Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Anxiety, depression and a way to live with the river of thoughts


The Staunton River, running along the edge of Altavista, Virginia.


How sly they can be. How quietly they slip amongst the other thoughts, seeming to fit in at first. It’s only after they’ve taken a foothold that you realize what they are: the negative thoughts. The old, familiar negative thoughts.

I’m stupid. I’m useless. I’m a waste of time. I can’t do anything right.

They are the kind of thoughts that used to run through my mind with abandon. I thought they were normal. I thought they were true.

Everybody hates me. God hates me. I hate myself.

Even after therapy, medication for the OCD and depression, self-help books, getting older, meditation, prayer, faith—all the things that have helped me through the years—it’s still possible for me to get caught up in negative thinking. The kind of thinking that makes me feel hopeless and helpless and depressed.

I’m a failure. Things will never get better.

What all the treatment has done for me, though, is to help me recognize what I’m doing and stop it.
What I’ve learned helps me to talk back to the thoughts, to engage new, more positive thoughts. It helps me to realize that a thought is just a thought.
Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean that I wanted to think it. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s any more important than any other thought floating down that river.
I learned that water imagery from my therapist.
He showed me a photograph of a river with a bridge arching over it. He told me to imagine that the river was the flow of my thoughts. I was to imagine that I was on the bridge, looking down on the river, on the thoughts.

In the same way, I could distance myself from my thoughts and observe them: the words, the feelings, the images.
I didn’t have to engage with them.
I didn’t have to believe them.
I could just observe them, from afar, from high up on the bridge.

Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true.

What do you do when negative thoughts creep in?

31 comments:

  1. I love the water imagery that sounds like it would really help. I tend to head to the bush there is something about being surrounded by trees that gives me strength to see things in a different way. B

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    1. Buttons, I love walking by the river and listening to the water move along. And I enjoy your stories of your adventures in the bush. I think I would find strength there, too.

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  2. I find focusing on my blessings helps to shake a negative mood.

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    1. Nancy, gratitude is so important, isn't it? I find that counting my blessings helps me gain a better perspective, too.

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  3. You hit on a key thing - you said the thought still creep in on occasion but that you're able to recognize them and stop them. I think the recognition of those thoughts is 90% of the battle! That's what I always try to do as well - I try to tell myself that "these thoughts will not control me" and I try to steer them in a positive direction.

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    1. Keith, when I started recognizing my negative thoughts for what they were, it was HUGE for me. Then I could do something about them. I like your attitude: "these thoughts will not control me."

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  4. Good post, like the imagery. When negative thoughts visit me I counteract them with positive ones. For me the best way to do that is during my walk, and I often sing uplifting hymns while I walk (such as 'Victory in Jesus').
    Sometimes it takes twenty minutes or so for my thoughts to turn the corner away from negativity but it usually works, and I can almost feel the burden lift. It never happens on its own. I have to take charge of those negative thoughts and fight them every step of the way.

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    1. Wendy, you make some really good points. It's not easy to let go of the negative thoughts--it doesn't happen in an instant. But it can be done. And music is a wonderful way to counteract negative thinking.

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  5. I love the water reference, Tina. Let's take all those thoughts we have no use for and send them down the river......

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    1. Thanks, Janet. I agree--they can just go on down the river, and I'm not coming in after them! :-)

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  6. This is a good tip. I may try this with my client. She struggles with intrusive thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. It was really helpful for me to have a visual way of understanding my thoughts--the photo of the river with the bridge arching over it that my therapist showed me. My photo above doesn't have a bridge in it, but I imagine one. :-) Or maybe I'll edit the photo and add a bridge.

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  7. I too love the water imagery. I think I went a long time before I even became aware of the negative thoughts (they were such a part of me) and the negative power they had over me. I think I even believed some of them. I have to say that though cognitive therapy is not thought to be all that helpful in OCD, it did help me examine some of the negative thoughts, figure out where they came from and how erroneous they were. Once I did that, it was easier to let them flow out of my head.

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    1. Thanks, Krystal Lynn. I definitely was not aware for a long time of the influence negative thoughts had on me. It was only in talk therapy years ago that I learned that my negative thoughts were not necessarily true and that I could choose different ways of thinking. And the more I learn about mindfulness, the better able I am to just watch the thoughts.

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  8. The water imagery is amazing. I think that we all have negative thoughts from time to time, this is only natural. It is how we respond to them and if we listen to or believe them that makes the difference. Since I am a HSP (highly sensitive person), negative thoughts appear to me quite often, I find myself trying to fight them by seeing the good in myself, which is sometimes hard to do when one is so sensitive, but I now realize that being a highly sensitive person is who I am! There are some things that we can work with and change and there are some things that are very difficult to change, and if we change some things we will become a different person. I don't think this is what God requires of us, though. I think He made us who we are for a reason, and who knows better than God? I certainly don't, this is for sure, so I am just trying to accept the fact that this is who I am and turn it into a positive thing such as using my sensitivity to feel for, empathize with, and, hopefully, help others. Thanks so much for sharing, Tina!

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    1. Linda, thank you for your comment. You make a good point--we all have negative thoughts, and the important thing is how we respond to them. I think you have definitely used your sensitive nature to help others--you show such empathy towards others, and that is a gift.

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  9. Loved this: "Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean that I wanted to think it. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s any more important than any other thought floating down that river."

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    1. Thank you, Jackie. My therapist told me those things, and they were really comforting--and enlightening--to me!

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  10. I have such a hard time not believing the negative thoughts. I have just written down what you wrote here: "Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean that I wanted to think it. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s any more important than any other thought floating down that river." in the journal I carry in my purse.

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    1. Elizabeth, I think we have to keep reminding ourselves of those things, especially that just because we think it doesn't make it true. It's sometimes so hard not to believe what's in our head.

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  11. This such a wonderful, helpful post, Tina. :) I use the same river imagery often when the negative thoughts start to take over all the positive ones. And they take over, though not as much as they used to.. still way too much for my comfort. I also go for very long, strenuous walks. The activity helps me sweat out some of the negativity, and the exercise is good for my heart. Counting my many blessings helps too. Thank you for posting this wise advice. It makes so much sense. :)

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    1. Thank you, Mary. You have shared some really good ways to deal with negative thinking. I think it's good to have different ways of coping to turn to.

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    1. I like this: "Just because I think it doesn’t mean that I wanted to think it."
      Having tools like that--knowing that thoughts can just be thoughts and not "mean" anything--helps. I was just thinking about that today. Sometimes I have certain thoughts, but that doesn't mean that is what I really think or feel or believe. They are thoughts that pop up and I don't have to take them seriously or worry that I have thought something wrong.

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    2. Kristina, it is a great tool to have, to be able to see thoughts for what they are--just thoughts. I have spent so much time worrying about my thoughts and what they "meant." Too much time.

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  13. how aweful to live with such negative, intrusive thoughts!!

    you are a gifted writer with real tools to help others. how awesome that you are sharing them!!

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    1. Thank you, Debbie, for your kind words. I appreciate them!

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  14. Hi Tina, I have just found your blog and came across this wonderful post. I suffer with depression, not Anxiety or OCD, and think that I am going to try and incorporate this technique in fighting those horrible negative thoughts.
    Thanks so much for sharing the great idea!

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    1. Hi, Claire, I'm so glad you found the blog! I hope trying this technique with your negative thoughts helps. It has helped me.

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  15. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I know that your writings will help many that suffer with OCD and those terrible negative thoughts. Many blessings your way.

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    1. Thank you, Deanna, for your kind comment.

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