Have you ever found that you just can’t stop thinking about someone—what they did or said, and how bewildered or hurt you were by their actions? When someone hurts us, our children, or someone we love; gossips behind our back; or simply acts in ways that confound us, we can focus on it for hours or days. We’re washing dishes, driving, or walking the dogs and we can’t stop thinking about how the things the person said were unkind, untrue and self-centered; their image and their words keep resurfacing. Five hours, five days, five weeks later, there they are: We see their face in front of us, even if we haven’t seen them in person during this time.
(To be clear, I'm not addressing how we deal with trauma or abuse here—situations which require professional help and intervention. I'm talking about day-to-day interactions we have with others that leave us mentally sputtering.)
How can we stop being caught up in other people’s thoughts? How can we stop thinking about a person or situation—what we should have or could have done differently—when the same thoughts keep looping back, rewinding, and playing through our mind again and again?
Or maybe, for you, it’s not about a person. Maybe it’s about what you got or didn’t get, what you need but don't have, or what isn’t right in your life. Usually there is a person involved whom you feel deserves blame for whatever is wrong.
But all of this is toxic cyclical thinking, and most of us know that it is emotionally and physically harmful to us. Studies show that a ruminating mind is an unhappy and unhealthy mind. When our monkey mind is unhappily fraught with replaying altercations, resentments or losses, we dwell in among harmful inflammatory stress chemicals and hormones linked to almost every disease we can name. Scientists can increasingly pinpoint how ruminating plays a role in depression, cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disease. The stress chemicals we wallow in are far worse for us than the thing that brought them on in the first place.
Moreover, toxic thinking doesn’t feel good. It’s like getting caught on a spinning, centrifugal-force ride at the fair that was fun for a few turns, but now makes you feel sick.
You want to get off. But you can’t.
We work so hard to remove toxicity from our lives: We buy organic, we avoid unhealthy foods, we remove chemicals from our home, we eat green, and we clean green. But we put very little concerted effort into trying to go green in our minds. So what is the green solution for toxic thinking?
In researching my book, The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life, I developed insights on how to stop myself from spinning stories, ruminating, worrying, and replaying thoughts about someone or something.
These 15 small but powerful ideas work for me. Many are based on teachings from leaders in mindfulness psychology. Choose the ones that resonate most with you.
Now doesn’t that feel good?
Follow Donna Jackson Nakazawa on Twitter and Facebook, or join her at her blog at donnajacksonnakazawa.com. Find out more about her most recent book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, And How You can Heal.