If you've ever tried to teach English to a child or a friend, you know how repeating the same word over and over—"water," "water," "waawderr"—can make it sound like gibberish. You can use a similar strategy on words—and, therefore, concepts—that are bothering you, according to therapists who practice a form of clinical psychology called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). A tenet of ACT is that when something upsetting happens, we cause ourselves additional pain by rehashing how wrong it is, how unjust life is and how it may prove that we're a bad person. One technique to stop yourself from doing this, called cognitive defusion
, is to repeat a troubling word or phrase over and over for at least a minute. This helps you drop the baggage around the word and focus on what it is: a combination of sounds. You can then change the context around the word and give it a new, more positive meaning (or at least a less powerful one), explains Dennis Tirch, Ph.D., author of The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
. Try it first with a neutral word, like "laptop," and then say your troubling thought aloud ("taxes," "flare-up," "failure") and keep repeating until it no longer has the power to disturb you.