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What is Thought Stopping?

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  • Written By: Ron Marr
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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The human brain is often a maelstrom of swirling questions and inner conversation. The ultimate multi-taskers, our minds can simultaneously leap from joys to worries to politics to romance to the price of tea in China. For some people, negative or fearful thoughts can become a prevalent and repetitive obsession, leading to panic attacks, anxiety, phobias, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. Some psychologists attempt to aid those suffering from such maladies via a technique known as thought stopping.

Thought stopping would actually be better named thought changing or thought distracting. The basic concept revolves around the discovery of ways to refocus the mind away from that which causes stress. For instance, in the case of anxiety or panic attacks, a person often realizes that his fear of an object or situation is irrational. However, the more he thinks about not entering a state of panic, the more likely a state of panic becomes. These disorders can become so severe that he may well withdraw from any and all situations that cause stress, leading to even greater anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

There are often biological reasons or genetic predispositions to such disorders, and thought stopping is a cognitive tool used most often in conjunction with therapy, pharmaceuticals, or both. The goal is to help the afflicted individual to a lead a happy and productive life. Thought stopping is not a complete solution or cure, but it is one weapon in the healing arsenal.

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Thought stopping can be utilized in a variety of ways. Sometimes, an individual is taught to replace negative or pessimistic thoughts with those that are positive or bring pleasure. Whenever a negative thought comes into the mind, the patient is encouraged to think of something he treasures, or a past event that brought him joy. The idea is to distract the mind from the bad or obsessive, to switch channels so to speak, and experience a calmer state of being.

Another method of thought stopping is more literal. When the obsessive thoughts begin, the patient is taught to scream the word “stop.” This can be done mentally, or if it helps, it can also be done verbally. Yet another variation is creative visualization, a process during which one imagines himself in an entirely different situation from that which is creating grief and angst.

Thought stopping has been found to be effective in some people, and can also include the use of breathing techniques or meditation to assist in creating a state of relaxation. The entire goal is that of relieving stress. For those living with any of the various disorders common in modern society, thought stopping is a technique that is useful in a long-term plan of maintenance or recovery.

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candyquilt
Post 4

Has anyone here heard of paradoxical intention?

It's a psychotherapy method where an individual is encouraged to think about a fear or a habit and engage in it as much as possible. So it's the opposite of thought stopping. The idea is that an individual will think so much about the fear that the fear will eventually disappear. The mind will break through it.

Of course, this method is not suitable for everyone. It's best for people with obsessive-compulsive behavior and unbreakable habits. It has been shown to work fairly well in these cases.

I don't know if thought stopping is better or paradoxical intention. But it seems like it would be better to take on an issue rather than run away from it repeatedly as is done with thought stopping.

bear78
Post 3

@burcinc-- I do the same thing, but I choose to think about God instead. I stop negative thoughts by praying and reading the Bible. It's very comforting and helps me break away from the vicious circle of depression and panic.

burcinc
Post 2

I've been practicing thought stopping without even knowing the term.

I used to suffer from chronic and anxiety attacks. Sometimes, the attacks were severe leading to hyperventilation, numbness and fainting. The negative thoughts leading to the attacks usually continued afterward, consuming most of my thoughts and feelings.

Then, I discovered something I enjoy -- cinema. The great part about cinema is that when I'm watching a film, I forget about everything else. It makes all of my worries and troubles disappear because I'm too busy thinking about the film, its story and characters. So whenever I am very worried, I watch a film. If I can't watch a film, then I think about films. I read film synopses or reviews or I write my own reviews. I basically distract my thoughts and redirect them to cinema.

I urge everyone experiencing negative thoughts to find something they enjoy and reach out to that whenever depression and anxiety knocks on the door.

Pippinwhite
Post 1

This is also a common technique recommended in 12-Step groups to help people keep the "one day at a time" mindset. Brooding over past events is usually counterproductive for an addict, so a simple method to stop negative thoughts is helpful.

Really, it's a good technique for anyone who finds himself drawn into negative thinking. Saying, "Stop the thought!" mentally will often help the person get back to a better frame of mind by recognizing the negative thoughts, which enables a person to turn his thinking toward a more positive path.

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