Recently, I was scouring the internet for a quick cheat-sheet which would describe several strategies for managing unwanted thoughts. (Therapists search for bizarre things. Like, in the middle of a CBT therapy session, google can help ascertain the answer to, “Can a spider break through 1/2 inch of glass?”… but I digress) There are lots of lengthy books and resources out there on the subject, but, unfortunately, I didn’t find anything that offered simple solutions. So, alas, I only knew one way to satisfy the millions of people in-need of such a tool…. Ask Meg Sanity to write a guest post. Because you know, millions of people read my blog. Errr…. if they weren’t, they should start reading it now:
8 Simple ways to stop unwanted thoughts (By Meg Sanity):
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a cornerstone in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders and even other therapies such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy which is often used to treat personality disorders. The premise is simple: by altering the way people think, we can change their responses and the way they end up behaving.
Sounds good, right?
While there are numerous tactics for addressing negative or racing thoughts, some are more popular than others. So today, I wanted to offer you a quick and dirty list of some of my favorite types of CBT practices.
But first we need a thought to challenge. Let’s say your recurrent negative thought is, “I’m a terrible mother. Everyone else does it better.”
We’ve all been there, right? So how to combat this?
1. Self Compassion: To use self compassion, imagine that you are talking to someone else, someone you like. Talk to yourself the way you would speak to them. Would you tell your sister that she sucks at this parenting gig? That her kids might grow up to hate her? No? Then knock it off and tell yourself whatever you might actually say. Perhaps, “We all make mistakes, no one is perfect, and I AM A GOOD MOTHER.”
2. Cost Benefit Analysis: Maybe you hold on to these thoughts because you feel that they might help you somehow (though this is not usually the case). Does beating yourself up about not finishing the dishes actually motivate you to complete them? Does telling yourself that you suck at parenting make you try harder? If the answer is no, use this as a sign that you can let go of the thought without any negative consequences. Being able to see that the thoughts are hurting as opposed to helping might be enough motivation to let them go.
3. Thought Replacement/Visual Substitution: Every single time you hear that familiar voice inside your head chastising you for not making your kids lunches into art like the neighbor, replace the thought immediately. Instead of, “Why can’t you be more like the lunch box diva,” shift focus to a positive affirmation, a favorite quote, or a calming picture in your mind, say a cherished photo of you snuggling your newborn. By replacing the thought and immediately distracting yourself with a more positive image or phrase, the negative thought loses power and will decrease over time. (Much like the neighbor’s drive to keep up with her lunchbox shenanigans.)
4. Shades of Gray Thinking: Perfection is overrated, not to mention downright impossible. Making an error does not make you a failure at motherhood any more than your kid forgetting to brush his teeth makes him less a child. (In fact, that may make him more a child.) Instead of thinking, “I suck. How could I have forgotten today’s soccer practice,” think, “Oops. I forgot a practice. I better put it on the calendar next time.” Plus, do they really need all those practices just to kick a ball around at one another? I think not.
5. Logical Reasoning: Put on your thinking hats, guys, because it’s time to play, “Is this actually true?” We all feel less than awesome sometimes, but we can still maintain logic even when we’ve been up all night chasing kids at a sleepover (shudder). With logical reasoning, you embrace rationality and education, perhaps reading about the thought to see if it has merit. Fear of flying might lessen if you check out the stats on fiery plane crashes. And if you find yourself in the throes of, “I might be the worst mother ever,” I beg you to take ten minutes and look at the news or the online headlines. I can almost guarantee you that whatever you are basing this thought on is nowhere as bad as the things I have seen in practice. Good mothers always worry that they are doing it wrong. Good mothers fret about being awful. They are excessively hard on themselves because they love their children. The mere fact that you are worried tells me that the thought is probably untrue. And if it is true, you should certainly be able to find some concrete evidence of this fact aside from not being able to find a matching pair of socks.
6. Distraction: If all else fails, or you happen to be in a place where examining the thought is not ideal, you might want to embrace distraction or other calming practices. Read a book, take some full deep breaths, go for a walk (or do leg lifts under an office chair). Remind yourself that the thought is not true, but that you can always set aside some time to worry about it after work, after snacks or after the kids go to bed. For some, knowing that they will be able to come back to it and react later allows them to release it for the moment.
And sometimes, instead of later reaction, the best tactic is non reaction.
7. Mindfulness: For this one you don’t actually challenge the thought as much as you acknowledge it without judging yourself for it. I like to pretend that thoughts are bubbles in a stream. Noticing them as they go by does not make them true; it just keeps you from beating yourself up for having them. It also allows for a healthy separation between your thoughts and “you”. You are not these thoughts. You are not a bad mother. You can observe the words without being the embodiment of them.
8. Radical Acceptance: “It happened. And it’s okay.” Pain is part of the human condition. If your thoughts are returning to a past trauma, to a current loss or real pain, it is okay to acknowledge that this sucks balls. It is okay to feel the pain. But in accepting it for what it is, we may also be able to see it as a temporary feeling, one that we can accept and eventually move beyond. We cannot fight reality. But we don’t have to beat ourselves up about it either.
“Megsanity” is the alias of a licensed clinical therapist who has spent the majority of the last ten years working as the Clinical Director/Vice President of Clinical Operations for a JCAHO accredited mental health facility. She needed an anonymous outlet where it was acceptable to drop the F-bomb like it’s hot, so she started Megsanity: Women, psychology and expletives, a blog that strives to promote an understanding of female psychology through recent and anthropological research, girl power, expletives, sarcasm and sexual innuendo. You can also find her on Facebook.