Get Unstuck from Unhelpful Feelings (because you can't actually CHANGE them!)

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If your teen tends to get stuck on thoughts that cause undue stress, the DBT skill “Defusion” can help your teen stop, step back and get unstuck from painful thoughts and feelings so that they can can live life to the fullest and actually ENJOY the good times without worry thoughts.

Thoughts aren’t facts! 

Feelings are always changing and when we get caught up in a thought or a feeling, it sometimes leads to a decision or engaging in a behavior that isn't necessarily helpful in the long run and can lead to problems.

Using Defusion means is being able to observe your feelings to really notice what's happening in your mind, in your body, in your emotions and in your memories so that you can have more control and a little bit of distance from the process.

One of the ways that we teach giving distance from a thought that might be running through our head over and over again and doesn't necessarily feel helpful is for us to be able to label that thought as a thought.

SAY: "I'm having the thought that I might fail the test"

... rather than: "I might fail the test" or "I'm going to fail the test."

What that does it allows you to label a thought as just a thought, loosening some of the power it might have over you, and essentially not accepting that thought as an ultimate truth.

Don’t let your thoughts take the wheel! 

When you're learning to drive, you might have someone in the passenger seat or some backseat drivers that are telling you to do different things or telling you to go different directions and it can be really stressful!

But to stay safe, what you have to do is connect to your breath, connect to your center, and really decide which way you want to go and remind yourself that YOU are in control of the wheel. You need to make the decisions for where to turn or when to stop or when to use your turn signal.

Life sometimes looks this way when it feels like many people in our lives are being critical or making demands of us. When you can take some breaths, recenter and stay the course, you can make decisions that are ultimately in your best interest in the long term.

This is how you separate from your thoughts a little bit and allowing yourself to notice them just as thoughts rather than as facts or truth.

Ask: “What am I reacting to?” 

When you notice your emotions start to shift maybe into something uncomfortable or something that's difficult for you, ask yourself, "What am I reacting to?"

Then begin to reflect on what some of those thoughts are, what that prompting event was. Try writing it down or talking it out with someone.

Some of our teens have even mentioned that it's helpful to gain some distance from those thoughts by saying them in a different voice, using a different accent, saying them faster or slower, saying difficult thoughts to the tune of "Happy Birthday" or the alphabet or something like that.

While you're saying the same things to yourself, it's loosening some of the power that those thoughts have over you because it's making them a little bit silly.

Now, that's not to say we're invalidating the thoughts because some thoughts certainly lead to some difficult emotions, but that we don't have to feed into all of our thoughts and accept them as truth or fact...

...because thoughts are thoughts and facts are facts.

Manage overwhelm with visualization 

One exercise that can help with detaching from overwhelming or negative feelings is the "leaves on a stream" exercise.

Here are simple instructions:

Imagine you are sitting in the middle of a stream. The water is flowing away in front of you.

Notice if there is any sound from the running water. Notice if there are any trees on the banks of the stream.

Now see leaves floating down the stream away from you. They can be any shape, color, or size. As the negative thoughts come into your mind, be aware of what the thought is, and then place it on a leaf.

Now watch it float away down the stream. Do this with each thought as you notice it.

As you acknowledge each of your thoughts, you do not need to hang onto them. There is no need to become attached to the thought. Just acknowledge it and then place it on a leaf.

By watching it float away, it loses its hold on you and its intensity.