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Stopping Unwanted Thoughts

These persistent thoughts are often hard to shift. They can seem disturbingly clear, and sufferers can be driven to seek reassurance from others that their thoughts haven’t become reality. For example, the thoughts are sometimes about harm coming to others, which can be extremely distressing.

The onset of unwanted thoughts is often associated with a build-up of stress. While such thoughts are harmless in themselves, they can be very frightening and can cause profound disruption to suffers’ lives. The long-term answer is for the sufferer to organise his/her life so that they lead a balanced existence with the right amount of stress – neither too much nor too little. But what can they do to get some relief from unwanted thoughts in the meantime? Thought-stopping is a simple technique that has helped many people do just that. If you have unwanted thoughts:

1. First, get hold of a rubber band (or an elastic bracelet), one that fits loosely around your wrist.

2. Spend a few moments thinking up an alternative thought to the one that is plaguing you. It should be a pleasant and calming one – perhaps a memory of a relaxing holiday you once enjoyed, or a walk you once took in the country. It could be some place or situation that stands out in you memory as being particularly peaceful and beautiful. In any case you should be able to visualise it quite clearly when required.

3. To practice thought-stopping, isolate yourself in a room where you will not be interrupted. Start by conjuring up your unwanted thought until it is clearly in your mind.

4. Suddenly shout “Stop!”, and at the same time tweak yourself with the rubber band. This will shock both your mind (through the shouting) and your body (by the rubber band), and for a moment the unwanted thought will vanish.

5. Immediately, start counting backwards from 10 to 1 out loud. When you have reached 1, begin thinking about your alternative, pleasant thought. Go on thinking about it for about 30 seconds. Repeat this procedure (i.e. step 1 to 5) two or three times for practice.

6. Now do it again several more times, each time making the “Stop!” and the counting less and less audible. However, you should go on shouting and counting inside your head. The aim is to transfer this process to one which takes place entirely within your own head, so you can eventually do it anywhere. As you get well practised, you should also be able to give up the rubber band.


Our approach to therapy


Following a car accident, I suffered terribly with a fight or flight response when driving. I did not know what this anxiety was and tried for months to recover on my own. After a particularly severe anxiety attack, I realised that I needed to get help. EMDR therapy was incredibly effective. My anxiety was linked specifically to the accident and in one session the anxiety was dispersed.  I literally walked out of Swift Counselling, got in my car and drove with no anxiety from that moment on.  I am thrilled with the results, thank you.