Posts tagged ‘metta’

May 6, 2011

Thought Stopping Techniques

by Dave P.

by Dave Pollack

“I can’t believe I said those things at the office party last night! Everybody must think I’m a total idiot! I’m never going to hear the end of it and everybody at work is going to hate me!”

You lay awake in bed, tossing and turning, afraid to face the coming day. The next morning, you feel horrible from not having slept. Your eyes are bloodshot, you’re not thinking clearly, you’re in a bad mood, and you want to call in sick but you can’t afford to miss any more time off.

And so, you go to work, expecting the worst. But it turns out, what you said was no big deal. You weren’t the focus of everyone’s attention and hardly anyone noticed if you said something inappropriate or “stupid.” So you wound up making yourself miserable for nothing.

Worrying can become habitual. It might arise out of some genuine crisis. Maybe the company bully set his sights on you and made your life miserable. Afterwards, you started blowing any little snide remark or conflict out of proportion and you felt like the whole world had turned against you. Your relationships deteriorate and you begin to hate getting out of bed in the morning. You’ve become miserable and you’re making everyone around you miserable with all your complaining. You lose your comfort base. You snap at the slightest provocation. Your habitual worry turns into insomnia. Your friends no longer want to be around you. Your world is falling apart because you can’t stop those damned obsessive ruminations and maladaptive thoughts. You need help.

So how do you stop obsessive worry and ruminations? There are several methods and they can be used individually or in conjunction with each other. They do take a bit of self-discipline, though. You would think that it would be easy to control your own mind, but it’s usually quite difficult – at least in the beginning. We seem to derive some kind of satisfaction from rehashing events in our minds, which makes it difficult to stop.

Many people who suffer from insomnia have a hard time shutting down their minds when trying to fall asleep. Unless you’ve suddenly thought of a cure for cancer or have an idea that would make a perpetual motion machine possible, your thought doesn’t need to be processed when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep. Thoughts related to work can wait. Ruminations and worry can definitely wait for another time.

The cognitive approach to thought stopping can be effective in stopping the unwanted thoughts. When a thought pops into your head, ask yourself, “Do I really need to process that thought? Is that an important thought or am I just needlessly obsessing over something that doesn’t really matter? If it’s an important thought, does it need to be processed right now while I’m trying to sleep or can it wait until tomorrow?”

You can make a note to yourself to think the thought the next day after you get up. If you’re laying there worrying, tell yourself that right now you’re going to sleep, but you’ll be sure to worry about it in the morning when you get up. Make a note to yourself to worry, just in case you forget. Chances are, when you look at the note the next day, you’ll realize that whatever it was anything worth worrying about in the first place.

You can also do a cost/benefit analysis on your thought. What do you gain by thinking that thought? What do you lose? Sometimes thinking a thought has no positive value other than you gaining some kind of satisfaction from thinking it. Obsessing over things creates anxiety. Living in the present creates peace and equanimity. When we ruminate about someone who has done us wrong in some way, it doesn’t hurt the other person but it definitely does us harm, so what’s the point?

Ruminations often have their roots in self-loathing. You’re mad at yourself for allowing someone to do you wrong. You didn’t defend yourself the way you think you should have. So you go over the event over and over, perhaps imagining a different outcome.

The only way to get over a bad experience is through forgiveness. Forgive yourself for not defending yourself. Forgive the other person for causing you distress. That’s not to say you should become passive and let everyone pick on you. On the contrary, if you are at peace with yourself, you have a better self-image and can more easily defend yourself. And when you like yourself, people are less likely to pick on you. Bullies tend to go after those with low self-esteem.

After doing an analysis on a few maladaptive thoughts, you can simply tell yourself “It does me absolutely no good to process that thought and it actually makes things worse.”

Some unwanted thoughts will inevitably reappear, even after you’ve made the deliberate decision to not think about them. There are thought stopping techniques to stop them in their tracks before they’re fully formed.

One way most commonly recommended by therapists is to issue the “stop” imperative as soon as the thought begins to form. You can also visualize a stop sign. Another common method is to pinch yourself or snap a rubber band on your wrist when the thoughts start.

Then again, if you’re upset that someone treated you with disrespect and then you start yelling at yourself or hurting yourself, that might not make you feel any better. But there are other techniques at your disposal.

Bob Newhart did a funny skit in his TV series. On his show, he played a psychologist and a woman went to him for advice on how to get over her fear of being locked in a box. His advice was to “stop it. Just stop it.” Here’s a link to the video on YouTube.

While that’s not quite the same as issuing the “stop” command, a little humor can go far in diffusing negative emotions. When an unwanted thought appears, just imagine Bob Newhart telling you to “stop it.”

Another technique is to visualize your thought being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. You could also imagine zapping it with a Taser gun or perhaps it being eaten by a Pak-Man character. Or perhaps imagine a swashbuckler fighting the thought with his sword. You could visualize a Martian zapping it with a ray gun. Add some sound effects to your visualizations for more comic effect.

Humor can be extremely effective in weakening the negative emotions connected to your memories. The memories that are most vivid and most easily retrieved are the ones with the strongest emotional content. That’s why most people can remember where they were when they heard about the 9/11 attack or perhaps the Kennedy assassination, for those who are old enough to remember that.

We are most at peace when we’re living in the present – not rehashing past events or worrying about the future. People often go on vacation to clear their minds by sitting on a beach somewhere or camping out in the wilderness. We can do the same thing any time of the day by practicing mindfulness.

Many Buddhists practice what they call metta or loving-kindness meditation. It’s treating yourself with love and being fully in the present, usually focusing on your breath. You observe the sensation of the cool air passing in through your nostrils and the warm air flowing out. It gives you an object of focus and since your breath is always with you, you can be mindful of your breath at any time and any place.

You can also divide your attention between your breath and the task at hand. If you find that you can’t concentrate on a book you’re reading or a movie you’re trying to watch because of incessant ruminations, try observing your breath while engaging in those activities. When the extraneous thoughts subside, put your full attention on the task at hand. If the thoughts come back, return to dividing your attention between your breath and the task.

Many people have experienced good results with visualizations. Imagine yourself at a beach, the gentle waves rolling in and out, seagulls flying overhead… Or you could imagine yourself getting a massage or walking through a rainforest where you’re surrounded by vegetation and beautiful streams. There are many books dedicated to visualizations alone and you can find guided visualizations on the web and in media outlets.

A technique known as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has been effective in treating PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Originally, EMDR consisted of visualizing the traumatic event and at the same time, moving your eyes rapidly back and forth. The theory is that it stimulates both sides of your brain at the same time and that weakens the emotional connections to your memories.

EMDR machines have been developed to stimulate both sides of the brain using sounds through earphones and vibrations through vibrating objects that you hold in your hands. You simply visualize the troubling event while hooked up to the device and the emotional content is weakened.

Thought stopping techniques can demonstrate their efficacy almost immediately. For severe problems with a racing mind or ruminations, it may take days or even weeks to get the problem under control. It does work, though, and the practice of thought-stopping along with meditation and mindfulness can actually change your brain chemistry so that your natural state of mind is one that’s relaxed and content.

April 30, 2011

Loving kindness meditation

by Dave P.

Meditation can be a great stress reliever and create a feeling of well-being that may be otherwise lacking in your life. I’ve heard some people who practice meditation regularly describe the state of mind they experience during meditation sessions as being “better than sex.” Both sex and meditation stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain, which generates a feeling of well-being. Drugs such as heroin and morphine do the same thing, which is why they’re so addictive. While drug addiction is extremely unhealthy and can destroy your life, an addiction to meditation is very healthy.

There are several types of meditation. A good one to start with is loving-kindness meditation. Here are a couple of good videos on loving kindness or ‘metta’ meditation.