(again off the cuff & part of my book, so please let me know if anything needs explaining/ adding etc. Thanks)
One of the most common complaints I get from people is that they can’t calm their thinking down, and they will go to any length to escape their own thoughts, especially when life becomes harder, but a busy mind really just makes it even harder. I quite often point out to people that it is them that wind themselves up with their thinking, and then they think they need something external for temporary relief. Better not to wind yourself up then! But how? I will get to that, but first let’s talk a little about what’s really going on, and why you need to calm your thinking before doing anything.
We are not designed to think so much for so long, but to both think and relax. The problem is we can get stuck thinking and that signals the body that it is in stress, so adrenalin starts pumping and the only function of your mind then is flight or flight – get out of danger. In that state you do not think clearly about anything but survival and spotting danger. Hence we tend to think in an irrational way, eg we stop seeing people as the human beings we care about and see them as the objects causing us pain and lash out, or we assume the worst in situations. When in survival mode our mind also goes into old patterns of thought, hence sometimes feeling like we regress into old behaviours.
The important thing to first learn is to take no notice of these thoughts (unless you are actually in danger that is!), but to calm yourself down and then decide what to do. Things always go better when you act from a place of a calm mind (only people who haven’t experienced acting from a calm mind dispute this, there is a ton of evidence to support it too)
Think of it like a glass of water with mud at the bottom, when it is calm you can see clearly through it. If you stir it up and look through it everything looks murky. Same with our minds – calm and we see how things really are, busy and it all looks murky and distorted.
It can help to think of different levels of thinking in your mind:
|High activity||Everything looks murky and you feel stressed and down/ hopeless or angry. Thoughts are fear based and obsess about any topic focus on. Think and act irrationally, not fun to be around and usually make situations worse. Look for relief externally no matter what the cost.|
|Medium activity||Mind starts to judge things so feel comfy as long as things are as you think should be, otherwise get ratty and not always think and act rationally. OK when with people in same state or who you agree with.|
|Low activity||Feel calm; see things as they are, not the distorted story we tell about how they are, aware of instincts, better at problem solving and nice to be around. Life just seems to flow, answers seem to flow, and we are comfier with anyone or situation.|
Once your mind is at a high level of activity it can take some effort to calm it down, and you need to do it one small step at a time, rather than aim to get from the top to bottom instantly. Most people are so desperate to get out of this state instantly that they will suffer longer term consequences rather than deal with what is going on in their head.
Also beware of high activity thinking in a positive way too, that can be just as stressful and cloud your thinking.
Your mind is like a muscle and needs to be strengthened by regular flexing, rather than nothing then expecting it to be strong enough when things are tough. The more you practise calming your mind down the easier it will become, especially when you do get at a high activity level. (It also helps to notice the signs your mind is speeding up so you can stop it before to gets too high.)
So now the how:
- Recognise when it is happening and decide to work on calming down your thoughts rather than obsessing about a topic. It’s not the topic that is the problem – it’s that your thinking is in a weak state.
- Start doing things to calm your mind down – it can be a combination of lots of small things, and may take time but keep going. At some point it will relax.
- Practise, practise, practise.
Techniques to try:
Your mind wants to focus on something so give it something to focus on. You can only think of one thing at once so force yourself to concentrate on something neutral or relaxing:
- Visualize a relaxing safe place, as if you are really there. (this can be a focused daydream). I design and furnish a house – forcing myself to see the details.
- Listen to a relaxing CD
- Memorise something
- Repeat a mantra eg, everything is OK
- Read something, or watch something that absorbs you or makes you laugh
- Learn something new, or do something you need to focus on
- Focus on your breathing (10 deep slow breathes), or what is going on in your body (feel inside your feet!). Deep slow breathing is the body’s signal to relax.
- Do anything relaxing – hot bath aromatherapy, go for a walk – in nature if can
- Help someone else, ie focus out
- Write your thoughts down. Your brain has to slow so you can write and it uses a different part of the brain, helping to snap you out of your thinking. It can also help you identify what irrational thoughts are going on so you can ask ‘is it true?’ what evidence is there for the opposite etc. Sometimes seeing the problem on paper makes it look less daunting too.
- Have a letter ready that you have written to yourself specifically for this situation, saying what you need to hear – reassuring and reminding
- Have a quote that helps you snap out of it, eg mine is ‘the world is how it is but who am I in it?’ Which helps me stop obsessing about external things and focus on how I feel and who I want to be.
- Do something energetic
- Learn a stronger technique, eg EFT
- Talk to someone
- List everything you have to be grateful for – make yourself do it and it will start calming your thinking.
- Remind self that right now, in this moment, things are OK. Usually we are obsessing about things that are not happening right then
- Go slow, if you move slowly it will help calm your mind.
- Any other technique you find – lots of books/ youtube etc on this.
Try them all and find what works best for you. Just like if you wanted to get physically fit you need to stay motivated before you see the benefits, but they are so huge it is worth it.