4 Practical Exercises to Help Manage Uncomfortable Thoughts and Anxious Thinking

One of the most effective ways we can manage unhelpful thoughts and feelings is by using a psychological tool called ‘defusion’, a technique from a mindfulness based approach to helping anxiety called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  In this article I will describe what defusion is and then outline four practical defusion exercises that can help you to manage anxiety, and more specifically anxious thoughts.

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How to Use Intentions to Change Your Life

When working with individuals who want to improve their confidence or stop anxiety from holding them back, I often talk about the power of intentions. Although often overlooked, the intentions we choose at the start of the day can lead to major changes, forming or reinforcing mental habits that impact on our lives. We can use intentions to change the way others perceive us, decide how we will treat others, and shape our actions in specific situations.

In this post I will explain two different types of intentions and take you through an exercise that can dramatically change the way others see you. This exercise can bring positive results for everyone, but will be particularly helpful for those who struggle with social anxiety.

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Lessons in Kindness and Humanity from a Legal Sex Worker

I often talk about the power of setting daily intentions to help shape our attitudes and behaviour for the day ahead. Although often overlooked, the intentions we choose at the start of the day can lead to major changes, forming or reinforcing mental habits that positively impact on our lives over time. We can use intentions to change the way others perceive us, decide how we are going to treat others, and shape our actions in specific situations. 

One of the daily intentions that I set is to be present and kind with the people I meet. I don’t always succeed with everyone everyday, but I have found that it’s opened up life in ways that I never expected and also helps to reduce my stress and anxiety. I also keep in mind that not everyone I meet will be kind towards me. I’m not living in cloud-cuckoo-land. When people are rude, angry, or selfish, I remind myself that I have no idea what is happening in their world, let it go, and silently wish them well anyway. When this happens I’ve taught myself to pause and ask myself, “What happened to this person?" We are all a sum of our genetics and experiences. The small gap of awareness this gives you is enough to appreciate that we can’t control how other people react to us and makes it easier to let it go. 

So what has this got to do with a legal sex worker?

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Trying to 'Fix' Your Social Anxiety? You Could Be Making It Worse

When we’re looking to overcome our social anxiety, we often focus intensely on ourselves as we try to find a solution. This is understandable as anxiety is an individual state. When feeling anxious it seems reasonable to think we should focus our attention inwards in order to ‘work’ on ourselves and assess how effective the strategies and exercises are in helping us. However, while some self-evaluation is necessary — we do need to know what’s working after all — intense self-focus has also been shown to be harmful to wellbeing.

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How to Influence the Way Other People See You

This is an exercise that I used to regularly do with students entering their first year of university, but it can work for people of all ages.

Students often worry about how they are perceived by the large numbers of new people they meet when they first arrive. Indeed, a large part of their self-identity is wrapped up in the the way they think others view them and this can cause considerable social anxiety.

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Coping with Anxiety Caused by a Terror Attack

Western Europe has again been hit by a major terror attack, and in the ever shrinking global village that we live in, the ripples of fear spread far and wide. Even when the attack does not happen in their local area or country, many people still find that the events leave them feeling anxious. So, how should we cope with our feelings in the days and weeks following a terror attack that we didn’t personally experience?

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How to Stop the News Making You Anxious While Staying Informed

Our human negativity bias, a survival strategy inherited from our early ancestors, who lived in very dangerous environments, naturally draws our attention to negative news stories. This is why negative stories dominate the media and why we feel compelled to watch, listen and read. So it’s natural to want to follow updates of political turmoil, terrorist events, violence, shootings, and war, both on television and social media. However, repeated exposure to trauma by the media can have as similar an impact as experiencing the event first-hand. So what do we need to be aware about when assessing our media diet?

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Panicking About Panic: How to reduce the power of panic attacks and eliminate future episodes

Panic attacks can last from anywhere between thirty seconds to thirty minutes and can be so distressing sufferers sometimes have the feeling they are losing control or about to die. The experience can be one of extreme agitation, terror, fury, or immobilisation, accompanied by extreme symptoms of the fight, flight, or freeze response; racing heart, rapid breathing, trembling, shaking, nausea, numbness, tight chest, difficulty swallowing, and hot flushes or chills. Episodes can return in waves, are frightening and often exhausting.

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Feeling Anxious? Don’t Calm Down, Get Excited

The student sitting outside my office was shaking like a leaf, breathing quickly, and stuttering over her words. She was due to make a presentation in 15 minutes to lecture theatre packed with students. To add to the pressure, the presentation was being assessed and marked by her tutor, and would contribute to her final degree grade.

She was surrounded by a number of well meaning friends who were telling her to ‘calm down.’ Unfortunately, telling someone to ‘calm down’ when they are feeling anxious is about the worst thing you can say to them. It just reminds them of how calm they are not, which can escalate their anxiety even further.

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How To Make Meditation a Daily Habit When You’ve Failed Before

There are very few people I know of who manage to meditate on a regular basis. This even includes people who teach and write about meditation. I had the same problem, I’d have days, and sometimes weeks, when I didn’t meditate, despite wanting to and being all too aware of the benefits.

So how do you make the practice of meditation so compelling that it is self-sustaining? I’d suggest that every day you plan to do less than you can. So do less formal practice than you are capable of.

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The Most Popular Exercise I Taught at University

As part of a health psychology module in the undergraduate degree at the university where I taught, we covered positive psychology, mindfulness and acceptance. One of the most powerful workshops we used to do with the students was the experiential practice of meditating on others.

I‘m routinely met with cynicism from students about meditation and in particular this type of loving kindness meditation. They were mainly sports students, predominantly interested in what they could gain for their own performances from the more traditional types of sport psychology like mental toughness, confidence and a cultivating a winning mindset (don’t worry we taught them about that too!). However, I used to get more response from students about the following practice than I did from any other exercise that we taught, many of them surprised by the difference it has made to their lives.

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Don't Let Anxiety Stop You Doing The Things You Value

A lecture theatre of around 200 students were staring at me in awkward silence. They’d stopped mumbling to each other and were no longer taking sneaky glances at their phones hidden away from view. I was standing before them in the middle of a panic attack.

It had been a busy day and I’d taken a glance at my lecture notes earlier, feeling reasonably confident about the lecture I was going to deliver. I’d done it a few times before, and I thought I had a good handle on the new research that I’d added to this semester’s session.

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Why Well-Being Programmes Often Don’t Work in Big Business

I walked on the ground floor of the eight story building and watched banks of human beings wearing headsets, glued to their chairs, staring at computer screens, answering call after call.

“Good morning, you’re speaking to Adam. How can I help you?”

“Good morning, you’re speaking to Sarah. How can I help you?”

“Good morning, you’re speaking to Melissa. How can I help you?”

“Good morning, you’re speaking to Mark. How can I help you?”

“Good morning, you’re speaking to Amy. How can I help you?”

The room was well lit but almost completely devoid of natural light. “The problem”, one of the managers told me, “is that they are taking calls from stressed, angry, upset, and often aggressive people all day long. We’re finding that after a while they become anxious, stressed, unhappy and then leave. Our turnover rate is just too high. We have good facilities, drinks and snack machines, kitchens on each floor, and a staff canteen, but it doesn’t make any difference. We need to increase their resilience, help them to become mentally stronger, and stop them from leaving. That’s where you come in.”

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Medicating Anxiety: Should I take Anxiety Pills? Pros, Cons, Side Effects, and Consequences

Medication can play an important role in overcoming anxiety, particularly in helping to cope with the symptoms of anxiety. The approach this book has suggested is that we should face our anxiety and fears in order to change the structure and function of the brain, along with our thinking and behaviour. Build a solid foundation, calm the mind, deal with action thoughts and feelings, and take action.  Avoiding situations or tasks that make us anxious keeps us stuck in old patterns. When we do this life can become a vicious circle of anxiety-based thinking behaviour.  Medication can help us to cope at times, but it isn’t designed to change our brain, the way we think, or what actions we take. It is normally used to remove or reduce severe suffering in the short-term.  

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My Love / Hate Relationship with Meditation (and how I do it)

I really struggled with the image of meditation. I still do. The meditation pose, those images of meditation stones stacked up on top of each other, normally on a beach. The way guided meditations tend to start and end with one of those meditation bells. How audio mediations always seem have panpipe music playing in the background. I didn’t like how it was marketed to businesses as a way of increasing performance and shifting the bottom line, and particularly when used on corporate well-being programmes in an attempt to make up for bad business practises and structures, and poor treatment of staff.

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Not all Snowflakes: Student Mental Health is a Real Issue for British and American Universities

A report issued today by The Higher Education Policy think-tank outlined that some universities need to treble how much they spend on mental health support, and that one in 10 students has a “diagnosable mental illness”. The report calls for more support for students who have problems such as depression, anxiety and loneliness, warning that the number of student suicides has risen. Universities struggle to cope with the scale of the rising problem, while at the same time providing inadequate funding for counselling and mental health services.

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Without This Key Ingredient Life Will Never Be Good

Getting enough sleep is crucial to both our physical and mental health. We can implement every other mental and physical health strategy to perfection, but if we’re not getting enough sleep we will never be at our best.

Research indicates that sufficient sleep has a large positive effect on a whole host of physical and mental aspects of our health, including: emotion regulation, cognitive thinking, decision making, attention, memory, and it also plays a large role in protecting the immune system. Until recently we have known very little about what happens in the brain when we sleep, and although we still have much to learn, we are starting to understand more about what happens when we go to bed at night.

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Living in the Wrong Age  —  Why Modern Life Creates Anxious Brains

While modern life can intensify our anxiety, the building blocks for our struggle with anxiety can be found way back in the past with some of our earliest descendants. This is because there was only one goal for our early ancestors — survival — and we developed to survive above everything else. Being happy wasn’t a consideration to the evolutionary forces that shaped our early behaviours; the main aim was for us to survive long enough to mate and reproduce. Life beyond survival and reproduction didn’t matter.

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