- Refocusing Skills: Notice that you’re distracted and refocus back to the present moments. Most of the traditional mindful breathing mindfulness exercises will help developing this refocusing skills. You can try the Benson’s method here.
- Observing Worries: If you happen to be in a private setting, try observing your thoughts. You can try leaves on the stream or the mind-train, being the observer of your experience and thought, realise that you have choice and control to not react. It requires some practice, and usually only possible to do it in private, not like when you’re in a social situation)
- Rapid Unhooking Skills (noticing, naming, refocusing) notice and name them “that’s my mind worrying” “that’s I’m not good enough story” “that’s something bad will happen story”, then refocus back to what you are doing.
- Acceptance of Physical Sensations: Quite often we are pulled to focus on thinking, worrying, being in our head, in order to run away from unwanted feelings and sensations in the body. Notice that you’re pulled into your head, then check feelings/sensations (e.g. sweaty palm, heavy chest, upset stomach, racing heart, numb fingers) in your body then try to allow those sensations.
- Use it as a trigger to reconnect with your values: if you’re worrying about your health, then obviously your health is important to you, decide how you want to treat your body, decide the behaviour to improve that, take actions, rather than just thinking about it over and over again.
- Reminder to practice Self-Compassions: life is difficult, a lot of challenges, obstacles and loss, acknowledge that it’s not easy and be there for myself, soothing yourself.
- Cue to start Problem Solving: Worry = fruitless problem solving. If it’s an important topic and a solvable matter, how about finding a time to sit down and properly solve it?
Why does my mind keep thinking negatively?
Why is my mind always looking for problems and threats?
Why is my mind always warning me when I’m trying to step out of comfort zones, and making me worry a lot?
Why is my brain always predicting the worst?
Why am I always thinking about the painful memories?
Why am I so scared of rejection and not fitting in?
Why is my mind always comparing myself to others?
Why do I never feel enough or contented with what I already have, and wanting more more more?
Watch this cute animation by Dr Russ Harris that might answer your questions, from evolutionary terms:
Did you realise that what your mind does is completely normal and natural? It’s just trying to keep you safe!
Most researchers in the field agree that there are differences between fear and anxiety. Here are some of the key ones.
- Generally seen as a response to danger here and now.
- E.g. the dog is right in front of me, I’m scared.
- Orientation: Here and now
- Higher sympathetic arousal, higher level of fight or flight.
- Generally seen as a response to a predicted/anticipated threat.
- E.g. no actual dog here, but at the corner there might be a dog.
- The degree of sympathetic arousal is lower
Of course nobody likes feeling fear or anxiety, we all don’t want to have them. However, both fear and anxiety are not dangerous. They are completely normal and everyone experiences them.
Think about this: Are there times in your life where fear and/or anxiety have been useful/helpful in some ways? Where fear and/or anxiety saved you? Protected you? Motivated you?
Disclaimer: I’m writing this post with a lot of compassion (i.e. acknowledging the suffering of certain group of people and hoping to help them to reduce their suffering). In no way I intend to belittle or criticize any person or religion. If you’d like this post to be removed, please be in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
I previously came across a 20 year young man who wrote to me asking about therapy for addiction to pornography. When we first met for an assessment, this is his “addiction” – he watched porn and masturbates for about 1 to 1.5 hours a day, almost every day, other than that he has been functioning pretty normally with his work and sports activities. He doesn’t experience any urges or problems in the day. When I was attempting to validate his experience, saying that many people of his age have much stronger urges and if it isn’t affecting his life, perhaps he shouldn’t see it as an addiction. Then he revealed his guilt as in his religion, masturbation is not allowed, at all. (I’m sorry to have been so insensitive, not knowing that masturbation is prohibited in Islam). He also understands that some of his friends did this when they were younger, not so sure about now.
He never talks to anyone about it, even to his religious mentor or his father. But he has been suffering in pain for few years, trying various ways including throwing all his gadgets away so that he has no access to porn. But normally it came back much stronger when he managed to suppress it for few days. So he fell into this vicious cycle of urge → reacting to the urge → guilt → suppress → stronger urge → reacting → more guilt → trying harder to suppress → even stronger urge……….. I believe it must have been so much pain that he finally made up his mind to seek help from a Chinese therapist. In the beginning, there was some “conflicts” regarding the client’s goal, as he’s looking for “complete termination”, whereas I see it as something natural and normal so a reduction will be more appropriate (yes I subsequently realised my mistake. Therapy is about the client, not about the therapist).
In the end we have come into a conclusion of the goals and some tasks. I’m now working with him on self-compassion, and we are using techniques from aversive therapy for the “addiction”. For the past few months it has been going well.
If you’re also a Muslim who’s suffering from similar issues (porn watching & masturbation, compulsive or not), and if you’re willing, please get in touch, I can connect you guys virtually (online, without meeting each other) to support each other to go through this together.
Do you have some bad habits, like nail-biting, hair-pulling, crossing legs, digging nose, thumb sucking etc?
During the year-end school holiday last year I saw a young boy who’s in primary school. The parents said he had so many habits that he can’t control himself with, including sucking his thumb, enlarging his nostrils, clenching his jaw, etc. Most of them are to do with facial muscles. He’s quite intelligent and performing well academically. However, he was warned and punished many times in class and during assembly due to his bad habits. So the parents decided to take him for professional help. His motivation to change wasn’t high initially, but it soon became clear that working on these bad habits are beneficial to him. Towards the end of the session, I also found that he has bruxism (teeth grinding), just like his mother. And the father thought that it’s in the genes.
We met for four sessions over three weeks, focusing mainly on habit reversal and muscle relaxation. Three months later when I checked with the father again, over 90% of his habits has disappeared, it’s no longer a problem. I’d have started hypnotherapy if he didn’t respond so well.
So, any bad habits, including thumb-sucking, nail-biting, smoking or over eating, and also teeth grinding while one’s sleeping can be target with basic habit reversal techniques plus muscle tension awareness in general. What’s important is actually the motivation, “are you willing to work on your problem?”
Yes, since my post written in 2017, I’ve finally managed to organise the first meet-up for Support Group for Anxiety and related problems. It went really well and we were all very pleased to meet each other and made this happened together, despite our levels of anxiety! We will continue to meet monthly and welcome new members.
Meet-ups for Depression and other problems will follow soon…
If you’re interested, please fill in the google form here:
A few criteria to fulfill:
- You’ve been assessed or diagnosed with the problem you specified by a mental health professional (be it a psychiatrist or psychologist or GP or…).
- You’re attending and participating in this willingly, not being forced by others.
- You are able to arrange your own transport and pay for your expenses.
- You are able to pay a small fees for administrative/materials purpose.
- You demonstrate the ability to treat others non-judgmentally and with respect, and maintain confidentiality.
- In between our monthly meet-ups, we stay connected in Whatsapp group, however, you will only be able to join the group after first showing up in the meet-up.
To read more about it, please check out my previous post: