When was the last time something really worried you, but you just couldn’t – as Taylor Swift would say, ‘shake it off’? That ear worm of a song ‘Shake it Off’ was released in 2014 and debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming Taylor’s 2nd number-one single in the United States and the 22nd song to debut at number one in the chart’s history. Taylor has cemented her reputation by singing about the angst-filled teenage years with a kind of wistful, sepia-toned nostalgia and the ‘Shake it Off’ message undoubtedly resonated with her audience. While the sentiment was great, with great respect to Taylor, what was missing was the: ‘how’ does one shake it off.
There are many teenagers and adults who are daily bombarded with negative thoughts.
Many sadly, do lie in bed ruminating – endlessly chewing over the ‘what if’ thoughts that cascade through their heads. Psychologists regard such type of thinking – negative, disagreeable and counterproductive—and in some cases, it can even lead to chronic depression and anxiety.
The famous psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries – likens these thinking process to a needle in a groove and as the groove gets deeper and deeper, the needle becomes more and more embedded and the longer it goes around the harder it is to get out of the groove.
What is more is that, this type of rumination can actually end up increasing anger levels and the result very often, is that you are more distressed than you were at the start, because whatever it is that you were worrying about, becomes amplified in your mind. Luckily, the Family Peace Foundation can help, by providing 4 some evidence based strategies that can help you and anyone in your family to stop dwelling on negative thoughts and refocus your mind on something positive, it just takes a bit of distraction and a healthy dose of willpower.
1. Go to a virtual 7/11 in Your Mind
Try imagining yourself in a 7/11 store. Visualise all the items on one shelf in the store, and the order that you see them in. You don’t have to do it for long—maybe 30 seconds or a minute, but the key is to be disciplined about it and do it each time that negative thought comes back—even if that means doing it 20 times an hour. You can actually train your brain to go in a different direction when these thoughts come up.
2. Trash the thought
To get rid of a niggling thought can be as simple as jotting it down on a piece of paper—and then tearing it up, or putting it through the shredding machine. According to a 2012 Ohio State University study by psychology professor Richard Petty subjects who wrote down negative things about their bodies and then threw them away had a more positive self-image a few minutes later, compared to those who kept the papers with them. So whether you tag your thoughts—as trash or as worthy of hanging on to —seems to make a difference in how you use those thoughts.
3. Warm up
Yale researchers Idit Shalev and John Bargh discovered in 2012 that when people were given the opportunity to hold a hot pack as they thought about their loneliness, they had less negative feelings about their exclusion experience than people who didn’t get to embrace something warm. Substituting physical warmth for emotional warmth can be a quick fix, the researchers say—just don’t let it take the place of real human interaction in the long run.
4. Change your thinking
One of the things that Sabina and I say to our clients most often, is that in life, if you can’t change something you can always change the way you think about it. What psychologists have learnt over the years, is that the way family members think determines the way they feel, and the way they feel then in turn determines the way they act. If someone in your family wants to change the way they are behaving, they must start by changing the way they think. Recently I was flying from Melbourne to Singapore and my plane got diverted to Sydney where I had to wait for 5 hours. This caused me great inconvenience but there was nothing I could do about it. There were two ways I could have responded. I could have been all angry and frustrated but that would have changed nothing. Instead I changed my thinking, opened my laptop and saw this as a great opportunity to get work done.
Taylor Swift is undoubtedly an amazing person, certainly a recording artist, having sold 40 more million albums than I have! She is by all reports also a generous philanthropist, an activist for good mental health -having taken a strong stance against bullying and frequently makes private visits to hospitals to meet with sick patients and to support them. Essentially a talented young woman who has used her gifts for the betterment of humanity. I am saying her advice to ‘Shake it off” was great just needed some more strategies. So Taylor if you ever read this – knock yourself out…