Blog Image

What You Can Do When You Can’t Stop Thinking About Something

It's important to remember that most of the things we worry about will never come to pass.

  • The problem with ruminating is that it causes one to focus on how things could go wrong, rather than on how to make them go right.
  • Trying to suppress thoughts can make them more likely to resurface.
  • To stop any single thought, one needs to "turn on" or activate a different stream of thinking.

There are only two things you can truly control—your thoughts and your behaviour. No one else can choose either one of those for you. But sometimes intrusive thoughts about unwanted events can flood your mind and it can feel like your thoughts are controlling you. Whether it is something that happened in the past or a future event you are worried about, negative rumination robs you of your present wellbeing and, over time, can lead to serious problems like depression or anxiety.

Why do we ruminate on negative things?

  • Sometimes we are trying to figure out a solution to a problem.
  • Sometimes we are expecting something to go wrong and trying to avoid an unfavourable outcome.
  • Sometimes a part of our brain isn’t functioning properly, and a set of neurons gets stuck firing over and over again.
  • Sometimes it is just a bad habit.

The problem with ruminating

The problem with ruminating is that most often you are focused on things going wrong instead of how to generate the solutions to resolve the situation and make things go right. If your boss gets angry with you, you may ruminate about what you’ve done and worrying that if you do it again there might be serious consequences like losing your job. You might replay the scene with your boss over and over in your head or worry excessively about what would happen if the worst-case scenario did come to pass. This kind of thinking activates your fight or flight response which actually shuts down your creative problem-solving thought process. In order to find the resolution that will allow you to let go of the problem, you need to stop from the ruminative thought pattern.

Stopping our thoughts, however, isn’t something we are very good at and deliberate attempts to suppress thoughts can often make them more likely to resurface. If I say to think of a pink elephant and then tell you to stop thinking about it, chances are the pink elephant image will stay in your mind. The reason it does is that there is no "off" button in the brain. To stop any single thought, you need to turn on or activate a different stream of thinking.

How to stop your thoughts

Following are four ways you can begin to regain control over your thoughts.

1. Engage in an activity on a different emotional frequency.

Feeling follows thought, so negative rumination generates negative emotions. Worrying makes you feel anxious. If you do something that you know generally makes you feel better such as going for a run, calling a friend, or watching your favourite movie you can raise your emotional awareness. When you are in a better mood, you can think more clearly and may gain a different perspective on the situation. Doing something that generates positive emotion also acts as a distraction task by simply giving you something else to focus your attention on.

2. Write down all the reasons why what you fear will not happen.

The majority of the things we worry about never happen. That's because most of the time there are lots of valid reasons why what we worry about is unlikely. However, because our brain works on an activation/inhibition model, 2  active thoughts about what could go wrong inhibit it from thinking of the reasons these thoughts may not be rational. It requires a concentrated conscious effort to shift this train of thought and think of the reasons why your fear isn't likely to come to pass.

3. Write down all the reasons why even if the worst-case scenario did happen, you would still be okay.

Often, we feel that if something unwanted were to happen, it would be devastating and something which we wouldn’t be able to survive. The truth is that difficult, unwanted things happen all the time and people survive and sometimes even come out the better because of them. Our brains are extremely adaptive to our circumstances. How well you handle a situation depends largely on your perception of your ability to cope with it. Instead of focusing on why you won't be okay, think of your strengths. Think of the difficult things you have already overcome in life and why you are resourceful enough to get through other challenges.

4. Create an action-oriented, solution-focused reframe.

When you have a solution to the situation, you will have both reduced the need for your brain to ruminate and given yourself something constructive to focus on instead, which replaces the ruminative thoughts. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you move towards generating a solution:

A. What do I believe this situation means for me?
Because we can only move forward in time, we tend to think of events that happen to us in terms of what they mean for us in the future. If you have an argument with your boss, you worry about what it will mean for your future such as the relationship might be damaged or not getting a promotion.

B. What do I want to happen?
I would like to repair my relationship with my boss. Clarity about what you want is a prerequisite to developing a solution to any problem.

C. What can I do that is likely to bring that about?
I can ask to meet with my boss to discuss the situation. I can make sure to keep my temper in check. I can continue to interact in a positive way. I can make an effort to show my value. A plan to deal with a problem causes you to see the situation differently and reduces your anxiety and the need to ruminate.

If all else fails, remember that thoughts are only thoughts, and just because you think something doesn’t make it true. You don’t have to act on your thoughts; you can just observe them and let the unhelpful ones go by.

How hypnotherapy can help

If you're caught in the cycle of negative thinking and rumination, hypnotherapy can help you see things from a different perspective and resolve the thoughts and reactions that create rumination and worry.

Hypnosis helps bring about a subconscious change to your behavioural responses. In sessions we avoid analysing problems, instead I help you learn to think in a solution focused way which helps reduce worry and anxious patterns of thought so you can begin to take control and stop ruminating.

We'll work together focusing on positive solutions for moving forward so you feel happier, calmer, confident and back in control.

Make the world work for you

There are many ways to bring Mindfulness to your
everyday life and it is easy to fit into a busy schedule.

Get started now