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You’ve heard the expression. “Life is a journey.” Well, thoughts are pretty much the same. In the same way you have a choice what to think when you are late for work.

(“Oh no I am going to be in such trouble! Where is the damn bus?/Why won’t

the traffic move?”).

You may not be able to do anything about speeding up the journey, but you do have

a choice how you handle the situation.

(“Ok, there’s not much I can do, so I can call in and let them know I’m going to be late, and grab a coffee while I wait.” Or “Let’s see if there is an alternative route that’s worth taking.”)

You can dive right into those thoughts and let them take over, or you can accept that they are just thoughts – and what we think might happen is not a fact – it is a thought.

No one can accurately predict the future. Some things (and some thoughts) are just out of our control. So what can we do?

Your thoughts are like trains. When they are racing away with you – it is like you are a passenger on a train. You can't just get off !

Sometimes the train is fast, sometimes slow. There are stretches of countryside whizzing by, towns and cities and sometimes, long dark tunnels.

Difficult feelings are like tunnels, we have to move through them to get to the light at the other side. Pretending they don’t exist or trying to push the tunnel (our thoughts) aside does not work.  So, we have to keep moving through to get to the other side. No one wants to be stuck in a dark tunnel.

all. It may feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall.

No one wants to be stuck in the tunnel or in heavy thoughts. Getting out or fighting it, doesn’t get you out of the tunnel, it just gets you off the train.  

You NEED to travel through it to get to the other side.

So how do you do this without freaking out, getting angry or drowning your emotions, so that when you get to the other side you feel just as bad? What if this is a journey you have taken many times and here you are stuck in this tunnel yet again?

Imagine going to the train station ready for your usual journey. It is never the same twice (a bit like memories, they change every time you look back on them). The usual 20 or so people waiting will change with each journey. Where they stand, what they wear, someone new, two regulars missing. The seasons change, it may be sunny, or pouring with rain. The shape of the clouds will be different, peoples moods will be different.

What control do you have over any of that? How do you know what stop a person will get off at? Perhaps this journey they have other plans or the office has changed location.

The same happens at every station you pass, every tree changes with the seasons.

So, while you wait at this imaginary train station, imagine an express comes rumbling through at high speed. You are advised to stand back as it chuffs and pushes it way forward along the track. Then it stops. Are you going to jump on board this big oppressive train? Is it going where you want or need to go?  Just like an intrusive thought, there is this big thing right there with you that won’t go away just because you want it to. 

But, you can just notice the train (notice and acknowledge those thoughts) take a moment to relax your body, take a breath in expanding the stomach and slowly exhale.

It is just a train (a thought) and we can stand relaxed on the platform, let it pass and wait for the train to leave knowing the right train will come along. Or, we can acknowledge the train (our thought) in front of us and our feelings, and accept them knowing that they will pass. This train may not be useful to you, but it is there for a reason. The more you will the train to leave and go away, the more oppressive and longer it seems to stay.

If you had to plan a completely new rail route right across the UK discounting every railway there is or has been; you would need to cover every eventuality, every possible connection, even areas that you may never want to go but are needed for those that do. You would have to consider safety, access, construction and a great deal more including at what cost. There would be somethings you have no control over, some great challenges you could work miracles with and some easy stretches that you hardly have to think about at all. You wouldn’t be concerned with every plank of wood as the railway workers would be doing that while you carry on with your planning.

And you’re doing fine – until – a thought crosses your mind. You remember reading an article several years ago about a damaged plank on a railway track that derailed a train and passengers were injured. Now you are worried. You suddenly find yourself researching different types of wood, the qualifications of those working on the railroad, oh but wait – what about the wheels? Are they safe? Would seatbelts help? Oh wait what about the cost? Would people use them? And now your mind has gone into overdrive and you want to check every plank of wood for yourself. You are not the railway worker, and checking each plank yourself is out of your control and not possible no matter how much you may wish it to be so.

The primitive part of your brain doesn’t have logic or reasoning to it, but it is so powerful it can override normal thinking. When it kicks in, everything else shuts down to enable the survival instinct to do its job.

The problem is, that although logical thinking shuts down, it doesn’t shut down completely and the survival messages, from the primitive part of the brain, are not very good at communicating what they see as a threat to what is still active in the thinking area.

The other problem with the primitive part of the brain, is that we have so very little control over it. If it thinks there may be a threat it sends responses to the body and other (now less functioning) parts of the brain. You can feel it in your body – a tight chest, feeling of high alert, nervous, anxious, unsettled, angry and a whole host of other things. Your mind starts racing trying to interpret the signals it is being sent digging up all sorts of strange and scary thoughts. They just pop up – we have no control over them. This is like being stuck on the train in the tunnel. We feel like we can’t get out, but if we got off the train we would still be in the tunnel. But, there is an end to this tunnel and there are things we can do to help make the tunnel- and indeed our thoughts- feel less dark and scary.

Trains are like thoughts. They are just there. Some we rely on, some are useless to us, and some are unhelpful if they are rattling our windows or blocking our way. Our “Trains of Thoughts” can be helped with a method called cognitive defusing. It is basically learning to observe, accept and externalise those thoughts. By imagining your thoughts are trains, or are on trains, thoughts can be acknowledged without us “jumping on the train” or becoming too concerned with them.

Practicing the exercise below can help you to become aware of intrusive thoughts, acknowledge them and distance yourself from the intensity and overwhelm of them. Give it a try – you’ve nothing to lose except those intrusive thoughts!


Relax your shoulders, your hands and your stomach. Then take a deep breath in, filling the stomach, hold for a second, and as you very slowly release the breath, closes your eyes and relax the body more.

As you relax and focus on long slow breaths out, start to notice the thoughts coming to mind, passing through, or leaving. Just notice them. Don’t try and change them or do anything with them. Just think of them as trains coming into, pausing and leaving a busy station. Each train represents a thought.

Now imagine you are above the station, watching these trains – these thoughts – as an observer. Notice how some are slow and steady, some are much faster and some seem to come and go frequently. Do not try and change the speed or frequency of the trains. You are not a passenger, you are not the conductor or the driver, you are just observing.

As you become more settled in the position of just observing, no interaction just observing, begin to name each train (thought). “That thought train is (broken washing machine/loss of job for example).” Or “This thought train is (Janie’s birthday/walk the dog).”

Naming the thought train gives it a purpose rather than it being just a thought. You don’t have to do anything with these thoughts or the named thought trains. Just observe. If you find yourself ‘boarding’ one of these thought trains – if your thoughts get trapped in one place, just notice it and then step off the train and go back to being a passive observer. Notice how labelling and distancing yourself from being IN the thought can make it less intrusive, less overbearing.

To begin with this exercise could take 10 or even 15 minutes, but with practice 2 to 5 is plenty to help you break the anxiety that some thoughts can cause. They are just thoughts.

This exercise is a great way to ‘ground yourself’ and slow down those thoughts. Some find it helpful to then write them down and then tackle them one at a time.

If intrusive thoughts continue to overwhelm you, please do get in touch. There are many options to help you take back control of your thinking habits to make you feel much better.



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