Chronically Living and how to make the most of it

How Do I Create Distance Between Myself and My Illness Thoughts?

October 25, 2021 Kelsey Harris Season 2 Episode 18
Chronically Living and how to make the most of it
How Do I Create Distance Between Myself and My Illness Thoughts?
Show Notes Transcript

We're continuing our journey through the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy hexaflex this week by taking a look at defusion - or rather, creating distance between ourselves and our thoughts. When our thoughts are too close to us, they tend to interfere with our lives, leading us to behaviour that is the opposite of what we want (we want mindful, values-based living).
In this episode we talk about:

  • common chronic illness thoughts
  • hands as thoughts and feelings metaphor to explain defusion
  • some techniques you can use to create that distance

The meditation music in this episode was "Deep Into Nature" composed by Music of Wisdom - licensed from
The link to my YouTube channel for the full Leaves on a Stream meditation is:
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Kelsey Harris:

Do you have a lot of thoughts about your chronic illness or chronic pain that are making you feel anxious or depressed? Are your thoughts hooking you and stopping you from engaging in the activities you wish you were? Do have the thought that your life won't be good anymore because of your illness. If any or all of this resonates with you, then definitely stick around for this week's episode because we're diving into how to create some distance between ourselves and our thoughts about our chronic illnesses. Welcome back to chronically living. I'm Kelsey Harris, chronic illness warrior and psychotherapist on chronically living and how to make the most of it, we're providing tangible ways to improve the well being of spoonies. So get ready to make the most out of your life even with that pesky chronic illness. Hey, everyone, thanks as always for tuning into the show. This week, we're going to continue with our Acceptance and Commitment Therapy hexaflex so like the episode on contacting the present moment, this episode will be heavy with the psychoeducation. If you haven't listened to that episode yet, I would recommend listening to it first, if you really want you can listen to after but I would say first just because I explained ACT it in a bit more detail there. I'm going to briefly explain the hexa flex again, for anyone who doesn't remember that was a few weeks ago. Basically this type of cognitive behavioral, experiential, existential therapy has six main processes that it uses. They are contacting the present moment, defusion, acceptance, values, committed action, and self-as-context. They all work together and overlap and are used in a very flexible manner during actual psychotherapy. For the purposes of this podcast, I'm giving some psychoeducation on each of these during solo episodes. And I'm offering a couple of skills you can use to work with them on your own. I also highly recommend self help materials such as The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, if you want to explore these further on your own. As I mentioned in the contacting the present moment, episode ACT has a ton of evidence as being helpful for chronic pain and chronic illness. And as a therapist, this is what I specialize in is clients like you basically, like me. But so this is really the perfect modality for me to use and what I typically use with my clients. So let me briefly explain the process we're working with today. Defusion. Okay, I'm going to admit that it is a very jargony name. And that makes it a bit of a turnoff. So let me give it a better name here, creating distance between you and your thoughts. This is the opposite of fusion. So fusion is when our thoughts dominate our behavior. And therefore defusion is responding flexibly to our thoughts. So they do not dominate our behavior. And that's me quoting Russ Harris. What we need to learn to do is to notice or thoughts with curiosity, openness, and flexibility. Now if this sounds a lot like mindfulness, that's because mindfulness is an essential skill for this process. Now, for those of you who have had more traditional cognitive behavioral therapy, you might be thinking, Okay, this sounds kind of familiar. And it is similar in a lot of ways, but there are some major differences. So in CBT, we learn to notice our thoughts, review the evidence for and against how accurate the thought is, and then replace it with a new thought. And hey, there's a ton of evidence that this works, I actually use it with my perio clients. As a client myself, when I went to therapy, my therapist used CBT, with me, as well as mindfulness, but a lot of CBT. And this was the model I learned to help me with my thoughts. So that way of doing it works for you. Keep with it, right, I'm just going to give you an alternative way here. The real difference in ACT is that we just see thoughts as thoughts, they're good or bad. They just come and go. And our minds are actually wired to continuously generate the thoughts like all the time. And some of these thoughts we like, and they're helpful to us. And some are just really helpful. As we learn to see thoughts as just thoughts without holding any particular meaning, we can create distance between ourselves in them. And this is the most difficult to deal with our core beliefs. But we're not going to worry too much about that for this episode, I'll briefly touch on at the end. Instead we're just going to focus on creating distance between ourselves and our thoughts about our Illness and our pain in general. And you can do these with really thoughts that aren't about your illness or pain either. But for the purposes of today, I will focus on our illnesses. Okay, so the first thing we need to learn to do is to notice what is hooking us. So what thoughts are the ones we're getting caught up caught up on? Some common thoughts are my life is terrible now, my life will never be the same. I can't do this anymore. I can't do anything anymore. No one will want to be with me if I'm ill, from not a good parent, or partner, or sibling or child, etc. anymore. I can't handle this. I'm sure you've had at least some of these thoughts yourselves. And guess what? You're totally normal. Your mind even sounds a lot like mine. everyone's mind makes thoughts, worries, judgments, fears, fantasies, stories and predictions. Our primitive ancestors actually needed these thoughts in order to escape from danger, otherwise, they could literally die. Unfortunately, for us, our minds keep doing this. Even though the threat of imminent death, like getting eaten by Wolf is extremely low. Basically, our minds are trying their best to protect us to keep us safe. Okay, so if you're ready, let's try a little exercise together to see if this helps explain all of this a little bit better. Please don't try this if you're driving a car or doing something else where you'd be unsafe, because you're actually gonna need both your hands for this. So if you're ready, just look around the room, I want you to just imagine that it's filled with everything that matters to you. So people, places, activities, things you like, like the types of food you like, and so on. And it's also filled with all the problems in your life. So your health problems, relationship problems, money, problems, etc. And there are also the regular tasks of life, such as chores and shopping, and all of that. Okay, so let's imagine that our hands are our thoughts and feelings. So put your hands together side by side, like the representing an open book. Now bring your hands close to your eyes. And this is what happens when we get hooked by our thoughts. Can't really see anything but your hands. So you can't see anything but your thoughts. You might notice that you become disengaged from other people. You might also notice that you can't focus your attention. And you might also notice that you can't engage in any tasks, your thoughts and feelings caused you to miss out on life. Okay, so what happens when we distance ourselves from them, just lower hands go halfway. Notice how much more you can see around you. Now drop them onto your lap. You're now free to not only notice what you what's around you, but to engage with it. Now notice that your hands which are still representing your thoughts and feelings, they're still they're still in my lap. We didn't get rid of them. To quote Russ Harris, again, even really painful thoughts and feelings often have useful information that can help us. Even if it's just pointing us towards problems we need to address or things we need to do differently, or simply reminding us to be kinder to ourselves. And if there's nothing useful we can do with them. We just let them sit there. And yes, we can do this even with our thoughts about our illnesses. How do I know this? Well, aside from the wealth of research literature on this subject, this is literally the most researched process in ACT. I've seen it work with clients, and I've used it on myself. In fact, I often use it on myself because my mind comes up with all kinds of stuff that well it's trying to be helpful and protective instead gives me a feeling like anxiety. What I learned is that it's okay that my mind does this as long as I know what to do when it does do this. After the break, I'm going to give you a few ideas on how to create distance between yourself and your thoughts. Hey warriors, what if it was possible to get local fresh groceries delivered right to your front door. 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With instacart, you'll never step foot in the grocery All right, so as promised, I'm going to give you a couple of store again. ways to create some distance between yourself and your thoughts. There are actually hundreds of individual techniques you can use. But we're just going to focus on a few simple ones here just to give you a start. So the first one is really simple. It's I'm having the thought that. So here's an example, let's say your thought is I'm never going to have a good life again. So we're going to rephrase this to I'm having the thought that I'm never going to have a good life again. And we can even take it further and rephrase it to I notice I'm having the thought that I'm never going to have a good life again, what you might notice is, the more you do this, the less painful the thought becomes. Here's another technique, it's called silly voices. Now, this one, I want to make sure you don't feel invalidated. And this technique is one that I find okay to use on myself, but I don't typically use it with clients unless I think they would really be okay with it. So some of you this one you'll hate and others, you will be totally fine with it. So basically, it's gonna go like this, you're gonna take your thoughts, let's use a different example from one of those common chronic illness thoughts. So I'm not a good partner anymore. Now let's try sing it to the tune of happy birthday. Not a good partner anymore. That's not the tune to Happy Birthday. Doesn't matter where we're seeing it or inside your head, hear it in the voice of a cartoon character, you can do it out loud. So another good part for anymore. It's my Yoda voice. So repeat that a few times and see what your responses and it might make you laugh. And again, if this is something that you're like, oh, like, it makes me feel stupid about that thought, well, that's not the point. So if that's what it's doing to you just don't use this technique. But for me, I'm like, Oh, that is kind of a silly thought. Or maybe that's just the thought. That's what it comes down to. It's just the thought. And I like this technique because it's kind of silly, and I'm kind of silly. The third technique I'm going to give you is more of a meditative one. So for those of you who like mindfulness, this would be a great one for you to do. You can also find a bit longer version of it on my YouTube channel, which is Kelsey L. Harris meditations and I'm going to link that channel in the show notes for you. The meditation itself is called leaves on a stream. So again, if you are driving or on a run, and maybe this is not the best time for you to do this practice, but if you're sitting somewhere and can participate, let's start by getting ourselves into a comfortable upright position. Maybe just notice your breath for a moment. You go close your eyes if that's comfortable for you. Otherwise, just find a spot to focus them on. Imagine that you're sitting next to a gently flowing stream. And on the top of the stream, there are some leaves floating on the surface. Over the next few minutes, just notice the thoughts that come up for you. As you notice each thought Please sit on a leaf and allow it to come and stay and go in its own time. We're not trying to make the Leafs float away. We're just noticing what happens. May float float away quickly or maybe slowly or might stay a while. Do this with all of your thoughts, whether they're positive or negative, pleasurable or painful. Even if they're wonderful thoughts, just place them onto a leaf. And allow them to come and stay and go in their own time. Simply notice what happens without trying to change anything. Your thoughts stop, just watch the stream until the thoughts start up again. Remember, we're not trying to speed up the stream, when we're trying to get rid of the thoughts. We're just allowing them to come and go as they please. If your mind tells you that this is stupid to hard, place those thoughts on a leaf as well. If a leaf gets stuck, then just let it hang around for a while. We're not forcing them to go away. If you notice a painful feeling arise, maybe boredom, patience, or anxiety. just acknowledge it. Say here's the feeling of boredom, and then place those words onto a leaf. From time to time, your thoughts will hook you and pull you away from the stream. This is totally normal and will likely happen over and over. When you've realized it's happened, gently acknowledge it, and then go back to watching the stream. Now we'll bring the exercise to an end. So sit up in your chair, open your eyes. Notice what you can see and hear and take a stretch. Okay, before we wrap up this episode, I want to clarify a couple of things when it comes to defusion or creating this istance. We are not trying to eel better or get rid of nwanted thoughts. We are trying o reduce how impactful roblematic thoughts are on our ehavior and to become more sychologically present and ngaged in our experiences. In ther words, we're helping urselves to be able to engage n mindful values based living. ometimes you will notice that he thoughts go away fantastic, r that you you know, quote nquote, feel better. But emember, that's not going to appen every time that you use ne of these techniques and it's eally not the point of efusion. So if you are wanting t practice this on your own, a solutely go for it, but don't h ve that expectation your mind t at you're just going to feel b tter every time you do it b cause that's probably not g ing to happen. As I said e rlier, you know, our mind is r ally designed to generate t ese thoughts. So this isn't a d straction technique, I did the e isode on Creative Hopelessness a while back, you can always go l sten to that, if you're not r ally sure what I mean by d straction techniques. I d finitely talk about that a lot m re in that episode as well. A d the Patreon content, and the s ite contains a few more t chniques that you can try out, i 's just $5 a month for that. S there's some great bonus c ntent every week for you a c uple of free ebooks. And it r ally what it does is if you s pport the show, then I can i vest in better equipment, I w uld really like to upgrade my m crophones, stuff like that. So y s, if you like the show, I w uld definitely appreciate the s pport for it. Okay, so I mentioned earlier that we weren't working with beliefs so much today as we are with thoughts in general. And I know that sometimes we really believe some things about our illness to be true. The point with defusion is not to judge ur thoughts as true or false. 'm not going to debate with you hether they are or not. And I eally think there's a point in ou debating with yourself hether they are true or not. ometimes our thoughts are ompletely true a lot of time to ot actually had a conversation ith a friend fairly recently, ot about illness, but a ifferent life issues of hers. nd I generally just remind her hat we don't know for thoughts re true or not. What we do know s that they are just thoughts. o even with our beliefs, don't oncentrate whether they're true r false. Instead, just learn to nhook from them if they're roblematic for you, so that you an put your energy instead into eing the person you want to be aving the life you want to have n doing the things that you ant to do. Let's reflect what id you notice about your houghts and feelings during his episode? If you tried the echniques out, what did you otice about your thoughts and eelings during and after them? hat was your experience with our thoughts before the episode ersus now? And what are you oticing now as you reflect back n that noticing? worries, I ope this was helpful nformation for you. If you're eally struggling with your ental health, please find a herapist in your area. A lot of herapy is provided through elehealth as well as in person. nd, you know, there are herapists who use sliding cales. So if you can't afford he full rate, there are some herapists who will charge less ometimes therapies covered by nsurance depending on your nsurance coverage, you should efinitely look into that. ometimes it's government unded. I know I did community ental health here in British olumbia, Canada. And we do have overnment funded short term sychotherapy available for eople with moderate to severe ental health problems. So if ou have a chronic illness, you robably will qualify for that oderate level just based on hat I saw during my practicum xperience when I was doing the ommunity counseling. And I did ave a whole bunch of chronic ain, chronic illness clients ith you know, depression or nxiety. So just maybe look into ome of those options for you. nd I just want you to remember hat it doesn't actually matter hat kind of therapy your herapist practices because at he end of the day, the two most mportant of the four factors hat are important, but the two ost important factors for lient outcomes. So aka if you et better is the relationship etween you and your therapist. o you really need someone that ou connect with. And then what ou yourself bring to therapy nd that's both inside and utside of sessions. The next ittle episode we're going to ook at acceptance, which may ound silly, but I'll explain it ore then. In the meantime, I ave some amazing guest episodes oming out. Keep on making the ost of everyone. Special thanks o marred.e for the original mus c and Charity Williams for t e original art