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You Are Not Your Thoughts!

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You Are Not Your Thoughts!

For those of us contending with chronic stress, worries and/or anxieties, our thoughts can often feel out of control. If it sometimes (or most of the time) feels like you have the Tasmanian Devil taking up residence in your head, then this post may be for you. Having racing worry thoughts is exhausting and overwhelming; it can feel like you do not have control over your mind because you cannot quiet that persistently nagging voice. The good news is that with some effort and hard work, we can gain control over our thoughts!

It is important to think of thoughts as things you have, or can have, control over. Your thoughts do not define you. Having anxious thoughts does not define you as an anxious person. Anxious thoughts mean you are experiencing the symptoms of anxiety. By thinking of your thoughts in this way, it creates space to not base your identity on worry thoughts and you can begin to work on managing your thoughts.

There are many strategies for gaining control of your thoughts. I am going to focus on one: grounding. Grounding strategies are based in mindfulness – awareness of the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. When worry thoughts are rapidly racing, this can cause us to feel like we have lost touch with reality. In order to bring us back to the reality of the present moment and move our thoughts away from our anxieties, think of your surroundings in the present moment and describe them to yourself.

Here is a list of grounding strategies:
Touch objects and describe them. (I.e. I am sitting in a black chair and I can feel the cold, smooth, wooden arm rests under my hands. The chair back feels soft but sturdy as I rest my back against it. My feet are touching the beige carpeted floor which feels soft and solid beneath me.)
Drink water and notice how the cup feels against your lips, the temperature of the water in your mouth and the sensation of the water as it glides down your throat and into your stomach.
If you wake during the night, focus on how the pillow and mattress feel beneath you; focus on the contact points of your head, body, arms and legs. Think of the weight and texture of your blanket. Focus on your breath – how it comes into your body, where it goes in your body and how it leaves your body.
Remind yourself of who you are in the present moment. Say your name, your age, describe what you have done today and what you plan to do in the next moment.
If you are outside, notice the temperature of the air. Describe the sun, clouds, noises and smells.

Tips for grounding:
Eyes open. This allows you to be fully present in the moment and the environment around you.
Experiment. Not all grounding techniques are created equal. Try different strategies and focus on engaging with the ones you like.
Practice. Grounding is a skill that you will build with practice. It is helpful to practice when you are not feeling super elevated and overwhelmed by worries. If you can build and strengthen your “grounding muscle” when you are calmer, it will be strong and useful to you in moments of difficulty.
Support. If you have a close supportive person who you trust, educate them on grounding strategies. In moments where you may be too overwhelmed to recall the technique, your loved one can provide a gentle reminder.

Remember, if grounding yourself gives you even a moment of respite from your worry thoughts, then enjoy that moment!

Until next time!

Dr. Cohen

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