It is often easy for us to get lost in thought. Sometimes this can be a rather beautiful thing, other times this can be your worst nightmare. But there is one thing that both paths have in common and that is that they are both equally as difficult to snap yourself out of.
Sometimes we can get lost in thought due to being excited for something and our brain starts to get creative, rolling off idea’s which can be fun and can really get our adrenaline pumping. This could be seen as us, running away with our thoughts as we are trying to think of ideas, we want these thoughts to take place and we want to come up with something great!
Other times we can get lost in thought because of something negative. We may begin to overthink something, something that may appear small to other people around us, yet seems like the weight of the world to us. We may start to think about all of the negative outcomes, wondering what to do next or beating ourselves up about things that we have already done, or things that are beyond our control. This often leads to a raised heart rate and sometimes can cause a panic attack.
You are not the only person who lets their thoughts run away with them; this happens to the best of us. Some more than others, but that is okay, because we are only human after all!
In order to control our thoughts, we need to understand where they come from. For example, imagine you have four ‘squatters’ inside your head. Each of these squatters are unwanted as they create unhealthy and unproductive thought patterns… but who are these four squatters and what are the differences between them?
- The Inner Critic – This is often a combination of thoughts that rally around the words of other people (mostly parents) and thoughts that you have created based on your own and/or other people’s expectations of you, thoughts that lead you to compare yourself to other people as well as things that you tell yourself after experiencing loss or rejection, often leading to self-doubt and self-blame.
The Inner Critic is often motivated by pain and a lack of self-acceptance.
- The Worrier – This person is living in the future, the person who asks all of the ‘what if…’ questions! The worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational. Sometimes the worrier is motivated by fear of the past, scared that events that have occurred before, will happen again.
- The Reactor or Trouble Maker – This is the one that triggers anger, pain and frustration. These feelings often occur due to unhealed wounds of the past. These feeling arise when something reminds us of the negative situation that occurred in the past. This could be certain words, phrases, songs, places, certain people or even smells.
- The Sleep Depriver – The motivation behind this squatter can be, As a reaction to silence, which he fights against, Taking care of the business you neglected during the day, Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity, and generalized anxiety.
There are two main ways of gaining control over your thoughts. Technique A is known as ‘Interrupt and replace’ – this is when you gradually reprogram your subconscious mind with more positive thoughts, eventually these will become your ‘go-to’ thoughts. This technique is best used with squatter number one. When you start to experience negative thoughts, interrupt them in your mind, telling yourself ‘no! enough!’ and then try to replace the negative thought with positive one. For example if you are thinking ‘I am going to fail this exam’, tell yourself ‘I am going to try my best and whatever happens, I am enough.’ This technique takes time to master and it may seem silly at first, but over time, this will work.
Technique B is known as ‘total elimination’ – This is also known as peace of mind and it best used with squatter number four. This is a difficult technique to master, it involves reverting your focus back to the present whenever your find your mind drifting away from you. When your mind is in overdrive and stopping you from sleeping, try to switch your thoughts off by focusing on your breathing. However, it is important not only to concentrate on breathing, but matching your thoughts to the activity that you are doing. For example, when focusing on breathing, try to picture the work ‘in’ as you inhale, and think of the word ‘out’ when exhaling. Try to say these words in your mind, extending them to match the length of your breath. If you find your thoughts drifting away, shut them out by bringing your mind back to the words ‘in’ and ‘out’.
This is a form of meditation and it can have multiple benefits. This is something that I find myself doing a lot, especially of an evening as that is when I struggle with my thoughts the most.
While we are talking about breathing techniques to help control our thoughts, here is another technique that is often used to change out focus and help us to gain control…
This is a technique often used to help people with anxiety, helping to bring them out of a panic attack by adjusting their thoughts and bringing their focus back to the present moment. Grounding is when you focus on your senses and the things that are around you in that moment. Here is what you should do:
- List five things that you can see
- List four things that you can touch
- List three things that you can hear
- List two things that you can smell
- List one thing that you can taste, or like the taste of
The beauty of this technique is that you can list these things in your mind, you can write them down or you can say them out loud. If you are struggling to list things that are within your immediate proximity, you can list things that you can remember from earlier in the day, or picture a familiar place, such as your bedroom or kitchen and list things based on that place!
We are all unique individuals so something that works well for me, may not work well for you, and that is okay! It is all about finding techniques that suit your needs. You may find writing down your thoughts, screwing them up and physically throwing them away, helps to clear your mind. Some people find the visualisation of throwing the negativity away, very helpful often saying that they feel as though a weight has been lifted.
Some find breathing techniques useful and calming, others may find that keeping busy helps to take their mind off of things, such as cleaning up, doing a work-out or even doing some colouring.
Some people find that facing their thoughts head on and writing down or brain-storming solutions helps.
It is important to trial and error different techniques to find what works for you. Be patient with yourself as gaining control of your thoughts may not work overnight, but if you give yourself time and find a good, steady routine, you will become the boss of your brain again. This does not mean that you will never have a bad day; we all have bad days. Life would be boring otherwise, would it not?
We are all human and no matter what people may say, we all struggle from time-to-time, some more often than others, but all of us nonetheless. So why do we not talk about it? Why do we not normalise talking about mental health, like we talk about our physical health? Both are so very important, both can be life-changing and sometimes life-threatening. You are important, you are enough and your thoughts and feelings are valid. You have a right to feel the way that you feel, but it is important that you do not allow those negative feelings to take-over and start to have an impact on your day-to-day life. It is important to let your feelings in… but know when enough is enough, and pick up the pieces.
Please remember that you are not alone. You do not have to suffer in silence and one day, maybe not today, but one day in the future, everything will be okay.
If you would like to read more about the different ‘squatters’ and how to control your thoughts you can find more information here: Lifehack.org
Have Hope Always,
from Aimee xo