When The Pandemic Forced Young Adults To Move Back Home, They Got a Financial Education

“When we face a stressor, we tend to think more about the future,” says Brad Koontz, a financial psychologist and professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Young adults’ growing openness to discuss finances with their parents and peers, they say, reflects a kind of tribal response among people to the stress of the pandemic.

Here’s a look at what the adult children and parents of three families learned about money — and themselves — in their time of pandemic together. When the pandemic forced 23-year-old Hannah Froling to move into her parents’ townhouse in Southampton, NY in March 2020 to remotely finish her final semester of college, the financial clock began to tick.

Ms Frohling’s parents, Jennifer Schlueter and Matthew Froehling, set to move to their winter home in Florida during the fall of 2020, told her they would need to begin helping support the household in their absence. That means monthly payments of $500 for rent and $250 for family car use. They also set a deadline for Memorial Day 2022 for her to be out of the house. Ms Schlueter says she wanted to provide her daughter with a “soft landing” after the shocking experience of graduating in the middle of a pandemic. But she also wanted Ms Froling to transition to living independently, so the transfer deadline passed.

So, Ms. Froling got two waitress jobs and eventually began to rely on the savings lessons her parents took as they grew up. She has two income streams—cash tips and a regular paycheck that includes her hourly rate and credit card tips. She keeps the cash tips in a savings account and splits the paycheck between a checking account and an investment account linked to an S&P 500 index fund. She has saved about $10,000 since moving back home and started looking for apartments to rent on Long Island.

Saving and managing money doesn’t always come easily to Ms. Froling. While in college, he received an allowance from his parents at the beginning of each semester. “As a freshman, I’ll blow it in the first two months,” she says. So her parents, who both work in finance, seated her and helped her budget by outlining the necessities and luxuries in her spending habits.

But it’s been the past 18 months at home, and the closeness to her parents, which has allowed Ms Froling to be more proactive about her savings and investments, and to put all those lessons into practice. She says many of her money talks happen on family road trips. Her father helps her stay on top of the latest trends in investing and her mother shares strategies for how Ms. Froling can increase her savings and continue to build a foundation for moving out of the family home. Ms. Froling is taking it further by sharing these tips with her coworkers and encouraging some of them to open their own investment accounts.

“The lesson we want to teach her is that she can do this,” says Ms Schlueter, referencing the financial wisdom she is sharing with her daughter rather than just talking to her from being together during the pandemic. got the opportunity to do. via phone or text. That includes discussing expenses such as health and car insurance after Ms. Froling leaves home again.

Ms Froling says, while she often feels like her parents bother her about how much she’s saving, in the end she knows it’s best: “They don’t want me when I If I get out of here, it will fall flat on my face.”

breaking the money taboo

In November 2020, 27-year-old Rogelio Meza left his $1,500-a-month apartment in Austin, Texas, to move into his parents’ home in Laredo.

The move helped him work towards his goal of saving money and becoming a homeowner, says Mr. Meja, who works as a customer-experience manager for a solar-power company. It also allowed him to help his parents, who were battling the financial stress of the pandemic.

When the pandemic struck, her mother, Eudoxia Meja, who works as a cook, noticed that her hours had been cut in half. His father Juan Meja is handicapped and unable to work. Since living with his parents, little Mr. Majora has helped with grocery and utility bills, paying about $700 a month, which still allows him to take out money for a home down-payment. Is.

When he was growing up, Mr. Meja says, his family never talked about money. “Nobody really taught me how to save, nobody taught me about stock options or investment accounts, good versus bad debt.” He relied on friends who worked in finance to teach him about these things, and the conversation helped him understand where his money was going. Now, he says, he has passed on some of this knowledge to his parents.

One day, when an unusually large and overdue utility bill arrived in the mail, Mr. Majora turned it into an opportunity to start sharing his financial wisdom with his family.

“I was like, ‘Okay, let’s talk about it,’” he says, describing what led to several candid conversations about money with his parents. Indeed, after that initial exchange, he basically became the family financial advisor. Mr. Meja helped his parents calculate how much they were spending on groceries and how much they actually needed each month. He also discovered that he had $3,000 in credit-card debt and advised him to use his stimulus money to aggressively pay it off. Using a combination of direct payments from their mother’s wages, incentives and unemployment benefits, they were able to pay off their utility bills and credit-card debt in just a few weeks.

Thereafter, Mr. Meja set up a savings account for her mother and advised her to put forward 20% of her salary into the account. He also plans to help his parents open an investment account and teach them how to grow their money over time. He says being able to pay off his debt gave his parents a new starting point.

Mr. Meja has learned a few things during his stint at home as well. He says that the time he spent with his parents opened his eyes to how little he needed to be happy. For example, before reuniting with his mother and father, he often ordered takeout for lunch and dinner. But the home-cooked food he eats at home, he says, especially his mother’s enchiladas has inspired him to start cooking for himself.

As far as his parents are concerned, they say that talking about money is no longer a taboo in their family, and they will continue to seek financial advice from their son. He plans to move back to Austin in November and complete the purchase of an apartment in the city at that time.

a new perspective

Edgar Mendoza was living the high life in Chicago. The 41-year-old was paying about $3,000 a month for a downtown apartment. He often dined out and had courtside seats at basketball games.

But when the lockdown began, he began to re-evaluate his habits, limiting his activities and his spending. “What Covid taught me is no, I don’t need all that,” says Mr. Mendoza, who deals in sales and invests in startups. In January, he packed his belongings and moved to McAllister, Mont., to be with his mother and stepfather. And he doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon.

Living in Montana with his family, Mr. Mendoza says, he has reinforced the frugal lifestyle he grew up with. When he was young, he says, his mother, Maria Platt, used to tell him to “watch his money.” Now, he saves his money and invests it in places where it can grow.

Ms Platt says she is proud of the progress she has seen in her son and how she has embraced the lessons she has taught him. The family cooks together and they rarely eat out. Mr Mendoza says he is not being asked to pay the rent, but he buys all the groceries.

“He’s changed a lot,” Ms Pratt says of her son. “He used to spend money like crazy. I would talk to him and he’s like, ‘Mom, you’re right about this and you’re right about that.’ Now, in his view, he is motivated to support the family in the long run, and this has prompted him to refocus on his spending habits.

Mr. Mendoza says seeing his mother come home exhausted from work and budgeting his Social Security benefits has made him see his financial future in a new light. It has forced him to think more realistically about what retirement can be like. “When you see that you love someone… it hits you really hard,” he says. “I don’t want it to be me.”

Ms Pratt says her son still has to work on his financial habits. They sometimes forget to buy their groceries and eat food already in the family’s fridge, she says. She would also like to watch him learn to cook.

“I told him that if you make good money, save it,” she says. “I’m not going to live forever…….

By: Taylor Nakagawa

Taylor Nakagawa hails from Chicago, Illinois and earned a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2017. As part of the Audience Voice team, Taylor is focused on experimenting with new story formats to create a healthy environment for community engagement.

Source: When the Pandemic Forced Young Adults to Move Back Home, They Got a Financial Education – WSJ

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How Does EMDR Treat Trauma? Psychologists Explain

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was developed in the 1980s to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since then, use of the treatment has grown—and so has the evidence behind it. Nancy J. Smyth, Ph.D., a dean and professor at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, uses EMDR with patients coping with trauma; here, she explains how it works.

What is EMDR, and why does it help with PTSD?

Smyth: Trauma can overwhelm our minds’ natural information processing system, leaving the memory stuck as though the experience is still happening. When people have PTSD, rather than remembering the trauma, recognizing that it was disturbing, and knowing that it’s over, they can feel as if they’re reliving it. EMDR is a type of psychotherapy in which a therapist uses bilateral dual attention stimulation (such as side-to-side eye movements) to help change the way memories are stored.

What happens during EMDR treatment?

Smyth: First, you’ll talk to your therapist about the reason you’re seeking out therapy and about events in your past that have been distressing for you. Next, you’ll do preparation, during which your therapist will see if you have the skills and tools you’ll need to cope with difficult emotions. If you don’t, they will help you learn them (possibly using other types of therapy). Then the therapist will ask questions to make sure you’re both on the same page about the target of treatment.

During treatment, the therapist will prompt you to start by focusing on a traumatic memory as you follow their fingers or an object as it moves from side to side. (Sometimes sounds on the sides of the body—the “bilateral” part of the stimulation—are used instead.) Throughout this, your therapist will ask you to notice thoughts, feelings, or sensations you’re experiencing. They won’t do a lot of talking, but will ask questions like “What comes up now?” The idea is that the bilateral stimulation activates the body’s natural adaptive information processing system in a safe environment, letting you stay in the present moment as you’re simultaneously remembering a distressing experience so your mind can reprocess that memory as a neutral one.

Is there evidence that it works?

Smyth: Yes, research indicates that compared with other types of therapy, like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy or prolonged exposure, EMDR is just as effective for addressing PTSD or perhaps more so.

How quickly does it work?

Smyth: It varies. If you have healthy coping skills for managing stressors, the prep phase of treatment may be shorter.
If you’re seeking treatment for an isolated traumatic experience, the history-taking and stimulation parts of treatment may be shorter than if you’ve experienced a lot of trauma. Typically, the process takes at least three to 12 sessions.

How can I find a provider?

Smyth: You’ll want a licensed mental health professional who is trained in EMDR. The EMDR International Association is the major professional organization that certifies therapists; you can search the group’s directory at emdria.org.

Is this the same therapy Mel B used?

Yes, in 2018, the Spice Girls singer (whose full name is Melanie Brown) told British tabloid The Sun that she was checking herself into rehab for alcohol and sex issues and undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Brown revealed that working on her book, Brutally Honest, surfaced “massive issues” that she suppressed following her divorce from film producer Stephan Belafonte, whom she has claimed physically and emotionally abused her for years. The singer told The Sun she was diagnosed with PTSD and had begun EMDR. “After trying many different therapies, I started a course of therapy called EMDR, which in a nutshell works on the memory to deal with some of the very painful and traumatic situations I have been through,” said Brown. “I don’t want to jinx it, but so far it’s really helping me,” she said. “If I can shine a light on the issue of pain, PTSD and the things men and women do to mask it, I will.”

As an addiction and relationship therapist, Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist based in New York City and Telluride, Colorado, says he recommends EMDR frequently. “Its success, however, depends of the integrity of the therapeutic relationship the patient has with the clinician providing the actual EMDR treatment and me, the primary therapist making the referral,” he says. “This heightened level of care is essential because EMDR requires the patient to reprocess their original trauma.” If you have symptoms of PTSD and are not yet seeking treatment, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a PTSD Treatment Decision Aid to help you learn more about the various treatment options. You can use this as a jump-off point to start the conversation with your mental health provider.

By: and

Source: https://www.prevention.com

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Damage Done By Emotionally Immature Parents Can Have a Long Term Impact on Children

Mandy* says her mother has always had a controlling streak. In something of a nightmare scenario for most kids, when Mandy was 10, her mum got a job at her school. “My mother was telling me who I was and I wasn’t allowed to be friends with. She was prohibiting most people I made friends with,” Mandy says.

“She would actually leave her post during my lunchtime to see who I was hanging out with and if I was following her orders.” Mandy is now in her late 20s. Until a few years ago, she says her mother was still trying to control what she wore — going as far as to pre-approve what she could buy.

“There was one day where I was wearing an outfit that she didn’t like the combination and she started freaking out to the point where she went up to the door and blocked my exit. She would not allow me to leave the house,” Mandy says.

Mandy says the control extended to what she ate, and she developed an eating disorder between the ages of 11 and 15. “She was always incredibly controlling of what I was eating, always watching every move.”

Mandy says as a child, she would make decisions to please her mother and prevent fights in the house, which left her stressed and insecure.  “Part of that insecurity led me to a period in my teens where I was suicidal for quite a long time, and I had a suicide attempt when I was 15,” she says.

She argues that her mother’s immature behaviours — controlling various aspects of her life and reacting angrily when Mandy didn’t follow the rules — has caused her significant problems as an adult.

Who are these emotionally immature parents?

Mandy’s experience isn’t uncommon. In her practice as a clinical psychologist, Lindsay Gibson has come across many people with similar stories. Ms Gibson was “astounded” at the emotional immaturity of parental behaviours reported by clients.

“As I’m listening to them I’m thinking, ‘oh my gosh, her father is acting like a four-year-old, or her mother sounds like a 14-year-old’.” Ms Gibson has seen a range of emotional immaturity – from parents who can be volatile and hysterical, through to those who are cold and rejecting. Many also exhibit controlling behaviours.

She’s encountered this problem so often, she wrote a book about it. These troubled relationships can have significant long-term impacts on children when they become adults themselves, she says. One of these impacts can be a disregard for their own feelings and instincts.

“They [the parent] teach you to doubt yourself and mistrust your emotional needs, and you can imagine how that plays out later when that person has to figure out what they want to do for a living or decide who to marry,” Ms Gibson says.

“All these things that have to come from an internal sense of guidance.” Mandy isn’t a client of Ms Gibson’s, but says what Ms Gibson describes is similar to the impacts her mother had on her. She finally moved out of her parents’ home last year and has since started seeing a therapist.

“Sometimes a trauma response isn’t just like having panic attacks, sometimes it’s also being a people pleaser because I just want to lessen the conflict.” Ms Gibson argues that emotionally immature parents grew up at a time when there was little emphasis on the emotional needs of children.

Instead, the focus was on the physical needs of children — things like reducing levels of child labour and malnutrition. That changed around the middle of the century. “Around about the 1950s, there was a paediatrician, Benjamin Spock, who began to push this idea that children had emotional needs and that meeting the child’s emotional needs had tremendous importance in their adult life. And so there was an awakening,” Ms Gibson says.

Going no contact

The main strategy advised by psychologists when it comes to parents who may be overbearing or manipulative is to set firm boundaries or guidelines around how other people can behave towards you. Examples of behaviours people might push back on include unwanted visits, or unwelcome advice about how a child is being raised, Ms Gibson says.

“And if you learn how to say no in whatever awkward, frightened, shy way that you want to say no, but you just continue to say what your limits are, that really works pretty well, because emotionally immature people are not prepared for repetition,” she says.

“That’s a very hard thing for an adult child to do, but it can be done and that’s the way to do it.” Boundaries are something Mandy says she tried to establish with her parents many times over, but for her it never quite worked. “And of course it all got worse when they realised that I was queer. I kept establishing boundaries around it where I was like, ‘look, my identity is not up for debate’. That was completely dismissed,” she says.

By 2020 she had finally saved enough money to move out of her parents’ home for good. She’s had no contact with them for the past six months. Mandy now helps run an online forum where adult children who have difficult relationships with their parents can swap survival stories, share encouragement and try to heal.

As for how to be a good parent? Ms Gibson says at its core, it’s simple.

“All you have to do is to not only love your child, but be able to see your child as a unique individual who has a real internal world of their own, where everything is just as important as it is to the adult, and there have always been parents who had that sensitivity, thank goodness,” she says.

By: Sana Qadar and James Bullen for All in the Mind

Source: Damage done by emotionally immature parents can have a long-term impact on children – ABC News

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Critics:

Melitta Schmideberg noted in 1948 how emotional deprivation could lead parents to treat their children (unconsciously) as substitute parent figures.”Spousification” and “parental child” (Minuchin) offered alternative concepts exploring the same phenomenon; while the theme of intergenerational continuity in such violations of personal boundaries was further examined.

Eric Berne touched on the dangers of parents and children having a symmetrical, rather than asymmetrical relationship, as when an absent spouse is replaced by the eldest child; and Virginia Satir wrote of “the role-function discrepancy…where the son gets into a head-of-the-family role, commonly that of the father”.

Object relations theory highlighted how the child’s false self is called into being when it is forced prematurely to take excessive care of the parental object; and John Bowlby looked at what he called “compulsive caregiving” among the anxiously attached, as a result of a parent inverting the normal relationship and pressuring the child to be an attachment figure for them.

All such aspects of disturbed and inverted parenting patterns have been drawn under the umbrella of the wider phenomenon of parentification – with the result (critics suggest) that on occasion “ironically the concept of parentification has…been as over-burdened as the child it often describes

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References:

  • R. A. Gardner et al., The International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome (2006) p. 200
  • Gregory J. Jurkovic, ‘Destructive Parentification in Families’ in Luciano L’Abate ed., Family Psychopathology (New York 1998) pp. 237–255
  • Jurkovic, p. 240
  • Jurkovic, in L’Abate ed., p. 240
  • Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (Penguin 1970) p. 249–53
  • Virginia Satir, Peoplemaking (1983) p. 167
  • Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored (1994) p. 31
  • John Bowlby, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (London 1979) p. 137–38
  • Karpel, quoted by Jurkovic, in L’Abate ed., p. 238
  • Satir, p. 167
  • Bryna Siegal, What about Me (2002) p. 131
  • Harold Bloom, Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (2007) p. 142
  • Diana Brandt, Wild Mother Dancing (1993) p. 54
  • Jurkovic, in L’Abate, ed., p. 246-7
  • Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of the Neuroses (London 1946) p. 510-11
  • R. K. Holway, Becoming Achilles (2011) Chapter Five ‘Fathers and Sons’; and notes p. 218–19
  • Siegal, p. 114
  • Jurkovic, p. 237
  • Paula M. Reeves, in Nancy D. Chase, Burdened Children (1999) p. 171
  • Katz, Petracca; J., Rabinowitz (2009). “A retrospective study of daughters’ emotional role reversal with parents, attachment anxiety, excessive reassurance seeking, and depressive symptoms”. The American Journal of Family Therapy. 37 (3): 185–195. doi:10.1080/01926180802405596. S2CID 145504807.
  • C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London 1983) p. 69
  • Laurens van der Post, Jung and the Story of Our Times (Penguin 1978) p. 77
  • Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (1990) p. 174
  • Murasaki Shikiki, The Tale of Genji (London 1992) p. 790
  • Nina S. “Unwilling Angels: Charles Dickens, Agnes Wickfield, and the Effects of Parentification”. Dickens Blog.
  • E. D. Klonsky/A. Blas, The Psychology of Twilight (2011) Nancy R. Reagin ed., Twilight and History (2010) p. 184–85 and p. 258-9

How To Stop Overthinking

Need to know

If you’re an over-thinker, you’ll know exactly how it goes. A problem keeps popping up in your mind – for instance, a health worry or a dilemma at work – and you just can’t stop dwelling on it, as you desperately try to find some meaning or solution. Round and round the thoughts go but, unfortunately, the solutions rarely arrive.

In my daily work as a meta cognitive clinical psychologist, I encounter many people who, in trying to find answers or meaning, or in attempting to make the right decision, spend most of their waking hours scrutinizing their minds for solutions. Ironically, in this process of trying to figure out how to proceed in life, they come to a standstill.

When we spend too much time analyzing our problems and dilemmas, we often end up more at a loss than we were to begin with. On top of that, persistent overthinking can result in a wide range of symptoms such as insomnia, trouble concentrating and loss of energy which, in turn, often leads to further worries regarding one’s symptoms, thereby creating a vicious cycle of overthinking. In some cases, this eventually leads to chronic anxiety or depression.

When overthinking and the associated symptoms spiral and become unbearable, it’s usual for us to look for ways to calm down. Many common strategies sound reasonable or useful, but research shows that they can inadvertently cause more harm than good and typically lead to even more overthinking. You might recognize some of them in your own behavior:

Constantly looking out for threats: there’s nothing wrong with this strategy if you feel in control, but it can quickly backfire. Take health concerns. If, as a way to calm your worries, you start to excessively scan yourself or the people you care about for signs of illness, this threat monitoring will lead only to a heightened sense of danger and more health-related worries.

Another example is constantly keeping an eye out for whether people like you, trying to figure out what they think of you, which inadvertently results in you becoming more distant, non-participatory and worried, and not being able to enjoy their company.

Seeking answers and reassurance: it’s completely natural to seek reassurance from people close to you, and to look for answers as to how to cope better. However, if you come to a point where you depend on these strategies to calm you down and reduce your worries, you’re on a slippery slope.

For instance, some of my clients spend several hours a day Googling, hoping to find reassurance or, at least, an explanation as to why they’re feeling down. Yet this strategy often leads to even more worries, since Googling relatively common symptoms typically yields a wide range of search results, including diagnoses that you hadn’t even thought of.

Excessive planning: of course, there’s nothing wrong with moderate levels of planning. It’s perfectly healthy to keep a calendar or to leave notes for yourself. However, some people plan their lives down to the tiniest detail and this can become problematic. In addition to being rather time-consuming, excessive planning can have other negative effects including exacerbating worries.

For instance, when planning carefully, it’s tempting to try to predict all the things that could possibly interfere with a plan and how to potentially handle such events should they occur, thereby initiating a process of worry. Others plan meticulously because they believe that they won’t be able to cope otherwise, which can lead to excessive worries when planning isn’t possible or unexpected events arise.

Aside from these unhelpful strategies, another key factor that can perpetuate overthinking is your beliefs about thinking (the term ‘meta cognitive’ in ‘meta cognitive therapy’ – the clinical approach I use – actually refers to thinking about thinking). When my clients start meta cognitive therapy, many of them are convinced that they have no control of their thought processes.

They believe that their thoughts just appear and automatically attract attention – and that they can’t control whether these thoughts develop into hour-long ruminations about how bad things are now, or into catastrophic worries about what could go wrong in the future.

I have some good news: you don’t have to live with excessive worry. It’s an enduring myth that overthinking is an innate trait, like eye color or crooked toes, meaning that it can’t be changed and you simply have to live with it.

Adrian Wells, the clinical psychologist at the University of Manchester who founded meta cognitive therapy, discovered that overthinking – that is, worrying and rumination – is a learned strategy that we choose, consciously or unconsciously, as a way to try to deal with our difficult thoughts and feelings. It’s not a fixed trait, but a habit that we fall into, and we can learn to change it if we want.

In my first 10 years practicing as a clinical psychologist, I worked in traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT teaches us that we need to spend time on our thoughts and beliefs in order to challenge them and transform them into more realistic or compassionate versions. When I was introduced to meta cognitive therapy, in which the focus is on simply letting go of your thoughts (Wells jokingly calls it ‘lazy therapy’), it radically changed my understanding of mental illnesses.

In 2020, together with Wells and other colleagues, we published the results of a large randomized trial involving 174 clients with depression. We found that those who participated in meta cognitive therapy benefited more than others allocated to receive CBT (74 per cent met the formal criteria for recovery at post-treatment, versus 52 per cent of those in the CBT group, and this was largely maintained at follow-up).

Together with my own client work and the experiences of other therapists using metacognitive therapy, this finding has convinced me that the cause of mental illnesses isn’t our negative thoughts per se, and therefore the solution is not to spend yet more time on them. On the contrary, the cause of mental illnesses is too much time spent dwelling on our negative thoughts, and so the solution is to spend less time on them.

This realization created a tsunami of thoughts within my own mind. For years, through CBT, I have helped my clients spend more time on their negative thoughts, but what if there were better ways I could have helped them? True, many of my clients felt CBT had helped them (and it certainly is beneficial to many), but I no longer believe it’s the optimal approach. For the past 10 years I have completely changed my methods and I exclusively use meta cognitive therapy to help people think less and, in so doing, cope better with their mental health problems.

Whether you just worry a little more than you’d like to, or you suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, metacognitive strategies can help you reduce the overthinking that contributes to your symptoms. Metacognitive therapy is about discovering that you can choose whether or not you engage in a thought regardless of its content or the feelings it gives rise to.

In the following section, I’ll take you through some of the steps I use in metacognitive therapy to help my clients reduce their overthinking and learn that overthinking isn’t something that happens to us – it’s within our control.

What to do

Get to know your trigger thoughts and let them be

It is estimated that the human brain produces thousands of separate thoughts, associations and memories every single day. Most of these thoughts are without significance; they come and go without us noticing. Some thoughts, however, attract our attention. In metacognitive therapy, these thoughts are referred to as ‘trigger thoughts’. If you pay them enough attention, these thoughts can trigger an explosion of bodily sensations and feelings, and a myriad of associations.

Some trigger thoughts can activate warmth and joy about an exciting upcoming project, meeting a friend, or a holiday you’re looking forward to. These kinds of trigger thoughts are, of course, unproblematic. Other trigger thoughts, however, might activate a long series of further thoughts that can develop into worries or ruminations.

Worries typically form around hypothetical scenarios and start with ‘What if…’ statements such as: ‘What if I make the wrong decision?’ ‘What if they won’t like me?’ ‘What if I get ill?’ and so on. Typical rumination, on the other hand, starts with thoughts about what, why and how: ‘What is wrong with me?’ ‘Why am I feeling this way?’ ‘How do I get better?’

You can compare these thoughts to trains at a busy railway station. There are departures all the time to a wide array of different destinations. Each train can represent a thought or a sequence of thoughts. For instance, a thought such as ‘What if they won’t like me?’ could arrive at the mental railway platform.

You could ‘catch’ the thought and you’ll likely soon notice several other thoughts join in: ‘I won’t be able to handle it if they dislike me.’ ‘Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t go.’ Or you could dismiss the thought, similar to letting the train pass by, and turn your attention back to whatever you were doing. When you don’t expend energy on a thought, you’ll find it will either stay on the platform for later or simply pass you by.

So, it’s not the trigger thought in and of itself that will overwhelm you and lead to a variety of unpleasant symptoms; nor is it the amount of trigger thoughts you have (everyone has them). The problems arise if you continuously jump on to each train – that is, if you begin to analyze the thought and engage in extensive worry or rumination – then it’s like you’re adding more and more carriages to the train, one after another; the train gets heavier and slower, and will eventually have trouble passing even the slightest hill. The same goes for your trigger thoughts: the more time you spend engaging in these thoughts, the slower and heavier you will feel.

Recognise what you can and can’t control

If you’re used to boarding most trains rather uncritically – that is, continuously engaging in trigger thoughts and starting to worry and ruminate for long periods of time – then, unfortunately, you’re well on your way to developing an unhealthy pattern. If you repeat this pattern over and over again, it might begin to feel as if it happens automatically. You might, understandably, come to believe that it’s outside your control.

It’s true, the trigger thoughts themselves are completely automatic – you don’t have any say as to what trains will arrive at your mental railway station. However, you do have a choice over which trains to board. You can choose whether or not to engage in a trigger thought. You can control whether you ‘answer’ the thought or follow it up with more questions.

In trying to understand this differently, instead of in terms of trains, you might picture your thoughts as someone calling you on the phone. Of course, you don’t decide whether the phone rings, who calls or when it rings. (Unfortunately, in this case it’s not the kind of phone you can just turn off!) But you do choose whether to answer the phone or just let it ring and turn your attention back to whatever you were doing.

The sound of the phone might be loud, annoying and attract your attention, but what happens if you just leave it be? Eventually it stops ringing. While thoughts and phones are, of course, different things, this metaphor carries a key message in metacognitive therapy: While trigger thoughts are beyond your control, you can control whether you engage with them.

Thoughts are, in principle, ephemeral, although you might not see them this way. Try asking yourself how many of the thoughts you had yesterday you can remember today. To be honest, out of the several thousand I had, I’m not sure I can recall even 10 thoughts. Why is that? Most of the thoughts we have come and go almost instantly because we don’t grant them any special attention but leave them and return to whatever we were doing. Even though you might not be aware of it, you’re already capable of choosing not to engage in a conversation with your thoughts, just as you can ignore the phone that keeps calling.

Postpone and reduce your worries and ruminations

Many chronic overthinkers struggle to change their belief that their thoughts can be brought under control, and perhaps you’re still not convinced. One way of challenging your belief further is to explore whether you’re able to postpone worries and ruminations. I recommend that my clients introduce a so-called ‘worry/rumination time’. It has to be a set time of the day, for instance 7.30pm to 8pm, where you allow yourself to worry and ruminate freely.

That way, when trigger thoughts or feelings occur during the day – for instance, you feel the need to evaluate your health or reflect upon what your friends think of you – try postponing these thoughts to your scheduled worry/rumination time (you might tell yourself: ‘I’ll deal with this later’). This set time is also useful for any planning or reassurance-seeking for which you feel the need. One note of caution: you might want to avoid scheduling your worry time within one or two hours of when you plan to go to bed, especially if you’re prone to insomnia or other sleep difficulties.

Introducing a set worry/rumination time serves several functions. First, it’s an experiment that challenges the belief that worries and ruminations are uncontrollable. When dedicating themselves to this experiment, most of my clients find that it is indeed possible to postpone worries or ruminations. While this might seem a hard goal, in fact it’s something you already do on a daily basis without realizing.

For instance, any time you notice an alarming newspaper headline on your way to work and start worrying, but then remember that you’re in a hurry and so turn your attention back to getting to work – that’s you controlling your thoughts. Or maybe you’re sitting in a café with a friend and you overhear a conversation at another table that triggers unpleasant memories, but instead of dwelling on them, you decide to redirect your attention back to the conversation with your friend.

Again, that’s you controlling your thoughts. In the same way, you can learn to consciously ignore your own internal trigger thoughts, thereby experiencing that you really do have a choice in whether you choose to engage in them or not.

A second function of setting worry/rumination time is that it’s a way of discovering that trigger thoughts are ephemeral and ever-changing. For instance, the thoughts that seemed highly relevant and important in the morning will often seem less important when you arrive at your worry/rumination time later in the day. You might even discover that you’re not able to recall some of the thoughts that triggered you.

All feelings, whether positive or negative, are usually ephemeral if we tolerate them and let them be. Of course, not all thoughts disappear forever when you postpone processing them – some thoughts might be about important issues that you really need to address. Regardless, as most of my clients find, it’s much more constructive to deal with these issues within a defined time of the day instead of endlessly problem-solving while you’re trying to go about your daily responsibilities.

Finally, while this might seem obvious, the worry/rumination time is a way of reducing and containing the amount of time you spend worrying and ruminating. As I explained earlier, it’s not the trigger thought in and of itself that causes unpleasant symptoms, nor is it the amount of trigger thoughts. It’s the time spent engaging in these thoughts, ruminating and worrying, that weighs us down. By allocating a set period of time for worry and rumination, you’re more likely to feel in control and prevent yourself becoming overwhelmed.

Avoid avoidance and train your attention

For people struggling under the burden of overthinking, it’s all too easy to develop a fear of one’s own trigger thoughts. After all, if you feel at their mercy, you might be tempted to avoid them occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, not only is this largely futile, it’s also counterproductive – avoidance of triggering situations will hamper your life and, moreover, to the extent that you’re at all successful in avoiding situations that prompt trigger thoughts, you won’t get the chance to practice letting go of these thoughts. After all, you can’t learn to ride a bike without a bike.

Inspired by the above, and if you feel ready, I recommend that you give yourself daily challenges that involve trigger thoughts, and that you practice instructing yourself to leave them alone until a designated worry-time. This will help you become more adept at leaving your trigger thoughts alone and to realize that you’re in control of your worries and ruminations. You won’t succeed every time but, just like learning to ride a bike, you need to get up again every time you fall and keep biking until you get the hang of it.

Some people struggle to develop this skill. In that case, in metacognitive therapy we use attention training to help clients realize that they can shift their attention regardless of inner inputs, such as trigger thoughts, and outer input, such as external stressors. I usually ask my clients to do the following 10-minute exercise. Maybe reading this will inspire you to try it out yourself:

  • Tune in to three or more environmental sounds, such as: traffic; birdsong; chatter from a nearby radio or TV; children playing; building work, or whatever. You need to find somewhere where these ambient sounds are going on. It’s helpful if some of the noises you select are nearer and louder, while others are further away and quieter.
  • Of the three or more sounds you’ve selected, practise tuning in to just one at a time for approximately 10 seconds each (you could use a digital timer to help you) and let the others fade into the background. After the 10 seconds is up, switch your focus to another of your chosen sounds.
  • After two minutes, repeat the exercise, but switching more quickly between the sounds – now focusing on each one for just two to four seconds each.
  • The aim of the exercise is to become familiar with, and adept at, shifting your attention. When you’re feeling more confident you could introduce a recording of a trigger thought into the exercise, and practise switching your attention away from and back to the sound of that thought.

Another exercise you could try that I use in my clinic is the windowpane exercise – this will further illustrate that your attention is under your control, independent of the existence of trigger thoughts in your head. I write one or two trigger thoughts in washable ink on a window (such as: ‘What if I fail my driving test?’ or ‘What if she finds me boring?’), then I ask my client to practise looking through the words to notice the scene beyond – the trees, the sky, the buildings, whatever the view is from the window.

Then I ask them to switch their attention back to the words again, now back to the details of the view. The purpose here is to familiarise clients with the sensation that we can control our attention. If you give it a try, you’ll find that, while the written thoughts remain in view, you can control whether you focus on them or whether you let them fade and enjoy the world outside instead. Please note, if you find this exercise at all difficult, I recommend that you wait and try it with a professional metacognitive clinician (see the ‘Learn More’ section to find out how)…..

By: Pia Callesen

Source: How to stop overthinking | Psyche Guides

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