Have you ever felt that there is no real way to control your thought process? Do you tend to over-analyze each and everything that’s hovering in your head? Then, here are some healthy tips that can help you cleanse the lurking thoughts inside.
A typical day and you take a walk in your office. As you greet everyone, you notice your colleague doesn’t greet you back.
“Why is she quiet? What happened to her? Is something bothering her? Was it because I couldn’t help her yesterday? But, I was so busy. I wanted to, but I just…couldn’t. Oh, great. Now she hates me. No one understands me. I wonder if she told everyone about this incident. I need to talk to her.”
“Stop overthinking, you are only creating problems that aren’t there.” This quote seems apt for me, since I am one of you who tend to overthink everything, she can lay her hands on. I understand, inadvertently, though, it is hard to get emotions and thoughts out of the head. Constantly dwelling on negative situations of past (termed as rumination) can be a tiring and torturous mental habit.
Closely connected to depression, overthinking can suck out all the confidence and chew away the inner ability to solve the problems. Without you even knowing, it can take control of our lives.
The author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (chairperson of Department of Psychology, Yale University) claims that women tend to evaluate a situation so much that they not only complicate their life’s, but they never really find any answers as well.
Now, few might claim that they “worry”. In olden days, worrying simply meant that you are worried about your future. However, constant “worrying” and brooding about the past is a sign of rumination. When a person ruminates, they constantly think about what has already happened. When neglected, it comes to you quite easily as breathing.
Stephen S. Ilardi, associate professor of psychology at University of Kansas and author of The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs claims, “It is just like driving a well-known road and then suddenly finding yourself in the driveway without even knowing how you got there.”
One of the reasons why women ruminate is because memories are connected to the powerful emotions that one feels. If a woman fights with her partner today, it tends to bring back every other past event where she had been disappointed. This sets the ruminator to tumble down again into a whirlpool of emotions. Nolen-Hoeksema says, “At such moments, we only see what the negative mood of us wants us to see – the past events that are negative, the current negative events and the things that can go wrong in future as well.”
This puts the ruminator in a tough spot as no matter how easily they snap out to a positive mood, the problem still persists. They tend to go back to the negative aspect again, within a few seconds. Rumination kickstarts the negative thought process in the brain’s stress system that will ultimately drain the energy levels. Another reason for such rumination is because the ruminators lack the confidence in their plans. They do not commit truthfully to it and in the way sabotage themselves.
So, why exactly does this happen? To be honest, there is no definite answer. However, study says that rumination is widely seen in women than men. Study conducted by Nolen-Hoeksema showed that women were less likely to believe (than men) that they had control over their negative emotions. In fact, they were also prone to undertake undue responsibility for others’ wellbeing. This trait is known as unmitigated communion (which is common in ruminators).
Sadly, you cannot simply wave a magic wand and make it all go away. The more you push yourself to snap out; more drawn you will be in this negative maze. Nevertheless, there are techniques that can be practiced with good patience.
Step 1: Take Action
Ruminators tend to be stuck in a time zone. They are unable to get out of it. But, you can always resolve such issues and look for a solution. Nolen-Hoeksema says that writing it down might help. “Rephrase the situation in such a way so that you reflect a positive outcome”. For instance, instead of “I am stuck in my job”, write, “I want a job where I can be more engaged”. Now, you can plan to expand your skills.
Of course, this won’t help if you offended your friend or a family member. Since you can’t change the past, you can make peace with it and shift the focus to fixing the situation. The right solution would be to talk to the friend/family member and work out a solution.
Step 2: Challenging your belief system
Ruminators often tend to have exaggerated thought system. At times, it can be irrational as well. Such thoughts are called as cognitive distortions. Let’s go back to the office. While you were worrying about your colleague not talking to you, it probably might be because she is thinking of what to wear for the evening party or probably pondering about planning the day ahead.
Cultivate psychological distance from unwanted interpretation of a situation. This will make the negative thoughts less in action. It is called cognitive restructuring. What it implies is that you are putting the thoughts on a trial to determine its precision.
Step 3: Switch your attention
Ilardi says, the key to change the thought process of a ruminator is by finding an activity that needs your complete attention. Obviously, browsing the internet or flitting magazine pages won’t help. Ilardi recommends a good amount of physical activity that calls for mental focus as well. If you get social help, it is for the better. This means a good game of tennis or a brisk walk with your friend. Play with your kids or take your pet for a walk. But make sure to stay away from personal problems.
Step 4: Control the itch to pour your “heart” out
While brainstorming sessions with friends are great to find a solution, talking about problems is like probing the wound further. It is called co-rumination that can put you in a troubled spot again and again. Such co-rumination between female friends have been linked to high increase in cortisol level (stress hormone), says studies.
Step 5: Mindfulness
I can absolutely understand it is difficult to control what you think. At times, our thought process is so accustomed that they unintentionally move to past. But it doesn’t have to control you. One way to manage such ruminative thinking is via mindfulness. It is a form of meditation that asks you to simply focus on the present moment. You don’t have to judge it. “Try noticing such thoughts as if they are leaves flowing in a stream”, says Noelmn-Hoeksema. You need not respond to them. Just let it go. Watching such ruminative thoughts float by without engaging in it can tone down its aggressiveness. For those who want to know more, visit mbct.com regarding Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.
Step 6: Be patient
The habit of ruminating can be stubborn, so you may find it difficult during initial stages. These steps can definitely make things easier with regular practice. However, do note that last thing you want to ruminate is the fact that you can’t stop ruminating. If persistent thoughts are really bothering you with your everyday life, it is best to seek a therapist’s help. And applaud yourself for taking the initiative in knowing yourself.
Here are few negative thoughts that take charge of the rumination. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Emotional reasoning : Conclusions that are based on nothing but strong feelings. (I feel so guilty, I must have done something wrong.”)
To overgeneralize: Connect a negative event with a flow of negative emotions. (“Why couldn’t I stand up for myself? What’s wrong with me? I am such a loser. I can never stand up for myself.”)
To underestimate the positive: Negating good things as a fluke. (“The interview went well, but…eh…I am not gonna get selected anyway.”)
All-or-nothing thought process: Looking at a situation on black and white basis. (“My boss didn’t like my presentation – I think I blew it.”)
If any of these thoughts sound familiar, then pause a moment and take time to ask yourself. “On what basis, am I judging this on?” “Is there any evidence to support this fact?”. For instance, if you think, the presentation wasn’t best, it is probably because it needs strong introductory points and few amendments, examples etc.
Ultimately, it is all about finding yourself in this categorical world.