Being able to imagine has been a great evolutionary advance, making it possible for us human beings not only to live in the moment, but also to remember past situations and consider the future.
But that’s not totally good. Sometimes, remembering what we have already experienced or thinking about what might happen makes the mind, which could seem so liberating at first, the real prison of our species.
Our highest capacity becomes a trap, causing us to enter a loop of rumination and obsessive thoughts that can be paralyzing. It is in this kind of situation that we ask ourselves how to stop thinking so much , and this article aims to be the answer to such a complex question.
When thinking too much becomes harmful
As we were saying, sometimes, the thought becomes something that cannot be controlled, especially when concerns are being talked about.
Obsessive thoughts begin to occupy all the space of the mind, making the person unable to stop focusing his or her attention on negative events, whether they are past or those that may occur in the future. This is a source of discomfort, manifested in the form of anxiety, irritability and sadness .
When we talk about thinking too much about something bad, we cannot ignore the concept of rumination, which refers to when the focus of attention remains completely centered on an event, either real or imagined, which produces a certain feeling of discomfort. In this case, the thought does not flow, it gets stuck in the same preoccupation, which becomes an obsession.
The person makes every effort to prevent these intrusive thoughts from appearing, but it seems that the more effort he puts into them, the stronger they appear. Thus, one enters a loop in which the person who is living through it is unable to end it, becoming completely trapped in a whirlwind of unsettling thoughts.
How do you stop thinking so much? Some advice
It is clear that the human mind does not have a switch that can turn it off as we would with a television, nor is it possible to decide what thought to watch as one who decides to watch his favorite channel on the device.
However, it is possible to make worrying thoughts lose strength, especially if you stop paying attention to them. Let’s look at some useful strategies for this:
1. Do not try to stop thinking
Although it may seem contradictory, one of the best things you can do to try to stop thinking so much is simply not to become obsessed with stopping intrusive thinking .
That is, if the recurring thought appears suddenly, trying to stop thinking about it consciously will only make it more vivid.
The thought will eventually disappear at some point or another, so it is best to try to ignore it.
2. Don’t give them the cold shoulder
We are quiet in our living room and suddenly we think of the uncertainty that comes from not knowing how the current political situation will end. We get up from the chair and start thinking about possible scenarios, each one more catastrophic than the last, reaching the point of thinking that a civil war could start.
This is an example of what not to do. If the thought comes, it should not be given more strength as one who throws wood on the fire.
The problem with ruminating is that it is something that can become addictive . If the thought that generates anxiety has not managed to find a calm answer, perhaps the best thing is to forget that such a solution exists.
3. Living in the moment
It may seem to be cheap and very utopian advice, but it is plausible and effective. If we focus on what we are doing in the moment, however simple it may be, it can be a very good way to cut off obsessive thinking.
Whether you are washing the dishes, reading a book, or simply standing in line at the butcher’s, if you are aware of what you are doing and where you are, you are taking away the focus of invasive thinking.
It is not possible to be fully aware of two activities at the same time, for that reason, living in the moment is a very good option to take the weight off what has happened or what might happen .
4. Not reacting emotionally
This may be a little more complicated, but ideally, when an obsessive thought appears, you should remain calm.
If you react, either by getting angry or sad, you enter a loop in which you look for more reasons to be worried and, on top of that, you give more serious thought.
The aim is to stop paying attention to them, and that also means not giving them the pleasure of making an emotional impression on us.
5. Listen to relaxing music
This is a simple yet comfortable and economical option, especially if the songs have no lyrics or are sung in a language that is not understood.
Although it’s a bit of a fancy situation, it’s possible that when listening to a song sung in the mother tongue, if something is mentioned that is related to the concern, the person will enter a constant loop in that intrusive thought.
Relaxing music, especially of the New Age genre, induces an atmosphere of relaxation and distraction thanks to its large number of instruments that imitate the sounds of nature.
6. Changing Habits
It is quite possible that the thoughts that concern us are linked to some action that we perform every day, even though it may seem that their appearance is completely random and without apparent reason.
Working on the concern itself is quite complicated, but making a change in the person’s habits is not so complicated. That is why it can be very beneficial to make some small changes in one’s day-to-day life, such as frequenting new places, getting back in touch with old friends, in essence, submitting to new stimuli.
If the change is made in a radical way, one must be careful, since it is not easy to introduce several new habits at once.
If achieved, it can be a great source of liberation, since the new tends to occupy a greater place in the mind than the old, in which obsessive thoughts are found, making attention to new experiences.
7. Set a new goal
Closely related to the previous point, a new objective can be proposed, which will cause more attention to be devoted to it than to invasive thoughts.
However, this strategy can be a double-edged sword. If done wrong, it risks being one of the many projects that the person started and failed to finish, becoming in turn an invasive thought.
That is why the new goal must be realistic, even if it is also challenging . An example of this type of project would be collecting insects, making a model, obtaining the B2 of English…
If the activity is truly enjoyable, the person will devote attention not only while the activity is being done, but also when it is not being done, especially because he or she feels like doing it.
This type of meditation technique has been one of the most studied in the field of psychology and that is why it is known to have many benefits in reducing anxiety and, at the same time, obsessive thoughts.
During the sessions in which this activity is carried out, one can concentrate on physical sensations, the control of breathing, the voice of the person in charge of the activity… One enters a state of deep tranquillity, in which it seems that the negative thoughts are dissipating more and more.
- You might be interested in: “What is Mindfulness? The 7 answers to your questions”
9. Physical exercise
It is well known that exercise is a good ally for both physical and mental health, and it cannot be absent when learning how to stop thinking so much about bad thoughts.
Not only does it have the great advantage of producing endorphins, but especially in directed activities, it allows to focus on aspects such as posture and correct movement performance .
In addition, once the exercise session is over, both the muscles and the nerve connections are recovered, and changes that are beneficial to the proper functioning of the body are initiated.
Related to the previous point, walking also is an effective ally against the intrusion of unwanted thoughts .
While you’re walking, you don’t just move your legs. The person looks at the places he or she is visiting, although ideally, if you want to stop thinking about obsessions, visit a bucolic place like a park or go on a tour of the mountains, where there are no distractions or the mundane noise of the city.
The fresh country air has a relaxing effect on the organism, besides which, by nature, the human being associates the green colour of the grass with calm and well-being .
As it is a different environment from the one we are used to, especially if we are a city dweller, seeing flowers and wild plants also allows us to decenter the attention from the trap that our mind can become.
- Abramowitz J. S., Schwartz S. A., Moore K. M., Luenzmann K. R. (2003). Obsessive-compulsive symptoms in pregnancy and the puerperium: a review of the literature. J Anxiety Disord 17 (4): 461-78
- Julien D., O’Connor K. P., Aardema F. (2007). “Intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and appraisals in obsessive-compulsive disorder: a critical review. Clin Psychol Rev 27 (3): 366-83.