Mindfulness

The Shortlist Series: How to get Unstuck from Negative Looping Thoughts

The quote in the image above describes an idea that is so simple and yet not very easy. When we find ourselves stuck in negative looping thought-patterns, we often need a way out – a life preserver of sorts to pull us to safety. Here are  four suggestions that might help you exit those negative thought cycles. And as always, if you have a strategy that works for you to healthfully exit negative looping thoughts – please add it to the comments.

unstuck

1. Anchor to the Present Moment

When we find ourselves stuck in negative thinking, we may be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. We can not change the past, and when we worry about the future, we are robbing today of its strength. Returning to the present moment may be just what you need to let your nervous system settle. Once you shift out of that worry or fear loop, your problem-solving brain can come back on-line, and the negative loop is interrupted. Not sure how to get back into the present moment? Here are some ideas:

5-4-3-2-1: Look around the room you are in, and carefully describe 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch (actually move around and touch the items), 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

Ground with Colour: Look around the room you are in and take notice of everything you can see that is blue. Go slowly, pausing to notice what the item is and its particular shade of blue. Move on from blue to notice everything that is green, then orange, and so forth until you have gone through all the colours or until the looping thoughts have settled.

Letter Association by Word: Pick a word any word, and then break it down letter by letter, coming up with as many other words that start with each letter of your chosen word. (For example: if your word is COPING, start by thinking of as many words as you can that begin with the letter C, then O words, then P, then I, then N, then G.)

(These strategies are helpful because they focus our attention in a directive manner, and thus can interrupt the negative or looping thoughts that so often accompany anxiety. And the result? You return to the present moment, and the looping thoughts are interrupted.)

2. Connect with Compassion

When we are caught up in negative looping thoughts, our heart tends to be closed off. In other words, we might be thinking about the worst-case scenario, putting ourselves down, feeling as though things will never get better, and even thinking negatively of those in our lives. To exit the negative loop, try mixing in some compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff writes, “instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”. Having self-compassion means that you honour and accept your humanness – not self-downing but just being present with loving kindness. Not sure how to connect with self-compassion? Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk kindly to a small child
  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk kindly or encourage a friend or someone you care deeply for
  • Try this breathing exercise for self-compassion: As you exhale, picture yourself exhaling stress, anger, worry, and frustration. As you inhale, picture yourself inhaling peace and acceptance. Continue slowing and deepening your breath, exhaling the worry, etc., and inhaling what you need.
  • Look at a picture of yourself at a younger age and remember you were once a child deserving of kindness and understanding
  • Look at a picture of a loved one (or look at them if you are near them) and think of 3 things you love about them
  • If you have a pet, take a few minutes to pet or play with them, and soak up some impromptu pet therapy!

3. Refreshen Self-Awareness

What is beneath your upset? Are you feeling unheard, unworthy, or unaccepted? Sometimes when we are caught up in a negative cycle, we start telling ourselves things that serve to keep the cycle going. These might be called thinking traps, negative core beliefs, or psychological defences. Regardless the name you use – take a moment to deepen your self-awareness and tune in to the narrative you are telling yourself. If it is negative, take a few moments to breathe deeply and return to the present moment with loving-kindness. You might want to question that negative narrative. For example, is what you are telling yourself 100% true, 100% of the time? What would you rather be telling yourself, or what could also be true instead? The latter question will start you down the road of connecting with the positive belief you would like to build.

4. Let it out

Sometimes talking it out can help. Is there someone in your life that you could vent to? Not for advice (unless you want it) – but rather a sounding board who can witness your tidal wave and be waiting on the shore as you ride the surf out. Emotional settling can occur when we connect with a caring friend or family member and feel heard.

If no one is around, try venting by writing out what you are feeling. You can also draw, doodle, scribble, or paint. Click here if you haven’t used writing to vent and want to hear some ideas on how to get started.

Have you discovered some ideas that help to healthfully shift out of negative looping thoughts? If so, please add what works for you in the comments.

Mindful Parenting · Mindfulness

Turn your Internal Compass Toward Loving Kindness

loving_kindness_meditation

I first learned the loving kindness meditation during a training course. I had been so taken by it that I immediately began integrating it into my personal life. Over the years, I have brought it forward into my counselling practice.

The loving kindness meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition as a means to develop compassion. Its simple sentences aim to foster unconditional acceptance, love, and compassion for self as well as for others, with no expectation of anything in return.

In this post, I am sharing two versions of the loving kindness meditation. The first one is longer and may take approximately 10 minutes, and the second one is abbreviated for those days when we feel pressed for time.

Here are some suggestions on when to use the loving kindness meditation:

  1. To get centred in the morning and set your intention for the day. Take a few minutes each morning, and create space for loving kindness in your life.
  2. To tune your heart. Elisha Goldstein writes about using compassion to tune the heart, and places this action in the context of a natural antidepressant.
  3. To let go of the emotional journey of others, and still feel as though you are helping. There will be moments when we want to help those in our lives, but we can not carry their emotional suffering for them. The loving kindness meditation creates space for you to connect with compassion for others, in a way that honours their strength and ability.  I have often directed my loving kindness meditation to my children, when they have appeared to be struggling with peers or with the pressures of adolescence. I have directed it toward my husband, when I have known he was entering into stressful times at work. I have directed it toward family members, when I have been keenly aware of the miles between us and my inability to reach out and hug them. When sitting with the loving kindness meditation, picture the individuals in your life, their inherent goodness, and their desire to be happy. Wish the words of the loving kindness meditation to them, with an open heart, unconditional acceptance, and without judgment.

The loving kindness meditation can help you cultivate compassion for self and others. Challenge yourself to use it daily for 2 weeks, and notice with curiousity the beneficial impact it can have on you and your relationships!

loving_kindness_shortened

 

Resources:

  • The loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the first image) was shared with me by Counsellor Mahara Albert, in Vancouver BC, during the Stopping the Violence core training by EVA BC (2008)
  • The shortened version of the loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the second image) is by Jack Kornfield

Prefer to have the meditation read to you? Check out these options:

 

Affect Regulation · Mindfulness

You want me to do What??! A Recipe for Creating Presence

I recently started an on-line parenting workshop. My motivation for taking it was 2-fold:

  1. I am a parent, and often have moments of complete bewilderment. I read a quote recently that completely sums it up: “Parenting is like looking both ways before crossing the road, and then being hit by an airplane”
  2. I often work with parents in my counselling practice, and want to ensure I am knowledgeable on age-appropriate approaches and research

It is a brilliant program – based on theory first, with the goal of inspiring parents to work from a philosophical approach that acknowledges both child developmental needs and attachment theory – then branching out to assist parents in understanding how to apply that theory. I am really enjoying it.

However, I have noticed that while the approaches are fantastic, there isn’t mention of why parents often are not able to stick with their best parenting intentions. I’m talking about how often child behaviours can trigger a parent. When a person is triggered, they are no longer in the moment. When a person is triggered, they are experiencing emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts from a past time when perhaps they were hurt in some way. These are the moments when our reactions do not fit the situation at hand. These are the moments when we tend to say things we regret. And these are the moments that as parents, we stray from our best intentions.

Working through our painful memories and experiences in therapy is certainly one way to end the power of triggers. Deep breathing is another tool that is super powerful at moving a person out of a trigger and back into the present moment. I’d like to offer another tool that can be used right away. It’s a form of mindfulness meditation that when used daily, can take both the power out of the trigger and also reduce the chances of your child’s behaviour triggering you. It’s called the Loving Kindness Meditation. While there are many versions, I’d like to share one that was written up by Jack Kornfield, a leader in mindfulness writings.

Here is how it works:

Take a few moments every day – perhaps in the morning, or before you go to bed at night. Read each of the following lines, pausing after each to genuinely visualize what that would look like for you – without judgment, and with loving kindness in your heart. Once you are finished, read the lines again, this time pausing to visualize your child. Genuinely wish these things for your child, without judgment, and with loving kindness in your heart.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from internal and external danger.

May I be well in my body and my mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

Hint: when reading it with your child in mind, change the phrases to read “May you be…”. Taking just a few minutes each day to shift your focus into loving kindness can have a profound impact on how you handle those tough situations. Give it a go – I’d love to hear how you find it!

Loving Kindness meditation from Jack Kornfield,
https://www.jackkornfield.com/meditation-lovingkindness/