If you’ve ever been bothered by your thoughts, this post is for you. One of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself is learn how to take your present thoughts and emotions in stride. You can be comforted by the fact that your brain is trying to help you and that the feelings will pass.
But this can be very difficult, when each time we feel existential worry or lethargy, our brain actively tries to make us feel our problems are more significant than they are. So by changing our attitude toward our thoughts, we are going actively against what are brains are telling us to feel and against how it’s telling us to respond.
Each time I would get into a particularly strong fit of worry, I would feel that this time would be the time I wouldn’t get over it. This worry would be the one I wouldn’t recover from. I talked about running in the last post, and I’ll talk about it again. It’s like you’re running a long distance race. My brother tells me that every time he runs a 5k and especially when he ran a marathon, his thoughts try to convince him that he won’t be able to finish. Even when he’s run that same race hundreds of times before, each time, he thinks he won’t reach the finish line. But he does, every time, and we will too.
It’s the same with thoughts and the same with panic attacks. People having panic attacks, even if they’ve had many in the past, will feel absolutely sure that the next one will kill them. Each time they arise, they think this one is different. But it’s not, and it passes.
If we can reduce the symptoms of that feeling, we can feel more in control and less frightened of the worry that so often comes over us.
Your worries are not you
When we worry, we often believe that the thoughts are a reflection of us. We feel they reflect our emotional state, mental health, and, in the case of hypochondriacs, our physical health. Meditating will help you create distance between the rambling of your thoughts and your actions, so I highly recommend it. Know that your thoughts are not something you will always be in control of, and know that they aren’t a real reflection of who you are or who you want to be. They’re baseless, but we grow so close to them because we feel they’re a part of us.
Remind Yourself that Your Feelings Will Pass
Being creative and being curious are hugely important tools when it comes to helping your mental health. If you can look at yourself without harsh judgment and be adaptable by creating fun techniques for yourself, you will create a huge advantage. It feels good to recognize, in the moment of an extreme feeling, whether positive or negative, that it will pass, as all things do. But just repeating “this will pass” to yourself is stupid. You’ll expect that mantra to remove the thoughts and get no closer to accepting them.
So instead, I propose a physical object. It can be a note on your written or written, or just any thing you have on your person, the function of which is to remind you that feelings are temporary when you need it. If you use an object, like a watch or a bracelet, as a reminder that all feelings will pass, you’re creating a mobile and simple grounding technique to keep you away from rumination.
For a long time, I rejected philosophy, because I thought it would be “cheating” if I tried to use it to help myself. But out of lucky curiosity, I learned a lot about the old Stoics. I read How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, both books I highly recommend, and without much effort by myself, my attitude toward everything improved.
Books will affect you in ways you can’t predict, but each one feels like a small, positive adjustment to oneself. Just by spending time with them cracked open, you’re changing yourself by osmosis. Even these posts: I understand that not one of my posts will fix anyone’s life. I only hope that others can, by reading my perspective, recognize similarities within themselves and adopt the attitude that has made such a positive difference in my life.
The most important tenet of Stoic philosophy is to recognize what you can and can not control. One such thing you can’t control is the natural flow of your thoughts. And realistically, there’s not much you can actually control but your actions. Sometimes it will feel like you can’t, and that may cause feelings of helplessness, but you can use grounding techniques to regain a feeling of steady confidence. Anyway, according to Stoic philosophy, it’s useless to waste energy on anything you’re not fully capable of changing.
This includes death, your thoughts, the actions of others, politics, sports, and many other things that people often find themselves taking serious stakes in. Instead, Stoics look to themselves as the only thing they can be responsible for. And so, by clearing all the clutter of everything else, a Stoic thinker can spend their time preparing to take action.
Think of Yourself Later
Sometimes, when I’m having an issue with my thoughts, whether they’re repetitive, degrading, or bothersome, and they don’t seem to stop, I find it helpful to think of myself after those thoughts inevitably pass.
I think of myself in the future, eating dinner, or washing the subsequent dishes, or whatever, and thinking back on the thoughts I’m having in the present. By that time, I feel more clear because the thoughts have lost their power to bother me, just by being patient.
When I stop visualizing the near future and come back to the present, I’m always thankful I took a few seconds to focus on the extreme temporariness of the thoughts. And although this technique won’t eliminate the uncomfortable thoughts from happening, I’m at least comforted by proof through visualization that I will be fine.
If I have one piece of advice for anyone trying to better their mental health, it’s to go slowly. Be patient with yourself and set more realistic mental health goals. If you have a suggestion, advice, or a question, comment or message me directly. When you change the way you feel about worry, the times it’s most extreme don’t feel so scary.