Do you struggle with constant thinking and overanalyzing? Is it difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to shut off your mind? Can your emotions be incredibly intense and particularly challenging to calm? Is one of your biggest wishes to be able to somehow find a switch to quiet your mind and finally get some peace? In this blog, we will review two approaches to help you begin to achieve this new and well-deserved life path free of obsessive thinking and intense emotions.
First, it’s crucial to realize that, as humans, we like what we are used to (even if it is terribly unpleasant). This is one of the reasons it can be so challenging to change our behavior. In order for you to be able to begin forging a new path for yourself when it comes to the way you think, and subsequently the way you feel and behave as a result, you will need to overcome this common barrier to change.
If you are fed up with living this way, you are likely well on your way to succeeding in changing. Oftentimes, we need the gift of desperation to finally say we are done living a certain way and start effectively fighting for a new way of living. In the book, The Twelve Steps for Agnostics, author Andy F shares that decades of research in the field of addiction reveals that this gift of desperation is a critical factor in fostering change.
Now that you have the gift of desperation, you are ready to digest and begin practicing the 2 noteworthy approaches to managing your obsessive thinking and intense emotions.
1. Is it useful and/or productive?
Take a moment and pause. Focus on your breath. Take at least 5 deep breaths in and out of your belly. This is where we can get the most oxygen into our lungs, as compared to our chest, where we cannot bring nearly as much oxygen in. Once you have taken your correct breaths, in all likelihood, the intensity of your emotion just dropped at least a couple of notches. You now have brought at least a bit more oxygen to your brain and succeeded in getting yourself at least minimally out of your head.
Now that your brain is receiving your more oxygen, and your emotions are a bit less intense, you are able to think at least a bit more clearly and correctly.
Go ahead and ask yourself the following question: Is what I’m thinking now useful? Is it productive?
If the answer to 1 or both of these questions is no, here is what I want you to do: let it go.
This particular thought must not be serving you all that well if you find it isn’t useful and/or productive. It is a choice about whether you are going to continue to feed this line of thinking.
Specifically, it’s your choice. This approach helps you remind yourself of that choice and then make the right one.
One last caveat here is to realize that our minds can be quite sticky, especially when it comes to a process in which we have become accustomed. Your mind will likely still try to encourage you to revisit the thought, even though you just realized it’s not useful and/or productive.
Here’s what I want you to do: be firm. Go ahead and kindly and firmly tell your mind what you just decided.
You might say something like this to yourself/your mind: “Thank you for trying to keep me safe. I realize you are just looking out for me. I’ve learned that if I can just think about all sorts of things like this thought, I can be protected from something bad. In this moment, I realized it’s not useful or productive, though. This is not something I need to think about.”
2. The Buddhist approach of detachment
Our instincts are to eliminate, control, and/or fix something if it becomes a problem or if we believe it could become one. This approach tends to work in the external world, where, for instance, if your trash can is about to become full, you can fix the situation by taking your trash out. This approach, however, gets us in to all sorts of trouble when it comes to our internal world.
The world of thoughts and emotions tend to be best approached in the opposite way. “Instead of being overwhelmed with fear and needing control, practicing detachment leads to being aware of the present moment without trying to control or resist anything. When practicing detachment, one shifts their attention from what cannot be controlled to what can be, which is ourselves. Great peace comes from experiencing the present moment with complete acceptance” (Hill, Anxious Attachment Recovery: Go from Being Clingy to Confident and Secure in Your Relationships, 2022, p. 90).
The reality is, the only people with whom we are responsible for is ourselves. Furthermore, we cannot change anyone other than ourselves. In his book, People Can’t Drive You Crazy if You Don’t Give them the Keys, Dr. Mike Bechtle explains that the best we can do when it comes to others is we can try to influence them. At the end of the day, though, it is entirely up to the other person if s/he wants to accept our influence, absorb it, and enact their own change. But, when it comes to ourselves, we have tremendous control and ability to change.
The principle of detachment is centered around the idea that we should let life unfold without trying to force or control any situation.
You can begin to practice detachment by first practicing awareness of your emotions and thoughts.
From there, remind yourself that these emotions are normal and natural, as well as the fact that there must be good reason you’re experiencing them in that particular moment.
Realize that your thoughts are often more complicated, though. Consider that oftentimes, our thoughts unfold in response to our emotions. So, if you’re feeling anxious, you may give meaning to the anxiety (meaning which may or may not be based in reality), and from that meaning, particular thoughts follow.
For example, let’s say you get cut off in traffic and your gut instinct feelings are frustration, anger, and anxiety. You can choose to believe you were cut off by a real jerk and start feeling more intense frustration, anger, and anxiety as a result. Alternatively, you can choose to believe you were cut off by someone who made a careless mistake in that particular moment, perhaps just like you too have done from time to time. This line of thinking is likely to calm the intensity of your frustration, anger, and anxiety. You may start to feel empathy, sympathy, and peace as a result.
It’s also important to realize that we cannot control our initial emotions. Remember, life isn’t about what happens, but rather, it’s about what happens next. So, while we can’t control our initial emotions (as they are largely based on past events that trigger responses in us in the present), we can control how we respond to them.
Practice accepting, even embracing, your emotions. Remind yourself that your emotions have no power over you, even though in the moment they can feel incredibly powerful.
Here are a handful of additional statements you can remind yourself of to help you practice detachment:
- “How others treat me reflects their character, not mine”. [We all have a choice in how we respond to our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about others. When you don’t like someone, you have a choice in how you decide to respond to those feelings. If you choose to respond to them by saying contemptuous things to that person, that reflects something about your character, not theirs, just as it reflects your character if you choose to be kind to the person].
- “I have faith everything will work out as it is intended to. Whatever happens, it is for the best.
- I do not have to deal with that today. I can wait until it is the right time for me.
- I can choose to let go and let things be.
- Whatever happens today was meant to happen. I will not struggle against the workings of the universe.
- If it is meant to happen to me, it will happen” (Hill, 2012, p. 91)
Learn More about How to Quiet Your Mind and Better Control Your Emotions Through Online Individual Therapy in California, Oregon, and Florida
Life is plenty challenging and when we find we can’t stop overthinking and regulate our emotions, it all gets that much harder and exhausting. At Stress Solutions, we are devoted to teaching you practical skills to gain control of your mind and emotions so you can live a much more peaceful, balanced, and rewarding life.
To learn more about easy-to-use tools and tricks to improve the quality of your life, schedule a consultation with an individual therapist in California, Oregon, or Florida today.