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Thought-Stopping to Relieve Stress

Thought-stopping is a process of concentrating on an unwanted thought and then suddenly stopping and clearing your mind. When you practice this process repeatedly on an unwanted thought, over time the unwanted thought occurs less often. Eventually the thought may not occur at all or will be easy to dismiss immediately.

  1. Identify your most stressful thoughts, those that interfere with other activities. You wish you could stop having these thoughts, but they keep occurring.
  2. Imagine the thought. Close your eyes. Imagine a situation in which you might have this stressful thought. Then allow yourself to think and even concentrate on the thought.
  3. Interrupt the thought. Startling yourself is a good way to interrupt the thought. Try one of these two techniques.
    • Set a timer or alarm clock for 3 minutes. Then start thinking as explained in step 2. When the timer or alarm goes off, shout "Stop!" You may accompany the shout with an action, such as raising your hand or standing up. This is your cue to stop thinking about anything, empty your mind, and try to keep it empty for about 30 seconds. If the upsetting thought comes back during that time, shout "Stop!" again.
    • Instead of using a timer, you may tape-record yourself loudly shouting "Stop!" at intervals of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. Proceed in the same way as with the timer. Hearing your own voice commanding you to stop helps strengthen your commitment to getting rid of the unwanted thought.
  4. After practicing steps 1 through 3 on a thought until the thought goes away on command, try the process again. This time interrupt the thought with the word "Stop!" in a normal voice.
  5. Finally, after your normal voice interrupts the thought effectively, try whispering the word "Stop." Eventually you can just imagine hearing "Stop" inside your mind. At this point, you can interrupt the thought whenever and wherever it occurs.

Whenever the unwanted thought occurs, interrupt it as soon as you recognize it.

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Steven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised May 3, 2013

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