Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ruminators Anonymous: Help for Over-Thinkers

(Picture I took of Crater Lake on a trip to Oregon. The deepest, clearest lake in the U.S. and an image of rest, beauty and deep calm that I aspire to have in my head!)

Ruminating over past,current, or possible future relational problems with just about anyone I've ever known, know or could know is a tiny problem of mine.

However, unhooking my brain from the never ending loop of rumination is a challenge I'm determined to conquer. I was relieved to discover I am not alone, particularly in my gender group. Many of you have been there, too, I am sure. You wake at 3:00 A.M. and your mind goes straight to the The Problem, and while you'd really like to go back to sleep, your Inner Lawyer is preparing a defense or a case against your attacker (or shunner), or your Inner Fixer is searching for something you've not yet tried, some rock that hasn't been turned over. And there you are, an exhausted helpless victim to the ruminations of your own mind. You lose sleep; those you love only have about half of you fully present; you are missing your life -- 98% of which may be fabulous! -- letting one sticky issue rob your joy.

Time to take your mind by the scruff of its neck and re-direct it to more helpful places.

Here's a few VERY HELPFUL thoughts and ideas gleaned from the book Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Nolenn- Hoeksema, Phd. with a few of my own discoveries as well. Perhaps they'll help you, too.

1. Understand that Over-thinking is NOT your friend. It is not giving you insight, it is clouding your vision.

2. Give it a Rest. Especially at night, say to yourself, "Nothing is ever solved after midnight that makes any sense in the light of day. I'll deal with this at a set day and time when I'm fully rested."

3. Do Something that is Fully Engrossing, and if possible, takes creative thought. I personally found that deciding to finally start writing a chapter in a food memoir I'd been toying with, gave me hours of "time off" from ruminating. In fact, it felt so good, I decided to postpone ruminating for another day.

4. Get Up and Get Moving. Physical activity helps disengage the brain and gives it fresh oxygen and fresh perspective. If there something you CAN do to help the problem, it is more likely to come to you after a good walk than by staring at the ceiling and thinking in endless negative loops.

5. Just say NO to your brain. It's an interesting moment when you realizing you do not have to obey or believe your thoughts. Who knew? The best image is a big red stop sign. Mentally hold it up to Ruminating Mind and say, in your best Buzz Lightyear voice, "Not TODAY, SIR!" and just don't go there. Don't let even one thought in the door or like the Cat in the House it will bring friends and make a wreck of your mind, and you'll realize you've lost precious hours in your day. Stop the thought train at the threshold of your mind's front door.

6. Don't Rent Space in Your Head to Negativity... it only lets the other guy win. In cases where you've been unjustly wronged, tell yourself that you will not allow your continued internal upset to rob you of the joy and the life you still have to live. Life is hard enough without further punishing yourself with painful thoughts. Enough is enough.

7. Schedule a Ruminating Hour. If you really need to think a problem through, pray about it and perhaps take some action: schedule a set aside time to do this. Bring a journal, a Bible and your undivided focus. But only ruminate at the schedule ruminating hour, and if your mind wanders there before the set appointment, gently remind it that this is not the time.

8. Hand it Over. You know the commercials where somebody slaps their hand to their head and says, "I shoulda had a V-8!" Well, that's how I feel when I remember, REALLY remember all the times that I've finally let go of an issue or a person I could not figure out, and God has intervened and done marvelous things without my help or manipulation. "I shoulda given this over to God!" I remember, and eventually, when I do, peace begins to descend.

9. Talk with Someone. A caution here...just venting to multiple people multiple times doesn't help much, and in fact, it can heighten and widen the Highway to Rumination in your brain. But talking with a wise person or setting an appointment with a life coach or therapist who will give you honest feedback can be very helpful.

10. Write it out. Thoughts written down seem to help them escape the confines of your mind and stop the endless ping-ponging. Journaling, for many, provides much relief.

11. Find Pleasure and Pursue It. Make a list of all the things that give you pleasure from great music, to sunshine, to books, to getting out in nature or watching a funny movie, making a fabulous meal..... In times of stress you really do need to proactively "double your pleasure, double your fun" as it feeds and protects a mind that is going through crisis, however small or large.

12. Instead of putting all your focus on the one issue or relationship that is draining your life, think about doubling your efforts to nourish the good relationships you enjoy. Sometimes a "challenge child" or a difficult family member becomes a vortex into which all the emotional energy is poured... until you wake up one day and realize that those who have been there all along have been neglected and may even been suffering from that neglect. I remember a poignant news story about a "normal sister" with two schizophrenic sisters. The parents naturally poured all their emotional energy into the mentally ill sisters and the normal sister, feeling guilty about having a healthy brain, played the part of the brave, quiet, good, and faithful supporting sister. But the camera caught this "normal sister" crying, pulling out her hair strand by strand, suffering quietly but suffering, all the same. Do not let one Problem Person rob you or the rest of the family of mental health, joy and great memories.

If you're stuck on a negative feeling, make something: a poem, a pie, a blog. Creativity pulls your brain into a happy place.—Martha Beck

My favorite passage, put to memory, and pulled out more often than any other scripture:

Philippians 4: 6, 7

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this! I was just realizing earlier this week how much I over-think things. I am definitely a recovering ruminator. :) Thank you for sharing all of this wonderful wisdom!