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Thought Stopping Techniques for Stress

How to Get Rid of Stress

It has been well documented that negative and frightening thoughts invariably precede negative and frightening emotions. If the thoughts can be controlled, overall stress levels can be significantly reduced. Thought stopping involves concentrating on the unwanted thoughts and, after a short time, suddenly stopping and emptying the mind. The command “Stop” or a loud noise is generally used to interrupt the unpleasant thoughts.

Instructions for Thought Stopping

Explore and List Your Stressful Thoughts

Create a list of stressful thoughts to help you assess which recurrent thoughts are the most painful and intrusive. If a caller is struggling to identify stressful thoughts, here are some questions you can ask to help them:
• Do you worry about being on time?
• Do you worry about leaving the lights or the gas on, or whether the doors are locked?
• Do you ever have persistent ideas that someone you know might be having an accident or that something might have happened to them?
• Do you go back and think about a task you have already completed, wondering how you could have done it better?
• Do you question yourself or have doubts about a lot of the things that you do?
• Do you worry about money a lot?
• Do you frequently think things will not get better and may, in fact, get worse?
• Do you ruminate about details?
• Do you worry about auto accidents?
• Do you worry about getting trapped in crowds, on bridges, elevators and so on?
• Does a negative feature of your appearance or your make-up preoccupy you at times?
• Do you think again and again about your failures?

Ask yourself these questions about each stressful thought you identified:

• Is the thought realistic or unrealistic?
• Is the thought productive or counter-productive?
• Is the thought neutral or self-defeating?
• Is the thought easy or hard to control?
• Is it possible that this thought could come true? Just how probable is it?

How to Get Rid Of any of Stressful Thoughts

Thought stopping requires consistent motivation. Decide now if you really want to eliminate any of stressful thoughts you have listed. Select a thought that you feel strongly committed to extinguishing.

Imagine that Thought

Close your eyes and bring into imagination a situation in which the stressful thought is likely to occur. Try to include normal as well as stressful thinking. In this way, you can interrupt the stressful thoughts while allowing a continuing flow of healthy thinking.

Thought Interruption

Thought interruption can be accomplished initially by using one oftwo startler techniques:
  • Set an egg timer or alarm clock for 3 minutes. Look away, close your eyes, and ruminate on your stressful thought as described above in Step 2. When you hear the ring, shout, “Stop!”. You may also want to raise your hand, snap your fingers or stand up. Let your mind empty all but the neutral and non-anxious thoughts. Set a goal of about 30 seconds after the stop, during which your mind remains blank. If the upsetting thought returns during that time, shout, “Stop!” again.
  • Tape record yourself loudly exclaiming, “Stop” at intermittent intervals (e.g. three minutes, two minutes, three minutes, one minute). You may find it useful to repeat the taped stop messages several times at five-second intervals. Proceed the same way as with the egg timer or alarm clock. The tape recording shapes and strengthens your thought control.

Unaided Thought Interruption

Now take control of the thought stopping cue, without the timer or tape recorder. While ruminating on the stressful thought, shout, “Stop!” When you succeed in extinguishing the thought on several occasions with the shouted command, begin interrupting the thought with “Stop!” said in a normal voice. After succeeding in stopping the thought by using your normal speaking voice, start interrupting the thought with “Stop!” verbalized in a whisper. When the whisper is sufficient to interrupt stressful thoughts, use the sub-vocal command “Stop!” Imagine hearing “Stop!” shouted inside your mind. Success at this stage means that you can stop thoughts alone or in public, without making a sound or calling attention to yourself.

Thought Substitution

The last of thought stopping involves thought substitution. In place of the stressful thought, make up some positive, assertive statements that are appropriate in the target situation. For example, if you are afraid of flying, you might say to yourself, “This is a fantastically beautiful view from way up here.” Develop several alternative statements to say to yourself, since the same response may lose its power through repetition.

If the sub-vocalized “Stop” is not working for you, create a technique that you can use to substitute the word “Stop!” (e.g. keep a rubber band around your wrist, and snap it when unwanted thoughts occur). Be aware that thought stopping takes time. The thought will return and you will have to interrupt it again. The main effort is to stifle each thought just as it begins, and to concentrate on something else. The thoughts will return less and less readily in most cases.

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