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How to cope with stressful thoughts

Mirmont Outpatient Center - Exton June 30, 2014 General Wellness By Dena Schloss, MA, LPC

If worry has taken control of your life, you might want to utilize healthy coping skills to change these negative thoughts. Everybody worries from time to time, although when our thoughts start to interfere with our daily activities it is time to learn ways to cope with them. For many of us worrying is a natural response to anticipated future problems; however when worrying gets out of hand, it can become an almost full-time preoccupation.

You may have a problem with worrying if you:

  • Consistently worry about future failures, dangers or other types of negative outcomes
  • Ruminate, or repeat in your mind, the same worry or worries
  • Try to stop worrying by anxious avoidance of certain situations
  • Become paralyzed with worry and are unable to focus on or implement constructive solutions to your problems

Although we all get stressed when we have to cope with difficult situations, there are techniques we can use that will result in a reduction of your stress level. One very effective technique is “thought stopping”. The basis of this technique is that you consciously issue the command, “STOP!” when you experience repeated negative, unnecessary or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive and realistic. Interrupting the repetitive and unnecessary thoughts with a “STOP!” command serves as a reminder and a distraction.

Here are the steps for engaging in thought stopping:

  1. Identify your stressful thoughts. You would want to start by monitoring your bothersome, repetitive thoughts (rumination). Then write down the thoughts that are creating you the most stress and pick one that you would like to work on first.
  2. Create positive replacement thoughts. Write down positive statements and affirmations next to your stressful thought.
  3. Repeat and replace. Close your eyes and think about the stressful thought. Then try to imagine yourself in a situation in which the thought may occur. Repeat the thought in your mind for several minutes and shout “STOP!” Next let your mind relax and go blank for a minute and if the stressful thought returns, shout “STOP!” again. Then say the positive replacements statements and affirmations that you already identified aloud. Repeat these replacement statements for several minutes. While repeating the replacement statements, try to visualize your success in the stressful situations.

It is important to remember in order for thought stopping to be effective, you will need to practice it throughout the day for several days to several weeks. These unwanted thoughts are likely to continue, although will decrease in frequency as you continue to utilize this skill.

Dena Schloss, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor at the American Day Treatment Center.