Negative Thoughts are Like Country Music

Negative Thoughts are Like Country Music

Imagine for a moment that the negative thoughts running wild in your brain played like a country song on repeat. Would any of the songs have titles like these?

 

  • “She Don’t Think My Beard Is Sexy”
  • “All Alone Again (In My Truck)”
  • “My Guitar Only Has Three Strings”
  • “My Love (and My Tractor’s) Tank Are Outta Gas”
  • “The Short End of the Stick (Life Ain’t Fair)”
  • “Failing Like Roadkill”
  • “Little Doggie, I’m So Miserable Without You”
  • “Stuck in This Here Town”
  • “Like Me Please, ‘Cuz I Don’t Like Myself”
  • “What I Want Don’t Matter (All I Want Is a New Rig)”
  • “Stop Feeling That Feeling I Feel”
  • “Gotta Be Perfect (Hat, Boots, and All)”
  • “Can’t Slow Down This Fast Train”

 

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you like/dislike country music), negative thoughts don’t sound twangy, musical, or even remotely playful when they’re happening. Instead, they tend to evoke anxiety, sadness, disappointment, guilt, anger, or shame.

Like a good country song, however, our negative thoughts tend to have a repetitive “hook”–a chorus (or negative theme) that plays over and over again on repeat. Most of us aren’t super creative with our negative thoughts. They tend to be the same variations of ten (often much fewer) repetitious themes.

THE REALITY IS: We don’t have as much control over our thinking as some would like to believe. Most of us do not on-purpose sit there thinking, “Man, now would be a good time to think really crappy things about myself.” No, the thoughts just happen, all on their own. Often, the thoughts are on autopilot, automatic responses born out of habit, not intention.

 

What then can be done with negative thoughts? Here are two practical solutions:

 

  1. ENGAGE IN A FULL-ON RAP BATTLE WITH THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

 

Some of the negative thoughts we experience are not fully accurate, truthful, or likely. It can be confusing, because in the moment, most of negative thoughts sound true and feel true. However, feeling something is true does not make that thought true. Emotionally-laden thoughts can be skewed toward the negative similar to how a fun-house mirror that takes the image of a person and distorts it grotesquely.

Listen to the lyrics of one verse of Hank Williams’ classic country song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry:”

“I’ve never seen a night so long

When time goes crawling by

The moon just went behind the clouds

To hide its face and cry”

Most of our negative thoughts are not nearly so poetic; however, they do often apply similar distorted tactics– Generalization and Magnification. The feeling of loneliness is real, raw, and genuine. Though the feeling grows to new proportions when the thought is amplified to include something much broader; in this case–the whole world seems lonely (time, the moon, etc.). Do your negative thoughts do something like this? Do they:

  • Overgeneralize: “always” or “never”
  • Make Things Personal
  • Magnify or Catastrophize
  • Label: “stupid”, “lazy,” “ugly”
  • Attempt to foresee the future (except in an apocalyptic, pessimistic way)
  • Filter out the Positive
  • Shame you for what you SHOULD be doing, but you’re NOT

 

If so, it might be time to sass those thoughts back with thoughts that are more true, balanced, or at least neutral.

TIP: Don’t just let that negative thought on repeat have its way with you. Talk back! Engage those thoughts in a RAP BATTLE.

In a traditional rap battle (if something like that can be called “traditional”), rappers will take turns taking jabs at each other (in a rhyming fashion). You don’t need to be quite so creative. You can also hold back from belittling the negative thought like a rapper would. Instead, talk back to your negative thoughts with more accurate statements. Battle back with TRUTH. You might not be able to control the first thought that comes into your mind, but you do have some say over the second thought.

If you’d like help talking back to your chorus of negative thoughts, a counselor trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help. There are also great books that can guide you, including “Mind Over Mood” by Dennis Greenberger and “Feeling Good” by David Burns.

 

2. THINK OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS LIKE FAMILIAR ELEVATOR MUSIC & RELEGATE THEM TO THE BACKGROUND

 

Here’s another approach to handling negative thoughts that comes from a therapeutic approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

What if we were to think of thoughts like music playing in the background of an elevator. Just like with elevator music, you are not always the DJ controlling the content or volume of your thoughts. If you were the DJ, certainly you’d flip the “off” switch and opt for some silence! If your thoughts aren’t responding to the RAP BATTLE APPROACH described above, perhaps this next idea might be for you.

Try it: Write out a list of your most frequent negative thoughts. Group similar ones together. Is there as much variety as you were expecting? I bet you could make a playlist of your own that would be shorter than your average country music album.

If you experience the same negative thoughts, over and over, some of the best things you can do are:

  • Recognize them (“Oh I’m having that thought again”)
  • Name them (“That’s the ‘I’m a failure’ thought.”)
  • Simply acknowledge that this is “a thing” your brain does in response to certain triggers.
  • Allow the thought to just be a thought. Don’t give it power by digging deeper. Digging deeper = Looking for further evidence that the thoughts is true, wise, actionable, real.
  • Don’t allow the thought to dictate your actions. You can hear the music playing in the background and still move forward toward your goals and act according to your values. Sometimes the volume of the negative thoughts is loud and distracting, sometimes attempting to demand your full attention. Nonetheless, negative thoughts do not have to define a person or their behaviors.

 

If you’d like help with your intrusive negative thoughts, a professional therapist may be able to help. The counselors at Star Meadow Counseling are trained in helping clients shift out of negative thought patterns. You don’t have to stay stuck on repeat.

10 Places to Relax around Vancouver, WA

10 Places to Relax around Vancouver, WA

Are you exhausted by the burden of responsibilities you’ve been shouldering? Do you need a break or a breather, even if it’s just for a few moments? Self-care is an essential component of survival in this busy world! All of us need moments when we can slow down and recharge.

Here are some places, all nearby around Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR where you might find reprieve:

 

  1. Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Located just north of Vancouver in Ridgefield, WA, the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge contains 5300 acres of natural habitats, alive with birds and other animals–all native species. The Refuge offers walking trails and an auto route you can tour in your car. When I visited, I saw a juvenile bald eagle, great blue herons, and nutria (beaver-like critters) all in one 30 minute drive!

  1. Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

The annual “Lilac Days” garden is open from April 21- May 13th 2018. You’ll be surrounded by the scents and sights of lilacs in full bloom in this stunning walkable garden. These aren’t just ordinary lilacs, but specialty varieties hybridized by Mrs. Klager during her life’s work. The Lilac Gardens are located in Woodland WA.

  1. Waterfront Renaissance Trail

The Waterfront Renaissance Trail is a 5-mile stretch of paved trail along the Columbia River. It connects Esther Short Park and Wintler Community Park. You’ll find awe-inspiring views of Mt. Hood and find peace as you sit on a bench and watch the water slowly move by.

  1. Wintler Community Park

Looking for a place to swim outdoors in the summer time? Or get some sun on the riverside beach? Wintler Community Park is the perfect place in Vancouver for summertime relaxation. It’s great for picnicking too!

  1. Salmon Creek Regional Park/Trail/Klineline Pond

The Salmon Creek Regional Park has it all–a spash pad for children to play, miles of paved walking/running/biking trails, roped swimming areas with lifeguard on duty during the summer, a plethora of picnic benches, and a pond perfect for wildlife viewing. It’s an ideal getaway if you’re looking for something close to the city of Vancouver that makes you feel like you’re miles away.

  1. Esther Short Park Summer Concert Series

Do you relax best to the sound of music? Every summer, free concerts are available to the community in downtown Vancouver, WA at Esther Short Park. Experience a variety of musical tastes, including jazz, bluegrass, rock, country, and even a symphony orchestra. A separate venue of free concerts will take place at the Columbia Tech Center in eastern Vancouver, WA.

  1. Vancouver Lake Park

Looking to relax on the water? Try canoeing, windsurfing, or kayaking on Vancouver Lake Park located on the west side of Vancouver, WA. This expansive park also offers sand volleyball, playground equipment, and a paved walking trail. It’s a beautiful place to slow down and connect with nature!

  1. Pearson Air Museum

Perhaps getting up close with history is your idea of relaxation. The Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, WA is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday, 9am-5pm. The museum is a slow-paced experience of ingenuity, showcasing aircraft as it transformed and developed over time.

  1. The Columbia Gorge Riverboat

If you have time (and money) for a longer excursion, a cruise along the Columbia River might be just what you need. You can select a cruise that best fits your interest– Are you interested in seeing the sights along the Columbia River gorge? Or are you more interested in learning about the history of the Lewis & Clark Expedition or about Native American legends?

  1. Powell’s City of Books

Maybe your idea of relaxation is getting lost in a good book. Powell’s bookstore in Portland, OR has a collection of books like nowhere else, boasting over two million books in inventory, a vast diversity of literature of every kind. A visit to Powell’s is not like visiting other book stores. It is truly an immersive experience, offering a fun kind of break from the rigors of day-to-day life.

 

If you need help relaxing, especially if it feels like anxiety has a hold on you, a counselor with Star Meadow Counseling is available to help. You can call us at 360-952-3070 or email us at info@starmeadowcounseling.com to schedule an appointment.

5 Questions to Uncover Your CORE VALUES

5 Questions to Uncover Your CORE VALUES

Core values are words that describe a person’s inner compass. Core values provide people with direction when they feel stuck, lost, or at a crossroads. They help you prioritize what’s really important in life. They reflect what gives a person their sense of meaning and purpose.

 

Values are different than goals, because you can’t check them off a to-do list. They are an ongoing, lived-out state of being. They aren’t something you do just once! A person living a value-driven life can more easily weather ups and down, even during those times that goals get derailed. They’re able to reorient to what’s most important to them because these values are a constant force of character.

 

Values differ from person to person, and even those with similar values might disagree in how they prioritize one over the other.

 

To help you identify your core values, you’ll find 5 reflection questions below. Write out your answers to the prompts, if you’re ready!

 

  1. Looking back on your life, describe a “mountaintop” experience. This is a moment when you felt the most joyful, exuberant, and on top of the world. What were you doing? Who were you with? How did you get to this point?

 

  1. Imagine yourself at your 90th birthday. What do you want to be remembered for? What will you look back on and think– “Yes! That was worth it!”

 

  1. If you were to unexpectedly inherit $50 million dollars, how would you spend the money? What would you do with your time if you no longer needed to work to earn money?

 

  1. Who are the two people in your life that you most admire? What qualities do you see in them that you aspire to?

 

  1. Think about a challenge you’ve experienced in the past. How were you able to get through? What strengths did you exhibit that may have helped you overcome that hard struggle?

 

After answering the questions above, take a look at this list of Core Values, produced by Living More, LLC.  See if you can identify the 3-5 top values for each of the writing prompts, which should give you a total of 15-25 top values. Then, from those top ranking values, try to narrow them down to a Top 5.

 

What’s next? You can create a personal mission statement formed from your top 5 values. It could start as simply as this: “It’s my mission in life to…..”  If you’d like help exploring your values or processing your personal sense of purpose in life, a professional counselor is able to help.

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

How to Get the Most Out of Counseling

Most people start the counseling process with a readiness for change. Some may not know the specifics yet for how they’d like that change to look (maybe that’s why they’re in therapy), but in some way, they are not 100% satisfied with the status quo.

When you step through the doors of our counseling office, we know you are sacrificing your time, emotional energy, and finances to work toward your change goals. You are intentionally prioritizing your mental health and well-being. You are worth it! We want you to get the most out of your sacrifice.

In this article, I’ll outline a few tips that will help maximize your time in therapy, so you can get the most out of your journey in counseling.

 

BE YOURSELF. Counseling is a place where you don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to put on a happy face (unless you genuinely feel happy!). It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and it’s okay to say “This conversation is hard for me.” It’s okay to giggle, have your mind go blank, burst out in tears, or speak an unpopular opinion. The confidential nature of therapy is part of what makes it a safe space to be yourself. A good counselor will offer a non-judgmental, supportive setting.

 

DO THE HOMEWORK. Often, the most beneficial work of therapy happens outside of the therapy office, where you apply the concepts you are working on in the real world. You will get the most out of therapy if you are giving the homework a try. Hopefully, you will find most of the homework to be helpful; however, sometimes it might only partially help and other times it might not help at all. The results of your effort matter. Your counselor will ask about what happened–what worked and what did not work. This will help you and your counselor to troubleshoot coping skills, tailoring them more specifically to where you are getting stuck.

 

GIVE HONEST FEEDBACK. Counselors are not psychics; they cannot always know you are struggling, confused, holding back, or stumped unless you say it out loud. Sometimes counselors will tread on ground that you might not be prepared to discuss yet. Your honest feedback is welcome and will help you progress at a pace that fits your readiness.

 

ATTENDANCE COUNTS. Clients tend to make the most progress when they are meeting with their counselor on a weekly or every-other-week basis to start. Once-a-month therapy is typically reserved for clients who have achieved most of their goals and are only fine-tuning subtle points. Missed appointments = Missed momentum.

 

REVIEW BIG-PICTURE GOALS. As therapy progresses, it can be extremely helpful to pause periodically, zoom out, and take a look at the bigger picture. Where have you come? And where are you headed? Often, clients are so caught up in this week’s problem and this week’s to-do list that they lose track of the progress they’ve made over time. Your counselor is like a time capsule that can remind you of where you were when you first started, the steps you took to get where you are, and the strengths they’ve observed. Revisiting treatment goals can also help you identify specific areas where you have ongoing work to do. It is important for you and your counselor to be on the same page about how to prioritize your work.

 

Check out our FAQ page to review other commonly asked questions about the counseling process. You don’t need to have it all figured out before you schedule that first appointment. It’s natural to have lingering questions and even fears about starting counseling. Your readiness for change is what matters most! We’ll be here to help.

THOUGHT DEFUSION: An Alternative Approach to Handling Intrusive Negative Thoughts

THOUGHT DEFUSION: An Alternative Approach to Handling Intrusive Negative Thoughts

Automatic negative thoughts are a natural part of the human experience. For the most part, we don’t conjure them up or think them on purpose. They happen instinctively.

 Negative thoughts get directed toward ourselves (“I can’t believe I’m running late again today! I’m going to get fired!”), toward others (“There’s Jim, walking in late; he’s so lazy.”), and toward our environment (“Stupid Portland traffic! It’s making me late!”). Sometimes negative thoughts are so pervasive that they can tank your mood for the day, or leave you stuck in a spiral of worries. These natural, instinctive thoughts can take on a life of their own!

In the book, “The Happiness Trap,” Steven C. Hayes describes what happens when we become “fused” with our negative thoughts:

  • Thoughts are reality: as if the awful thing we are imagining is actually happening
  • Thoughts are the truth: we completely buy-in
  • Thoughts are important: we treat them seriously and urgently, giving them our full attention
  • Thoughts are orders: we must obey them
  • Thoughts are wise: we assume they know best and we follow their advice
  • Thoughts are threats: we let them bother us or terrify us

He suggests that some “fused” thoughts may be helpful and others might not be as helpful. Those thoughts that ARE helpful and constructive are worth giving your time and emotional energy. For example, the thought that says “I can’t believe I’m running late again today” might prompt you to examine your morning routine, adjusting it to allow for more margin.

On the other hand, some thoughts are downright self-defeating and serve no useful purpose but to shame you, worry you, or leave you feeling stuck. It’s up to you to determine which thoughts are, in fact, not helpful. Those will be the thoughts you might be ready to “defuse” or disconnect from.

Here are some creative strategies for creating distance for those pesky negative thoughts that you need some space from:

  • Label your thoughts as thoughts (Example: “I’m having a thought that I’m worthless” feels different than “I’m worthless”).
  • Imagine your thoughts like clouds in the sky, just passing by. They can come and go as fast or slow as they please, simply watch and observe them without judgment. Become a fly on the wall observing thoughts, labeling them (“there’s a thought”), and letting them go on their way. Some thoughts are recurring visitors, appearing over and over. That’s okay! You can simply notice them and watch them pass on by.
  • Try out one of your particularly “fused” negative thoughts using the voice of a movie or cartoon character (how does it feel differently to say the negative thought using the voice of Micky Mouse or the voice of Al Pacino from The Godfather?).
  • Try singing the thought to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Does it still feel the same?
  • Don’t only observe your thoughts, but also try shifting your focus to observing your body. Notice your breath–See if you can track your breath from the moment it enters your nose (cool and refreshing) to the moment it exits your mouth (warm and rushing). Notice how your feet feel in your shoes, where you feel tension, and where you feel at ease.

If you’d like to learn more about thought defusion, “The Happiness Trap” is an excellent resource guide. Thought defusion skills are an integrated part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another therapeutic approach that has been specifically designed for helping shift unhelpful, negative thought patterns in a more direct manner. A professional counselor can guide you in customizing coping skills so that you can shift out of negative thought ruts and feel free from their persistent haunting.