We’ve all been there (yes, all of us). Something happens and we can’t stop thinking about it. It can be a complication, a misdiagnosis, something that happened in a toxic work environment, a failed exam, a harsh word. Not being able to let go of these thoughts means you are a normal person who cares… but it is not comfortable.
It will stop. At the time you are caught in the spiral of rumination, it seems unending. But it can’t and won’t last forever.
You are not your thoughts. There are your thoughts (and this annoying thought in particular) and then there is “you”. Hold that thought (then see below).
Don’t make it worse by yelling. It’s human nature to try to push an uncomfortable thought or image out of your mind. But it doesn’t work. Yelling at yourself (in your mind) because you are not able to move past the thought/event makes it even worse.
Get curious. Berating yourself makes it worse, but there is a way to disarm the thought and even make it go away:
When the thought arises, just notice it.
Wait….if “you” are noticing it, then the thought isn’t “you”.
Every single time the thought arises, say to yourself “I’m thinking about it again.” But – and this is the most important thing – when you notice that the painful thought is back, you have to notice it without judgment. Not… “I can’t believe I can’t let go of this thought.”…or “Something must be wrong with me.”… Just “There it is again.”
Mindfulness. The practice of noticing without judgment is called mindfulness. There are good data that an informal practice of mindfulness helps when we find ourselves with a thought that won’t let go. A daily practice helps even more. Set aside just 10 minutes and sit still. Just notice everything that comes up, acknowledge it, and don’t judge. Ditto for the next thought, and the next, and the next…
Here are some links if you’d like to learn more about mindfulness:
If you only read one thing about mindfulness, make it this book: The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Headspace is a fantastic app to help you learn mindfulness
Mindfulness for Beginners from Psychology Today
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255. You are precious. You matter. Call if you need someone to talk to.