This is a therapy treatment strategy for clients who are seeing me to address loop thinking which typically will occur before/when our body goes into a heightened fight or flight response. We will have covered understanding and handling trauma, overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and addressing loss of controllability, security and predictability which are features of trauma (and mental health by the way). You don’t want to be up all night going over things in your mind. And you don’t want thoughts to dominate your day. What can you do about this to handle these situations better? Hence, the loop thinking exercise.
1. Prior Planning
(Don’t undertake this step when in a confused or agitated state of mind. This is not a good time to think. Instead, manage your body first.)
Construct a list of activities that will occupy your mind for 1/2 hour (come up with these ideas before when you are in a good frame of mind). Elisha Goldstein has a list of 183 pleasurable activities which may be a starting point. (The defence department also has a similar list if you have access to their therapy resources, I have a copy.)
- Enjoyable activities or tasks
- Rainy/Sunny activities
Recognize your physiological signs when in loop thinking
- Head spinning/about to explode
- Elevated heart rate
- Tight muscles
3. Go to list
When trapped in loop thinking, get up and move around to break your sense of preoccupation. Begin deep breathing and start and activity from the list.
4. Doing activities
Select an activity that will take you at least 1/2 hour.
If problem thoughts intrude, you may need to say to yourself “Excuse me, I am busy now, I will come back and deal with you later.“
5. Think (3 minutes) after activity
Once more settled (after activity), think about the problem for a MAXIMUM of 3 minutes.
You may need to set an alarm clock to stop your thinking at 3 minutes.
6. Summarise your thinking
Spend no more than 3 minutes
- Summarising your thinking in writing or mind map
- a maximum of 4 dot points
7. Select another activity
- If loop thinking is continuing, get up and move around and do deep breathing or stretch to break the intensity of the thinking cycle
- If still preoccupied, decide whether you are still trapped by your thought or can you get back to “normal things” including sleep
- If trapped, go to list again
- Select another activity
8. Do another activity
- Select another activity to keep your mind occupied for 1/2 hour
- Do what you can to prevent intrusive thoughts appearing
- Manage your body’s reactions now. Don’t think at this time.
- If at night and you are settled, go back to bed.
9. Think (3 minutes) MAXIMUM
IMPORTANT If a major issue, this may be days/weeks later. Don’t push yourself to “solve” it now.
- Use your summarised dot points as the starting point for this thinking cycle
- Don’t forget you may need the alarm clock to stop your thinking from looping again
- Remember each new thinking cycle begins by using the previous summarised points
- If using a mind map just take one branch of thought and focus on that
- Maximum of 3 minutes (alarm clock)
- Maximum of 4 dot points
- Put the notes or mind map aside
11. Repeat the process until problem thinking is changed
When you are not troubled by loop thinking, give yourself a break.
Credit goes to Doug Burke of Bardon Counselling Centre who is an outstanding therapist I have the privilege to know. Doug retains copyright of these materials.