By Dr. S.D. Shanti Copyright ©2020
Excerpted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this information is solely for educational purposes. It is not a substitute for help from a licensed mental health professional or other medical professional.
Your ability to clarify your thoughts can help you untangle yourself from negative emotions. When you act with intention to reduce the number of negative thoughts you have, you are taking deliberate steps toward the healthy side of The Spectrum of Wellbeing.
1. Stop Sign—Putting the Brakes on Runaway Emotions
If you feel your negative emotions careening out of control, visualize a stop sign. Stop the swarm of thoughts in your mind. Then step back, and take a deep breath. Disengage from the situation and return to it when you calm down. It’s that simple—but it works.
2. Hit Your Reset Button—Clearing Your Mind and Committing to Your Priority
When your mind is filled with too many negative thoughts, worries, or self-sabotaging remarks, stop thinking. Silence the chatter. Clear your mind and let it go blank. Then start over fresh and define what is most important in the moment, commit to it, and pursue your priority.
To get rid of negative words and thoughts, try picturing the reset button on a computer and envision yourself pushing it. Then let your thoughts fall away and restart with what is most important.
Words and thoughts are important. But in excess, they can literally be “too much” and block your flow and feed into distress. Having an onslaught of excessive thoughts is like having too many computer files—text, images, music, and presentations—open at the same time; when they run in parallel, they slow down your computer and frustrate you.
When you hit your Reset Button, clear your mind and open only the most important file! Then, with a focused mind, identify your goal, commit to what needs to get done, and do it.
You can vary the Reset Button metaphor to suit your preference. To get you started, here are a couple of variations on the theme:
- Picture a chalkboard in a classroom, so full of words and diagrams that the amount of information makes you feel tense. Erase the board. Then write only what is most important. Commit to that and go forward.
- Alternatively, you might find the image of a toilet handle helpful. It is graphic but effective. When you feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions, do a “flush and focus”—flush the handle, let the excess of words and thoughts flow away, then focus on what’s important.
This tool, created by Marsha Linehan, a professor and researcher at the University of Washington, has you picturing your upsetting thoughts on a non-stick pan and then letting them slide off, the way eggs or pancakes do. Use this image any time someone upsets you. Tell yourself immediately to do a Teflon Mind so the distress doesn’t stay with you like stuck-on batter. Instead, take deep breaths and let your upsets slide away, and go on with your day.
4. Time Out—Getting Some Space to Gather Your Thoughts
When you find yourself in a tense situation, take a Time Out to get some space and gather your thoughts. This tool allows you to put the brakes on your runaway emotions and keeps you from making potentially damaging or embarrassing remarks.
An ancient Sanskrit proverb says that the spoken word is like an arrow. Once released, you can’t take it back. No matter how you release it, whether in person, by voicemail, or by e-mail, what is said is said, and what is sent is sent—there is no retrieving it.
The next time you feel yourself spiraling into a heated argument, take a Time Out before you say something you’ll regret. Do something to help you disengage from the upsetting situation so you’re more in control of yourself and not flooded with anger or other negative emotions.
Tell the other person you need some space before you can continue the discussion. Go into another room and take deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Go surf the Internet for a few minutes. The point is to do something neutral—anything—to shift your focus and reduce your tension. Then come back to the discussion when you are more grounded.
Caution! Don’t use a Time Out to avoid an issue. Let the other person know that you plan to return to the topic when you are calmer. Time Outs save you lots of heartache and regret.
Let your imagination support you in feeling calm. By visualizing calm scenes, you can access peace in stressful situations.
Close your eyes and picture an image or a place that gives you a peaceful feeling. Breathe gently and slowly as you let yourself become fully absorbed in your imagination.
Exhale and let your body relax. Conjure up this pleasant image whenever you are feeling stressed or you are about to enter a situation that is outside your comfort zone.