PTSD: “I can’t get these thoughts out of my head”

If you’re getting sucked into a bad memory, here are some strategies that I have shared previously. If you’re finding yourself stuck going over something unpleasant in your head – this post is for you.

Trying to get yourself to not think about something is tricky, because our brain doesn’t know how to “not”.

For example: try NOT to think of a white bear. So, try NOT to picture a polar bear, and try NOT to remember that commercial they had at Christmas a couple of years ago, with the polar bears playing on the icebergs.

…And what happens? Yeah – you can’t get them out of your head, because you told yourself NOT to think of them.

Unpleasant memories are a lot like that: the harder you try not to think of them, the more you get stuck on them.

There are a couple of tricks that might help: the most common strategy is to try to keep busy as a distraction. This works to some degree, but can be really exhausting.

There are also a couple of visualization exercises that will help with a fair bit of practice.

The first one is called a container. Visualize a container, big enough and strong enough to hold the things that you want to get out of your head. Visualize putting those things in the container, and locking the container tightly so that nothing can get out. Finally, visualize putting the container somewhere very far away – like the bottom of the ocean – where those thoughts can’t touch you. Then, any time that one of those thoughts comes up – picture putting it in the container, and putting the container far away.

Another visualization exercise works like this: when an unpleasant thought starts playing like a movie in your head, imagine taking a step back to get a wider viewpoint. Imagine seeing that thought as if it were a movie on a television. Now imagine picking up the remote control, and switching the channel. What would you like to watch instead? A favourite scene from a movie that you like? A cooking, travel, or decorating show? Maybe a sport you really like watching? It doesn’t matter what you choose, so long as it’s pleasant and gives you a chance to “switch the channel” that’s playing in your head.

It’s not magic, and it’ll take a bit of practice – but try these strategies, and see if they help.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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