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Letting Thoughts Go

If you have tried tools #1 and tools #2 consistently for at least two weeks, but you want to try a somewhat different approach, this tool might be for you. Instead of analyzing, challenging, or replacing an anxious thought with a more helpful thought, you can simply observe it and acknowledge that it is just a thought. See if you can just let it go without giving it any power.

Imagine you suddenly have this anxious thought: "What if the plane crashes?" With this tool, instead of challenging it, or replacing it with calming or confidence-building thoughts you may instead say to yourself something like:

  • "Hmmm, that was a random weird thought that just popped up in my head!"
  • "Huh, no wonder my heart is racing, if that is what my brain is imagining. It’s just a thought and I can let it go."

Be curious about your thoughts, without getting caught up in them. It’s like standing outside yourself watching your thoughts come and go.

This is different than ignoring or pushing away thoughts, because you are acknowledging your thoughts for what they are (just thoughts!) rather than avoiding them.

You might find it helpful to imagine your thoughts as clouds floating in the sky: they float in and eventually change shape or disappear. You can just watch them float past you. Some teens like to picture their thoughts as leaves flowing down a gentle stream. They come into your field of view, but if you don’t reach out and pick them out of the stream, eventually they will continue to float down the stream and out of sight.

In fact, if you think about it, all your thoughts are really just a constant flow of leaves down a stream. You can choose which leaves to grab and which to let float by.