People suffering from anxiety or depression often ruminate about their fears throughout the day and these obsessive intrusions can cause individuals to feel worse and worse. Some psychologists use a technique known as ‘thought stopping’ and this can be used to control unwanted thoughts. The following is a list of thought stopping techniques that I have used in my clinical practice; I have added a brief explanation of each one so that practitioners can utilise these approaches in their own clinics.
1.Verbal interruption. This is one of the simplest techniques. When you are experiencing negative ruminations, the idea is to say ‘Stop’ or Enough’. This can be done in your head or out loud. Please note that shouting this when you are in public is probably not desirable; however, it is an effective technique when you are on your own. Some people also click their fingers and this adds to the effectiveness of the thought stopping process.
2. Scattered counting. Counting from 1 to 10 is a technique that has been used for many years to control anger. However, this is not particularly helpful for handling anxiety or depressive thoughts. The reason for this is because counting from 1 to 10, because it is so simple, is an automatic process. In order to help people to stop ruminating, it is important to make the task more cognitively challenging. In this technique, the individual has to say, out loud, a two digit number between 10 and 99. However, this approach works best when one is forced to start with a different first digit each time. Individuals need to concentrate on the next number and this helps them take their mind of the unwanted thoughts.
3. The ‘What is the worst thing that can happen’ technique. People suffering from anxiety tend to think of the worst case scenario and they catastrophize events that may take place in the future. A useful trick is to imagine that the worst thing possible could happen—for example, someone fearing singing in public and forgetting her words. In this scenario, it is often helpful to think about this happening and saying to yourself that, even if this does occur, you can deal with it. However, please note that imagining the worst case scenario in hypnosis is not helpful and, in some cases, can make the individual feel worse.
4. Positive self-talk. This is a technique in which the individual changes negative thoughts into more positive ones. For example, if someone tells you that they are nervous about going to the doctors, you can change the negative thought to, ‘It is all right to be nervous but I can get through this’. The idea here is to coach yourself to be more robust, and to congratulate yourself on overcoming each negative thought.
5. Muscle isolation. Often when individuals suffer from ruminations they spend hours in their own heads catastrophizing future events or ruminating about past issues. In this technique, clients are advised to concentrate on one specific muscle and move around the body. What this does, is that it focuses their attention on their bodies rather than constantly being in their heads.
6. Auditory distraction. Sometimes when we ruminate, the negative thoughts and fears become louder and louder and completely consume us. This is a simple technique which involves playing a favourite piece of music and listening on headphones.
7. Meditation. Being relaxed and mindful every day can have excellent effect on our ability to reduce or eliminate unwanted fears and thoughts.
These techniques can also be employed in hypnosis. I have found that the best way to help individuals with ruminations is to teach them how to do the above techniques in hypnosis; they are then encouraged to practise two or three of the above techniques as and when is required in their every day lives.
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