Some people are imprisoned by over-thinking and that adds to worry and stress.
This counterproductive mental process, if unchecked, can harm your wellbeing as any threat will be exaggerated. Suggestions are included on how to deal with this common problem and control your overactive mind.
One of the most common problems I encounter as a therapist is unwelcome and negative thoughts. It is very difficult to prevent worry and stress because 95% of all thoughts are repeats and 80% are negative. This constant mental barrage exacts an emotional, mental and psychical toll.
The good news is - you are not your thoughts.
Simon Parke, in his absolutely fantastic ‘One Minute Mindfulness’, puts the concept over so well. He says “don’t allow your thoughts to be the captain of your ship”. To paraphrase his words-They don’t deserve the honour of being considered wise or worshipped as grandiose wisdom. Instead, watch them come and go, like the muddle headed busybodies they are, rather than hijack your contentment.
We are wired prehistorically to respond to threats. Evolution provides a biochemical system to increase the chances of survival and reproduction. A powerful survival instinct kicks to fight, run or freeze. It doesn’t have to be learnt, it is programmed into our DNA.
Any threat, real or imagined, results in the release of adrenaline and cortisol to stimulate a response. It takes time or vigorous exercise to dissipate these chemicals. In the meantime, we still react to any threat. This could range from an email, road rage or even unwelcome personal comment. Everything whilst in this mental state is considered with a negative bias, which promotes repetitive over-thinking, worry and stress.
The application of context to worry helps greatly. If we wake in the middle of the night, our fears always seem greater, than when we reflect on them in the morning.
In his Autobiography ‘The Operator’, Robert O’Neill, the US Navy SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden, puts stress and worry into sharp context- “ Worrying doesn’t help keep you alive.
In fact, it can get you killed’”.
This could happen because cortisol clouds your judgement and effectively switches your
brain off, which is somewhat sobering, given that the majority of worries will not result in
our demise, unlike the very real threat to a SEAL or our incredible Special Forces and
Worry and stress is a progressive approach to dealing with today’s risks and hazards.
Unfortunately, it can result in a hyper vigilance which has detrimental consequences. If not managed, will have a profound influence on all aspects of wellbeing. Even more problems are identified which only enhances the need to worry and stress even more. A vicious circle is created that is very difficult to escape.
21st century technology provides an abundance of content without context. Limitless
information from the internet bombards the senses relentlessly, and adds to the mental
pollution that assaults our thinking.
Psychologist Tim Kasser has a fundamental concern and belief, that the unbridled power of advertising leads to the adoption of junk values. We are made to feel inadequate, so that we buy more. A trap that enhances worry and stress to result in greater anxiety and depression.
These thought programmes, and the stories we tell ourselves, are super resilient to most forms of interruption or intervention. Most children, at some point, have a fear of the dark.
Could be the Bogeyman or the monster under the bed, but we grow up and learn they don’t exist. As our understanding improves, so should the control of negative thoughts, worry and stress; at least, that’s the hope.
Whenever we don’t respond to an identified threat, real or imagined, our subconscious
demands we act. If we don’t, the thoughts will increase greatly in number and the potential hazards exaggerated exponentially . Only the worst possible outcome will occupy our thoughts, with no respite, until we take action.
Even someone like myself, with a deep knowledge of the subject, as well as a multitude of support techniques, can’t stop a Doomsday scenario entering my mind when presented with any form of threat. Fortunately, it makes me chuckle when that happens, feels just as real, but humour is a powerful antidote.
Dethrone the Drama Queen
Paul McGee’s ‘How to have a Great Life’ has a couple of super chapters to help gain
valuable context and truth. Emotional instinctive reactions lose perspective and rationality that allows thoughts to escalate the trivial to the terrible.
Perhaps my favourite is ‘Dethrone the Drama Queen’, probably because I know so many, or more accurately heard so many. Our subconscious requires no assistance in the exaggeration of any threats, plus any negative self talk reinforces the stress and worry.
Paul gives some good examples- heard any of these?
‘It’s been a total nightmare’
‘I’ve had the day from hell’
‘I can’t stand this anymore’
What is the truth?
This self talk makes it more difficult to be rational and contributes enormously to the
harmful bank of stories, self sabotage or self pity. Just like your thoughts, those
exaggerations are not you.
I’m with Paul’s suggestion- Dethrone the Drama Queen for a happier and stress free life.
Manage your 7-year-old.
Most of your safety advice and the protection systems you’ve developed, come from the 7- year-old you.
They started, the first time you identified threat and harm as a youngster, particularly when you experienced major fear or pain. Past events, including before your memory kicks in, condition your current response.
As years pass and more unpleasant experiences are added, those programmes are
reinforced and hardwired into your psyche to become your natural reaction. The more they are used, the more difficult it is to change them.
Your survival instinct will make you react to the present perceived threat at the expense of logic. If you can’t fight, or run away, you will freeze. Your actions are programmed , totally conditioned by what has protected you in the past.
Even without any immediate threat, exaggerated negative thoughts will influence your
judgement anytime you take major life or business decisions. So when you make those
considerations and can see nothing but disaster, it’s only your 7 year old trying to help with a prehistoric programme, that’s not the real you