Here’s my Top Tips for managing troubling thoughts. What I mean by this is thoughts that are distressing and/or unhelpful. These are in no order of priority. These are just my 7 best suggestions!
Possibly important to point out here is that I am relating this blog to my own experience. Therefore, these tips are related to the kind of thoughts I have that drive my anxiety, low mood and sometimes anger & frustration. My Top Tips may not be suited for thoughts relating to other issues such as OCD, Trauma or Psychosis to name a few. Be your own judge.
Top Tip 1
Bust out of Rumination and Take Action!
Worried about something that’s happened? Something you’ve said or something someone has said to you? Something you’ve done? Something that might happen? Have a think about what is worrying you and decide if it is something you can take action on. Is there something you can actually do to remedy the “problem”? If there is, then make a plan. Tackle the worry. If there isn’t anything you can do and it’s out of your hands, tell yourself FIRMLY that this is the case. That there is nothing you can reasonably do about it and that by continuing to play the thought over & over again in your mind you are now Ruminating. If you don’t know too much about the term Rumination, it’s worth having a look on Google and reading up. Rumination is strongly linked to mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety.
Top Tip 2
Distraction, Distraction, Distraction!
This can be especially useful if Top Tip 1 doesn’t work. Of course, there is the possibility that whatever troubling thoughts you are having will simply return when the distraction stops. Every person will need to use their own distraction techniques to best suit them. It can be very hit & miss, and what works one day, might not work the next. Distraction is important. One of the big problems with troubling thoughts is that we get too consumed with and focused on ourselves. We need to turn our attention OUTWARDS at times like this and not INWARDS.
Top Tip 3
Talk to someone
When this works, it’s like combining Top Tips 1 & 2. If you are having troubling thoughts, it’s likely you will be emotionally affected, either in terms of your anxiety increasing or your mood worsening, or both. When you are feeling anxious or low in mood, you are not always the best judge of your thoughts, assumptions, and more importantly, conclusions! With what you’re worrying about, or is troubling you, if you can’t solve it for yourself, talk it out!
Top Tip 4
Watch out for Cognitive Distortions
The first form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) I ever got into was the David Burns book called “The Feeling Good Handbook”. I discovered it when my social anxiety was at its most rampant. He identifies a checklist of 10 “Cognitive Distortions”. These are also known as “unhelpful thinking styles”.
Top Tip 5
Count to 10 (slowly!)
The next two Top Tips are linked to our BEHAVIOUR and how we RESPOND to troubling thoughts. Sometimes our troubling thoughts can be so intense and so sudden we feel compelled to ACT. I also refer to this as an ‘Emotional Hijacking’ (courtesy of an excellent book called Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman). We can become so overwhelmed with our thoughts that we respond quickly, ruthlessly and often with regret. This is much easier to say than do, but you need to try really hard to DELAY ACTION sometimes. Just giving yourself an extra 10, 30 or 60 seconds can make a massive difference sometimes. Think about it. Do you need to respond to these thoughts right away? Chances are these thoughts will still be there later on in the day. Why not respond to them then? The intensity of these thoughts might just have died down. You might be seeing things clearer. This will mean your RESPONSE to these thoughts may be more measured, and therefore more helpful to you (and others!)
Top Tip 6
Change the way you respond to uncertainty
A big theme for me personally with troubling thoughts is uncertainty. Like many, I struggle to tolerate uncertainty. This can lead to impulsive checking behaviours, harassing people for answers and seeking reassurance. Now-a-days (and I don’t always succeed, actually I often fail) I try to DEAL with the fact I “don’t know for sure”. I try NOT to send THAT text. To send THAT e-mail. To make THAT phone-call. It’s hard to fight this urge, but I normally feel really chuffed with myself if I manage it. It’s important to try and learn you CAN deal with uncertainty better than you give yourself credit for.
Top Tip 7
Accept the fact you could be wrong!
Sometimes you just have to swallow some pride! Accepting and then challenging some of your own thoughts means accepting you COULD BE WRONG. That there might be ANOTHER WAY to look at the situation. Yes, you may have been getting things wrong for many years now. Doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you human.
Post written and produced by Alex Jones for Anxiety United