It’s the middle of the night. You wake up to the familiar voice of an unwelcome guest that has taken up residence inside your head: a repetitive negative thought.
You relive a disturbing incident…over and over and over again.
You continually go over what you regret having said in an unpleasant conversation.
You repeatedly imagine what you dread will happen tomorrow…or the next day…or the day after that…
It could be a single thought, or a string of them. And they play like a broken record. The more you think these thoughts, the more anxious and depressed you become.
What is going on here? The short answer is: you are ruminating.
There are few things more stressful, distracting and debilitating than ruminating on the same thoughts. It’s crazy-making, and it’s proven to have damaging effects on our self-esteem, to say nothing of our inner peace.
I have worked with women for more than 30 years, and so it was no surprise to me when I learned that we suffer from this problem more than men.
Repetitive, unwanted thoughts have their root cause in fear. By ruminating, we unconsciously hope to control what happens to us. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, it isn’t very effective. In fact, it’s counterproductive.
Repetitive thoughts happen in a cycle, and once they get started they are really hard to stop.
Is there any way to get relief? Yes there is, and it’s surprisingly simple.
Solution #1 – Snap out of it!
Thought stopping techniques were first developed in the 1970s by psychiatrists Patricia Wisocki and Joseph Cautela who pioneered the use of a rubber band on the wrist, which the subject would snap to intervene on obsessive thoughts, especially fear-based ones. This technique has fallen out of favor because it really isn’t necessary to use pain as an intervention tool. Used gently, however, it can be a terrific way to disrupt a thought and bring yourself back to the here and now.
Solution #2 – Challenge it!
Self-inquiry master, Byron Katie, developed a process she calls The Work, which is based on questions designed to challenge negative thoughts, and then turn them around, starting with the question, “Is it true?”
Challenging the validity of your thought process can be a very powerful and simple technique for redirecting the mind to a more productive train of thought.
The 1Body Solution – Breathe!
There really is nothing more accessible or powerful than the breath if you’re looking for immediate intervention on the mind’s shenanigans.
In the 1Body Practice, the first step to intervening is to put your attention on your breathing. This makes you instantly aware of the muscular tension you’re holding in your body and allows you to focus on relaxing it. The fascinating thing is, breathing automatically relaxes this tension, calms down your emotions and quiets your mind by giving it the breath and tension to focus on.
But will the Practice silence a thought?
The short answer is, eventually. But there is also an opportunity here, and that is to calm down enough to take a step up into a higher level of self-awareness. Examine the thought itself, what triggered it, and the fear that’s driving it. Once you see what your mind is up to, it’s much easier to use awareness to keep things in perspective.
Keep in mind repetitive thoughts are just that, repetitive, so they will definitely try to return. And when they do, your simplest solution is the same: do the Practice. Tear your attention away from the unwanted thought and put it on your breath. Breathe as you relax any muscular tension you’re noticing.
To help you learn the Practice and use it as an intervention tool, I’ve developed a helpful guide.
So, when you catch yourself running on a hamster wheel of unwanted, repetitive thoughts, give the Practice a try. It works anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances to calm your emotions and quiet those thoughts. And if the thoughts keep coming, keep breathing in response. I assure you it’ll be just a matter of time before your mind quiets down and gives you a break.
Take good care : )