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By Sophie Henshaw, DPsych

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Recently in my practice, many clients have complained of feeling stuck in anxious and depressed emotional states. They feel they have no choice but to recycle the same tears, sadness and negative self-talk. They are encumbered by a burden they cannot define that weighs heavily on their shoulders, grips their chest in a vise-like pressure or sits in their stomachs like a lead boulder. Does that sound familiar to you?

They desperately need a mental and emotional shift but have no idea how to go about it. They arrive at their therapy session expecting that they will have to rake up the same old wounds and leave feeling even more drained than when they first showed up.

However, I have discovered a simple phrase that acts as a powerful circuit breaker. It helps clients instantly shift into a lighter mood. Perhaps it can work for you, too. The phrase is a whimsical, nonsense phrase, a bit like an Edward Lear poem that conjures up an imagined world full of wonder and awe.

To use this phrase, follow these steps in this order:

  1. Anchoring.
    Close your eyes and pay attention to how you’re feeling within your body. Notice any tightness, tension or other uncomfortable physical sensation. Take your time with this step. You’re taking a clear mental snapshot of how you feel before the exercise, which can be compared with how you feel afterward. Hence I call it an “anchor.”
    You also can rate the intensity of each sensation in the shoulders, chest, stomach, or anywhere you normally carry tension. Use a 0-10 scale, with 0 being no distress and 10 being maximum distress. Write it down in a notebook specifically for this purpose.
  2. The phrase.
    When you’re perfectly clear about your starting point, say the following phrase three times aloud, slowly:
    • “Try not to be 10,000 miles above sea level”
    • “Try not to be 10,000 miles above sea level”
    • “Try not to be 10,000 miles above sea level”
  3. The first assessment.
    Notice how your body feels in response to the phrase. Does it feel lighter? Relieved? Make you giggle? Make you want to sing?
  4. The nourishment.
    Take in love and nourishment by imagining something you love and allowing it to fill your whole body. I like to imagine an adorable Mastiff puppy, whose love can fill a room. Other people like to imagine a baby, a kitten or even the awe they feel standing in front of a majestic scene in nature, like a rainbow over Niagara Falls. Let what you imagine be personal and meaningful for you so that it inspires within you a strong connection with something higher than yourself.
  5. The boundary.
    To complete the exercise, it’s important that you set a boundary to keep the good feelings in and the bad feelings out. Think of yourself within a gated property. It has secure, impenetrable fencing, cameras, guard dogs and a security guard standing sentinel at the gate. You are in control of this property. You have the ultimate say in what you say yes or no to.
    All you have to do is give the guard his instructions and let him do his job. That way, you can feel as silly, joyful or vulnerable as you like without having to be on guard for attacks from external stress. Imagine the gates as being particularly heavily guarded in areas such as the nape of the neck, your throat, solar plexus, or anywhere else on your body you feel particularly vulnerable.
  6. The second assessment.
    At the completion of the exercise, rate yourself again on a 0-10 scale. Compare it with your first scores. Enter these into your journal.
  7. Repeat.
    For the best results, repeat this exercise every day as soon as you get out of bed for seven days straight. It will help to set you up positively for the day. Compare your pre- and post-scores from one day to the next to keep track of your progress. You can revisit this exercise as often as you like during stressful times in your life.

For more ideas about how to use imagination and mindfulness in your daily life when the pressure’s on, I invite you to receive a free copy of my e-book, “The Silence Of Mindfulness: A Simple Guide To Inner Peace And Emotional Wellbeing.” In it, I describe a number of other helpful exercises to soothe yourself in an easy, step-by-step way, which you can use in conjunction with this one. You can get a free copy by subscribing to my list here.


About Sophie Henshaw, DPsych
Dr. Sophie Henshaw is a clinical psychologist based in Perth, Western Australia. She has a particular interest in personality disorders and how they affect relationships, especially in the workplace. She has spent the last 14 years treating clients with chronic symptoms of depression, anxiety and traumatic stress, either as a result of being bullied or burnt out from dealing with difficult people. She has worked in maximum-security prisons, private hospitals and with General Practitioners and has been in full-time private practice since 2005. She graduated from Murdoch University in Perth with a Doctor of Psychology in 2000 and completed a three-year training in Hakomi Body-Centred Psychotherapy in 2007. Please visit Dr. Henshaw’s website for more information.
View all posts by Sophie Henshaw, DPsych

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