Unwanted thoughts can make
you feel anxious or depressed. They may keep you from enjoying your
A technique called thought-stopping can help you stop
What you think can affect how you feel.
Thought-stopping helps you change how you think so that you feel
Changing your thinking will take some time. You need to
practice thought-stopping every day. After a while, you'll be able to stop
unwanted thoughts right away.
Some people may need more help to stop unwanted thoughts. Talk
to your doctor or a therapist if you want more help to stop thoughts that
To stop unwanted
thoughts, you focus on the thought and then learn to say "Stop" to end the
thought. At first, you will shout "Stop!" out loud. Then you will learn to say
it in your mind so that you can use this technique anywhere. Here's how to get
List your most stressful thoughts. These are the thoughts that distract you from your daily
activities and make you worry more. You wish you could stop having these
thoughts, but they keep occurring. Write down your upsetting thoughts in order
of the most stressful to the least stressful. Start practicing thought-stopping
with the thought that is the least stressful. Here's an example of a list,
starting with the most stressful:
I'm always worried that something bad will happen to my
child, even if she just gets a cold.
I just know that one of us is
going to get laid off from work.
I'm so nervous about making a
presentation at work that it's all I can think about.
Imagine the thought. Sit
or lie down in a private place (so you can say "Stop!" out loud and not feel
self-conscious). Close your eyes. Imagine a situation in which you might have
this stressful thought. Then allow yourself to focus on the
Stop the thought. Startling
yourself is a good way to interrupt the thought. Try one of these two
Set a timer, watch, or other alarm for 3
minutes. Then focus on your unwanted thought. When the timer or alarm goes off,
shout "Stop!" If you want, stand up when you say "Stop." Some people snap their
fingers or clap their hands. These actions and saying "Stop" are cues to stop
thinking. Empty your mind, and try to keep it empty for about 30 seconds. If
the upsetting thought comes back during that time, shout "Stop!"
Instead of using a timer, you can tape-record yourself
shouting "Stop!" at intervals of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. Do the
thought-stopping exercise. Focus on the thought, and then stop thinking about
the unwanted thought—or anything else—when you hear your recorded voice say
"Stop." Hearing your own voice telling you to stop helps strengthen your
commitment to getting rid of the unwanted thought.
Practice steps 1 through 3 until the thought goes
away on command. Then try the process again. This time, interrupt the thought
by saying the word "Stop!" in a normal voice.
After your normal
voice is able to stop the thought, try whispering "Stop." Over time, you can
just imagine hearing "Stop" inside your mind. At this point, you can stop the
thought whenever and wherever it occurs.
Pick another thought that
bothers you more than the last one, and continue thought-stopping.
Other ways to stop thoughts
You can change how you
Put a rubber band around your wrist. Whenever
you want to stop an unwanted thought, say "Stop" to yourself and snap the
rubber band at the same time. After a while, you will be able to just snap the
rubber band to stop an unwanted thought.
Make yourself aware that
you are having an unwanted thought by saying to yourself, "I'm having the
thought that I might lose my job." Or "I'm thinking that I might lose my job."
This reminds you that these are thoughts, not something that will
After you stop an unwanted thought, add a more pleasant thought
or image that makes you feel more calm. This thought or image is not related to
the unwanted thought. For example, you can think of playing with your children
or going out on the town with friends. Or you might see yourself lying on a
Here's an example of
how thought-stopping might work:
You're worried about a
presentation you are giving at work later in the day. You're prepared. You know
you're ready. But you can't stop worrying about it. You imagine making a
When you start to think of yourself stumbling over
words, you say "Stop" quietly in your mind. You get up and move around, or you
snap your rubber band as you say "Stop." Then you think of something pleasant
to take your mind off the thought—such as a trip you are planning to take or a
movie you saw recently that made you laugh.
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