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What To Do With Anxious Allergy Thoughts

worried woman

Sometimes our mind gets fixated on certain thoughts, so much so that we can't think about anything else.

Or maybe it's not a specific thought your mind is focused on, but rather, a belief or internal rule you've made for yourself about how things need to happen. Or perhaps it's a rigid set of expectations that your mind is stuck thinking about.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), we call this concept cognitive fusion. We can become fused with our thoughts, our emotions, a desired outcome - truly, we can become fused with almost anything!

On the other hand, the concept of cognitive defusion allows room for our mind to consider more flexible thoughts rather than staying overly engaged with unhelpful ones.

Here is a common metaphor or visual that ACT practitioners use to explain cognitive fusion (and actually give this exercise a try):

  • Look around you and notice what you see 

  • Then, completely cover your eyes with your hands

  • Next, try again to look around to notice what you see (you can't see anything because your hands are covering your eyes, right?)

  • Then, lower your hands down half an inch - just so you can partially see over your hands - and notice what you see around you

  • Finally, lower your hands to your lap, and notice what you see around you

I'm sure you're wondering, "What does covering my eyes and constantly scanning my environment have to do with thoughts, Tamara?"

Well, in this metaphor, your hands are your thoughts!

Our hands covering our eyes represents being overly engaged (or fused) with our unhelpful thoughts - typically these are the ones that feel sticky, persistent, and stubborn.

When those are present, we tend to become overly engaged with them. And that cognitive fusion with these unhelpful thoughts then typically gives way to judging ourselves, increased anxiety, stress, overwhelm, unhelpful get it. 

But by moving our hands away from our eyes, we were able to see more around us again!

And that's the same with our anxious allergy thoughts. We can't delete our thoughts, just like we can't get rid of our hands that were covering our eyes. But we can move them or change their positioning, which then gives us a different perspective! 

Here's an example: 

You find yourself overly engaged with the thought that you can't go out to eat at restaurants because the kitchen will always make mistakes.....

  • This is the unhelpful thought or point of cognitive fusion (which was represented by your hands in the metaphor)

  • When you become fused with that unhelpful thought, your decisions might be made based on that thought alone because you're so engaged with it (which was when your hands were covering your eyes in the metaphor). In this example, this might look like your unwillingness to even consider possible solutions to make eating out safer.

  • But, as you allow yourself to just notice that you're having that thought, yet also notice other thoughts passing through your mind - instead of only focusing on that one unhelpful thought - you'll allow yourself room to look at things differently (which was when you moved your hands away from covering your eyes). In this example, this might look like your willingness and ability to engage in other thoughts that might help you move towards solutions for eating out safely.

Again, we don't have to delete buttons in our minds (even though it'd be nice if we did), so the goal isn't to delete unhelpful, sticky, stubborn thoughts. Instead, it's to allow your unhelpful thoughts (your hands) to be there, but not become so fused with them that you can't consider other thoughts (or allow yourself to see what's around you, which can help you gain a new perspective). 

Looking for other ways to separate from your unhelpful thoughts?

This video, which is recommended for teens and older, is another wonderful visual representation of cognitive fusion, offering additional practical strategies to help you defuse your unhelpful thoughts.


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