Everyone has difficult, uncomfortable and even painful thoughts and feelings at times. It’s all part of being human.
Often, it can be helpful to challenge those thoughts and replace them with more helpful alternatives. However, sometimes this isn’t as effective as we’d like it to be. Maybe the thought just keeps popping up, or you can’t quite convince yourself of the thoughts you replaced it with.
Another way of managing difficult thoughts and feelings is not to do anything about them at all. We can just accept them. Sounds ridiculous, right? Research shows that rather than ‘wrestling’ with a thought and trying to change it, it can be helpful to merely acknowledge its presence and get on with the day. This is a key principle behind Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This way of thinking about things is actually scientifically proven to help people better manage difficult thoughts and feelings.
This approach works by putting some distance between you and the tricky thought or feeling. Our minds continuously have thoughts popping up, some of them are helpful for us and some are not. If a thought is not helpful and we get caught up in it, it can make it very difficult to live life.
Think of a common difficult thought that pops into your mind. What do you do if you get caught up in it?
Rather than analysing whether the thought is true, try asking yourself “Is this a helpful thought?”
“What do I do (or fail to do) when I let myself get caught up in this thought?”
If a thought is not helpful, acknowledge it. The key is now to put some distance between yourself and the thought so it can come and go without, disrupting what we are doing. Our mind can just chatter away in the background while we carry on with what we want to do.
For example, when your tinnitus is bad you might have the thought “Argh! I hate this noise!”. While that may be true, is it helpful to dwell on? What does it lead you to do? Do you yell at loved ones, give up on what you are working on or eat junk food? Then it isn’t helpful! You may be able to ignore it for a while but does that get exhausting?
If it’s not helpful, there are hundreds of ways to put some distance between you and the thought.
1) Just notice the thought has popped into your mind. This helps create some distance.
2) If you like meditative exercises you could visualise a stream flowing by with leaves floating on it. Mentally place each thought that comes into your mind on a leaf and let it float on by. Don’t judge the thought or get caught up in it in any way. That same thought may come again, that’s no problem, just put it on a leaf and let it float on by again.
3) If you’re on a computer, you could type up the thoughts and then have some fun changing the spacing, font and colour. This can make the words seem less intimidating and takes some of the power out of them.
You could make up your own exercise. Remember, it’s not about getting rid of the thought; the thought is free to come and go as it wishes. It is about putting distance between you and the thought, so it no longer has the power over you.
For even more great information on tinnitus and how to manage it, download Tinnibot. Tinnibot will teach you about useful tools, strategies and exercises to educate you about tinnitus and create a plan of attack to take control of your wellbeing. Try it out today!
 All 3 of these ideas come from Harris (2019) ACT made simple 2nd ed. New Harbinger, Oakland.