When was the last time that you found yourself completely overwhelmed by negative thoughts? Maybe you were driving and suddenly remembered that looming deadline at work and your thoughts began to tell you that you won’t be able to hack it. Or maybe your partner said something that triggered an insecurity, and you couldn’t stop running with the storyline that they’ll eventually leave you. Maybe it was just one small thing that triggered a cascade of worry and fear that you’re not worthwhile.
Ouch, these are painful thinking traps — patterns of negative thoughts that distort reality and keep us from seeing things as they really are. When our brain is overtaken by these types of thoughts, we can become stressed, anxious, and depressed.
Negative thinking traps can also cause us to lash out at others, numb out with substances and distractions, and avoid our daily responsibilities. Sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re experiencing distorted thoughts, but we notice the seemingly unbearable emotions or unwanted behaviors that soon follow.
If this feels familiar to you, there are tools based in mindfulness and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to help get you out of these painful thinking loops and arrive back in the present moment, where you have the power to influence your well-being.
As a therapist at Sanvello, I work with people to move out of these thinking patterns by teaching them to come back home to their bodies. Our bodies are always here for us in the present moment to ground us and help us to calm down.
Many of us struggle to feel at home in our bodies and that’s okay. Maybe you’re coping with chronic pain, carrying past traumas, or finding it difficult to accept your body as it is. You may feel numb in your skin and have trouble connecting to your body at all. Know that you can always reach out to a mental health professional if you want extra support.
How to connect with your body
Here are some practices to help you get out of your negative thinking patterns and into your body. Give them a try, at your own pace, and see what feels right for you.
- Release the stored tension in your body. Progressive muscle relaxation technique is a wonderful way to get into your body. Start by gently, yet firmly tightening your muscles and then gently releasing them. You can begin at your feet and slowly work your way up through your legs, stomach, arms, and face – gently squeezing enough to notice the sensation, then letting go.
- Use your senses as a doorway. Our five main senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight) can serve as safe doorways that allow us to reconnect with our bodies. Try getting in touch with your senses by experiencing something that tastes good, a soft blanket for touch, nature sounds to soothe you, watching a sunset, or using essential oils or burning a candle for a pleasant smell. Gently open yourself up to receiving these sensory gifts. Touch and smell can be especially powerful ways to move out of our thoughts and ground ourselves in this moment.
- Take a soothing bath or shower. Instead of just washing up and hopping right out, reserve a little extra time to really ignite your senses. Deeply inhale the scents of your soap or shampoo and feel the warmth of the water on your skin. When you notice yourself slipping into thoughts, bring your attention back to the warmth and scents surrounding you.
- Try a body scan meditation. Instead of solely focusing on the breath, this type of meditation focuses on each region of the body. Start at your toes and work your way up to the top of your head, just noticing the sensation in each area. When you encounter a pleasant sensation, pause to savor it. If you encounter an unpleasant emotion, practice allowing it to just be, without the need to react or push it away. If you encounter a blank spot, just notice this too. When you drift off into thoughts, that’s okay. Just bring your attention back to the region where you left off. Want a guide? Try our Relaxing Your Muscles meditation in the app.
- Find refuge in your body. If connecting with your physical body seems scary or overwhelming, this tool can help. Name one location of your body that seems okay to connect to. Maybe it’s your left big toe or the tip of your nose. Bring your attention to this safe space, noticing things like the temperature of your skin or the muscle tension. As you become more comfortable with hanging out here, consider expanding your field of focus to include a little more of your body, as much as feels good for you. You decide how far and how fast to go.
- Release feel-good hormones. Our touch releases the “hug hormone” oxytocin, creating a calm and soothing experience. Start with what feels safe for you. Maybe you try putting one hand on your arm, your leg, or over your heart. Bring your attention to the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand upon your body. You can rub or knead your skin to further enhance the feel-good feelings. Consider working your way up to a self-hug — wrapping your arms around your upper body and giving a gentle squeeze.
- Move your body freely. A wonderful way to feel our bodies again is by simply moving around. You can use formal movement practices, like yoga or Tai Chi, or more informal movement like stretching, walking, or dancing around. Tuning into our muscles as they tense and loosen, noticing how our arms and legs rise and fall, and how our core balances creates an opportunity to recognize and appreciate all the amazing things our bodies can do.
There’s no perfect or right way to get in touch with your body. Go at your own pace and know that you can customize any of the suggestions I’ve shared so that they feel right for you. Over time, you’ll be able to tap into safe, comfortable, and soothing ways to move out of your thoughts, ground yourself, and relax right in the safety of your own body.
By Paul Deger, MA, LPC, PT
Mindfulness Facilitator and Product Manager, Moment Health
Paul Deger has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare. He earned his undergraduate degree in physical therapy at Marquette University. As a physical therapist, Paul has practiced in both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation settings, specializing in neurological disorders. He furthered his studies in motor learning and control in the graduate physical therapy program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Paul then shifted focus from physical to psychological health and completed his graduate studies at Naropa University, Boulder, earning a Master’s in Mindfulness-Based Counseling Psychology. On retreat, he has also trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School and studied in sangha with Lloyd Burton, Dharma teacher from Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Recognizing the impact of spirituality on health, Paul more recently studied pastoral care at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.