Prisoner Self-Help

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Archive for the tag “mindfulness”

Stepping Back from Negative Thoughts

by Andy Hunt

We do lots of thinking every day. Our thoughts come and go constantly from the moment we awake until the moment we fall asleep.


Each of these thoughts has an effect on us. Many thoughts trigger emotional states in us for good or ill

Thoughts like this probably make us feel good:

  • “I think this is a great song”
  • “That chocolate cake looks good”
  • “I love you too sweetie”
  • “I’ve done well at…”

Thoughts like these probably make us feel bad:

  • “She makes me so angry”
  • “How could I be so stupid”
  • “I am so fat!”
  • “I am a failure”

Sometimes we are stuck to our ideas of ourselves and what is going on. If these ideas or thoughts are unhelpful this identification with them can be very stressful because we believe that what we are thinking is true. The thought triggers an emotional response whether it is appropriate or not. Our mistake is that we forget that the thought is just a thought about something, not the something itself. It’s as if we see a sign saying “Beware of the bull” and become afraid even though the field is quite empty.

A common response to having negative thoughts can be to try to add positive thoughts to the mix as an attempt to counteract or attack those negative thoughts.

This is like putting another gladiator in the ring and expecting the fighting to stop.

What we don’t do, or can’t do, is step out of the mental arena and let the thoughts go.

Fortunately, there are ways to ease the power of these thoughts by stepping away from them. One way of doing just that can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It is one of several, simple techniques that you can use to step out of unhelpful thinking patterns.

The process is simplicity itself. Let’s imagine that you have the thought “I’m no good” going around in your head. When you have this thought it provokes a very stressful and debilitating reaction.

First I would ask you to think the thought: “I am no good” then notice what effect that has on you.

Second I would ask you to think the thought: “I am having the thought that I am no good” then notice what happens when you do that.

Third I would ask you to think the thought: “I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am no good”, then notice what happens when you do that.

When they do this, people usually report that this technique puts the original thought “at a distance” to them, and that they are less troubled by it.


1. Choose a thought that stresses you.

2. Think that thought and notice what it does to you

3. Then think “I am having the thought [insert the thought here]

4. Then think “I am noticing that I am having the thought [insert the thought here]”

This is a really simple process for taking the charge out of negative thinking.

The only challenge is remembering to use it. Here are two approaches that might help:

1. When ever you have an unhelpful thought make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper. At some convenient time of the day, review your notes using the technique for each thought that causes you trouble.

2. When ever you are in difficult or stressful situations ask yourself the question “What am I thinking now?” and make a note of your answers, treating each one with the process.

Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is


Simple Relaxation

by Masha Bennett

One of my favourite relaxation techniques is the so-called “Betty Erickson Induction”, which is really a type of self-hypnosis approach that relies on using our senses to induce relaxation. It is used by some hypnotherapists to help a client go into relaxing trance, and also overlaps with some aspects of Mindfulness.

When I worked in a women’s prison, I taught this technique to many of the girls suffering with insomnia. Clearly, a prison is not a tranquil or relaxing place and sleep problems are really common. The women found it helpful, especially as the technique incorporates noises or sounds in the environment into the process of relaxation.

So, to start off, sit or lie in a comfortable position, and begin to notice what you can see, hear and feel.

1. Say to yourself gently:

“I can see… [name any object in your field of vision]” and repeat for 5 different objects, for example:

“I can see a window”
“I can see a wall”
“I can see a lamp”
“I can see a book”
“I can see a radiator”

2. Then say to yourself:

“I can hear… [name any sound you can hear]”
and repeat for 5 different sounds, for example:

“I can hear the ticking of the clock”
“I can hear traffic outside”
“I can hear my breathing”
“I can hear a door creaking”
“I can hear the wind”

3. Then say to yourself:

“I can feel… [name any feeling or sensation you experience]”
and repeat for 5 different sensations, for example:

“I can feel tension in my shoulders”
“I can feel my feet on the floor”
“I can feel my tongue in my mouth”
“I can feel heaviness in my limbs”
“I can feel my hand on my lap”

4. Repeat the sequence, this time naming only 4 things you can SEE, 4 things you can HEAR, 4 things you can FEEL. The pictures/sounds/sensations can be the same as last time, or different – it doesn’t matter.

5. Repeat, naming 3 things you can SEE, 3 things you can HEAR, 3 things you can FEEL

6. Repeat, naming 2 things you can SEE, 2 things you can HEAR, 2 things you can FEEL

7. Repeat, naming 1 thing you can SEE, 1 thing you can HEAR, 1 thing you can FEEL

By now, if you are not asleep yet, you should feel more relaxed and with much less “chatter” in your mind. If needed, you can repeat the procedure more than once.

This technique can be used for insomnia as well as general relaxation in stressful situations, e.g. in a waiting room before an interview or meeting, during a test or an exam or when preparing for a difficult conversation. Please make sure you do NOT practise this technique whilst driving or operating any machinery, as it can quickly make some people  feel very sleepy!

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is

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