questions you may anticipate difficulties and pre-empt unhealthy coping methods by actively engaging in loving self-care, affirmations and meditation. You may recognise the need to talk to someone about your feelings, ask for help or even cancel an engagement if you recognise it as possibly too overwhelming for you. In these ways, you can keep yourself safe.

In the evening, you could ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel this evening?

What did I learn today and how can I put this into practise?

What would I have liked to have done differently?

Drawing on Kolb’s experiential learning cycle to think about how we can learn from our experiences we can being to identify what helps or harms us so that we know better how to deal with future situations. This is an effective method of increasing self-awareness, which is fundamental to growth and change. Again, we need to be loving, caring and kind towards ourselves and reflect in an honest but compassionate and forgiving way.

Bibliotherapy

Learning and understanding through reading different types of self-help or other types of relevant books can be hugely therapeutic. I particularly recommend audible books when stuck in a negative thought loop as listening to someone read to us can really take our minds off unwanted thoughts. Audible.co.uk is a great way to download books onto your iPhone or tablet so that you have books to hand when struggling with painful thoughts or challenging situations. Some of my favourites and some titles that others have recommended to me include:

Anything by Louise L. Hay

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Awakening Compassion by Pema Chodron

A Course in Miracles by The Foundation for Inner Peace

The Empathy Instinct by Peter Bazalgette

Humble Enquiry by Edgar H. Schein

It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn

Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Any of the Sleep Learning audible books by Anna Thompson

Do comment below if you have a suggestion!

 

I would like to end with this prayer by Julian of Norwich. Although I am not a religious person, I find her prayer immensely soothing and grounding when sung as a little ditty.

All shall be well, and all shall be well.

All manner of thing shall be well.

 

Warm wishes, Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Dr Laura Monk

I am a researcher and counselling tutor based at University of Nottingham. My doctoral research investigated how to improve professionals' responses to mothers who become separated from their children. I developed a training workshop for the professionals who mothers come into contact with - largely at the intersection of health and social care, the family courts and domestic abuse services. I am also a counsellor and psychotherapist and offer feminist therapy for survivors of domestic abuse - especially coercive control. I am a Women's Aid domestic violence prevention advocate.
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