Often, especially for those of us suffering from depression, anxiety, or OCD, a thought can get stuck on a loop in your brain. Sometimes that thought gets really loud and is hard to ignore. It might feel like it’s impossible to let it go, no matter how hard you try to push it to the back of your mind. Silencing those inner voices is not an option but it is possible to slow down and listen to your thoughts so that you can change how you respond to them.
Often, we attempt to combat these thoughts with false confidence. No, the plane isn’t going down. You’re statistically more likely to die in a car accident than in a plane crash. False confidence gives you some relief from the worry, but unfortunately, the relief is only temporary.
When we fight against these sticky thoughts, they remain present. This is called the paradoxical effort. The harder we try to not do something, the more we do it. Like now, try your best not to think about a banana. Don’t do it! Do not think about a yellow banana. Absolutely, do not think about a banana. Could you do it? Probably not. When we pay attention to something, it is illuminated… the more we feed our anxiety, the hungrier it gets.
A helpful coping mechanism for situations like this is the Leaves on a Stream exercise. This strategy will help you visualize letting go of the thoughts and emotions that you might get stuck on. It gives you the ability to acknowledge those thoughts, observe them from afar and release them.
Find a quiet place, where you feel secure and won’t be interrupted or distracted. Sit or lay down in a position you feel comfortable in. Close your eyes and begin taking slow, deep breaths.
Visualize that you are resting next to a stream of water. No matter the scenery, whether you’re aside a mountain, at your favorite camping spot, or in a place you’ve never really been, use your senses to imagine what the stream and its scenery look like – the sounds, smells, and sensations you would experience if you were truly there.
Focus on the stream. When you feel the distractions of daily life creeping in, notice them without judgment and then move past them. This exercise is a form of meditation. The objective is to center yourself and be present in your body.
Manage your thoughts. Take a moment to acknowledge any anxious thought that comes to mind. Then, imagine yourself placing it, or writing it, on a leaf. Place the leaf in the water and watch it float down the stream until it disappears. Allow your thoughts to get further and further away.
Practice the steps. Continue visualizing the stream, observing and releasing any thoughts that enter your mind. There is nothing else you need to do. It might help to set a timer for 10-15 minutes so that you can focus solely on practicing.
The goal of this exercise is to become aware of your mindset, not necessarily to change or improve it. With regular practice, the Leaves on a Stream exercise will become a useful tool for managing your thoughts and emotions. Using a technique like this allows you to stop being bullied by your own thoughts and simply move past them without getting involved.
If you would like help learning other techniques for addressing unhealthy or uncomfortable thought patterns, give Tx Harmony Counseling a call at (832) 352-1600 or contact us here.