We all have it—that ever-present voice in our head. Day in and day out, it clatters away encouraging us to second-guess ourselves, indulge in our ego or make judgments about the world around us. Now when I say “voice” I’m not actually referring to external voices. The voice I’m talking about serves as our inner narrator and, without properly training the mind on how to rein it in, it can be left to run free and ultimately overrun our lives.
When it comes to topics of anxiety, incessant worry, fear or addiction, this is where our inner voice can unfortunately run rampant. The reason being is that this voice is designed to protect us. When we are faced with potential danger, either physical or emotional, our response system goes into flight-or-fight mode and warns us to abandon ship in order to prevent ourselves from experiencing any pain. It’s these moments when ruminating thoughts can replay in our minds, urges resurface and the over-analytical mind that thrives on “what ifs” paralyzes us with fear. As much as our body tries to serve us by adhering to our primal instincts, it ultimately becomes an obstacle when it lulls us into a false sense of danger. To help quell these recurring, unwanted thoughts, psychologists and addiction recovery professionals use “thought stopping,” a process which involves literally commanding one’s inner voice to stop thinking. If you suffer from incessant fear, worrying or anxiety, follow this step-by-step guide to help you take back control of your life.
1. Acknowledge it.
First, you must become immediately aware of the obsessive thought entering your consciousness. Recognize it and even go so far as to label it—fear, anxiety, addiction, nervousness. Now, instead of pushing the thought away or attempting to ignore it, which will only make it grow louder, there are a number of healthy things you can do in the moment to acknowledge the urge that is so desperately crying out for your attention.
2. Counter it.
The key to doing this is to act in “real time.” Some examples include physically vocalizing the word, “Stop!” For a more subtle approach, wear a rubber band or hair tie on your wrist and snap it when you catch yourself thinking unwanted thoughts. Immediately after, you should replace the unhealthy thought with a more empowering one that contradicts it. For instance, if the ruminating thought is, “I need alcohol to help me get through my day,” the replacement thought can be, “I don’t need alcohol to numb the pain. Life is better when I’m sober and I’ve been doing just fine so far with my sponsor’s help. If I keep this up, I will continue successfully down this healthy path.”
3. Be specific.
Being specific and reminding yourself of previous times when the replacement thought turned out to be true can be very helpful. While it may feel strange at first, in time and with practice, this will become a natural instinct and you’ll soon be able to recognize when your inner anxious voice is clouding your thinking.
You may perform this exercise as many times a day as necessary. You may find that it works to end the thought after one or two attempts. For more ingrained urges and ideas that continue to resurface throughout the day, you may find yourself repeating it more than 50 times. However many times it takes, just remember to keep your focus on the end goal.
Freeing yourself from unwanted thoughts requires determination, but it’s important to know that you also don’t have to deal with the problem alone. While thought stopping may help pacify an overactive mind, speaking with a professional can help give you the proper guidance or treatment that’s needed to get you on that path.