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 · The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Self-Talk for Self-Love

The way we speak to ourselves (also called self-talk) can build us up or leave us deflated. The words, the tone, and the overall message in our words can either motivate or tear down, lighten or depress. We may not always feel optimistic in this life, and in those moments our self talk needs to help us persist – enabling us to come out the other side with as little wounding as possible.

How would your mood shift, your perceived stress dissipate, or your day change if you spoke to yourself the way you would speak to a close friend? How would your mood shift if you spoke to yourself as kindly as you would to a young child?self-talk for self-loveWhatever your life experience, whatever has caused you to feel down on yourself, in this moment, try choosing kindness with your inner words. Not sure how or even what to say? Take 5 seconds and try these simple steps that I refer to as Catch – Anchor – Encourage:

  1. Catch yourself when your inner words are negative. Notice with kindness “Whoops, there I go again…”
  2. Take a deep breath, allowing yourself to get present in the moment.
  3. Insert something positive, such as “Ok, I can try again.”

“Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. We just need to learn to make friends with our inner critic.” (Dr. Kristin Neff)

If you have a tendency to use negative self-talk, be patient with yourself as you learn to turn it around. Here is a ‘cheat sheet’ of positive statements you use when substituting out the negative – think of this as a starting point as you learn to substitute your own.

  • I am not alone in my struggles
  • I am strong
  • Every breath I take anchors me in this present moment
  • I can do this
  • I can get help if I need to
  • I am doing the best that I can
  • I can’t blame myself for everything
  • I will learn from this mistake
  • Emotions are just visitors and I can let them leave
  • I can connect with calm again
  • I am going to be okay
  • I am able to calm my mind and my body
  • This too shall pass
  • I am able to persist
  • This is just one bad day
  • I believe that everything will work itself out somehow

Okay – now it’s your turn. Practice Catch-Anchor-Encourage as you go about your day today. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know how it goes!

Reference:

Neff, K. (2015) Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Process of Therapy

Three Little Things: Journaling to build Self-Worth

One key way we build self-esteem is by accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves. Every accomplished goal trickles into our sense self: it feeds our personal integrity, that sense of trust we have in ourselves that we will do what we set out to do. Our proven ability, even though only proven to ourselves, contributes to feeling good about ourselves. But what happens when a negative core belief such as “I’m not good enough” has a stronghold over our thoughts?

Negative core beliefs are false self-referencing beliefs, and they pack a pretty heavy punch. When a negative belief screams out in our brain, a powerful emotional response reverberates throughout our memory network and our body responds with much the same level of activation as when the negative belief was created – even though in the present moment we are safe. Experiences from childhood may have planted the seeds of the negative belief, and then additional life experiences may have strengthened them. Because these negative beliefs have been reinforced over and over again, they feel very true. “Negative beliefs come to create a perpetual filter through which we view ourselves and our world” (Parnell, 2007).

Negative core beliefs feel true but they are not true. Because these beliefs are capable of infiltrating all of our daily activities, social interactions, and inner dialogue, we need an equally powerful method for countering them. Counselling is an excellent way to heal early wounds and develop coping strategies for the present. There are also techniques we can focus on between sessions to practice being present with new, positive belief systems.

journal for self-worthThree Little Things: 

For this journaling activity, you are going to want to use a beautiful book: one that makes you smile when you look at. You won’t be journaling in the traditional style: this will be more of a ‘healing journal’, one that you are going to want to flip through often, to remind yourself of what you have written.

Each evening before you get ready for bed, take 10 minutes to sit down and reflect on 3 things you did well that day. These are the little things that we often over-look, that there are no accolades for. When we take the time to notice, we develop compassion for our selves. We start to see the evidence that yes, we are human and we make mistakes, but also that we are also inherently good and worthwhile beings. If you find that you are having trouble getting started, try reflecting on the list of prompts below.

Writing Prompts for Reflection:

  • What did I do well today?
  • How did I cope successfully with a triggering moment today?
  • How did I care for myself with loving kindness after a triggering moment?
  • What am I grateful for today
  • How did I demonstrate gratitude today?
  • How did I implement something I’ve been learning today?
  • How did I show kindness today?
  • How did I show up with courage in my life today?
  • How did I practice self-acceptance, or self-forgiveness today?
  • What daily goal did I follow through on today?
  • How did I live with intention today?

For more strategies on journaling to build self-compassion (and a really good read…) check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: self-compassion.org.

Resources:
Parnell, L. (2007). A Therapist’s Guide to EMDR: Tools and Techniques for Successful Treatment. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company.