Well hello again!
I hope you’ve all had a fun summer and are ready to get back into the swing of things as fall fast approaches. Whether you’re starting school, work or your retirement, I find this time of year to be a bit overwhelming as the season starts to change, so does the pace of life. Life becomes busier, more exciting but sometimes more stressful too. As I start school, I’m realizing how distracted I am with all of it -in a good way of course (I couldn’t be more excited), but I find it interesting to think about in terms of mental occupancy because in the summer, and during my year off, I had so much time –probably too much time, to think and get in my own head about anything and everything. I failed to realize how insignificant the things I worried about actually were until life was put into perspective for me by my recent change of routine. Having said that, had I been able to put things in perspective for myself prior to this change of routine by changing the way I think, I could’ve probably saved myself from stressing about a lot of silly little things, which is why I think it’s important to discuss how we as individuals can change our perspectives when it comes to worrying and stressing. I’ve recently found enlightenment on this matter and if you’d like to hear what I think to be rather helpful, have a peak down below…
First, an important word that I’ll be using in this post is rumination, which basically means thinking about something a lot and allowing the thoughts you have to snowball. Now unfortunately, most of the time, these thoughts aren’t super positive ones but rather worries or concerns, and what I’ve learned (from a professional in the field) is that rumination on the past often translates to depression and rumination on the future translates to anxiety. Of course, rumination doesn’t exist in the present moment because you’re in it now, second by second, so when you’re really, truly, living in the present, there’s no room for it at all; this is the best place to be but also the hardest to find. Hopefully this discussion can be helpful to discourage your ruminative thoughts and allow yourself to be in the present state of living.
Personally, I don’t ruminate on the past really but more so on the future. There lies a great importance in identifying what you ruminate about because that is the key to changing your thought habits. I wish you could just tell yourself to stop ruminating but unfortunately, some personality types are more susceptible to this habit than others and that’s something that cannot be changed. What you can change however, is HOW you think about things and learn to alter your perception for the better. After a little self-reflection, I’ve discovered that I ruminate most on the relationships in my life; relationships of any shape or form.
When I was younger, I had these obsessive, worrisome thoughts surrounding my relationship with food, to the point where it became very unhealthy not only mentally, but physically as well. I was prompted to make a change when I recognized how unhealthy my habit was. It took a lot of conscious effort, forcing myself to think a certain way, but overtime, it changed for the better. I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved I felt the moment I realized these worried thoughts I had about food no longer occurred to me as they used to. The best part was that I did this all by myself; I changed my mindset to change my habit and utilized my mind as my most powerful tool to create a positive change. It’s been close to eight years since then, and although I get in my head about my eating habits at times, the worries I used to have have never reoccurred like they did before, and I now know how to diffuse my thoughts and let them go. So now when I find myself ruminating about other types of relationships in my life, although I am not yet fully equipped, I am well equipped to deal with them.
Of course, when it isn’t one thing, it’s another and lately I’ve found myself ruminating on friendships and romantic relationships -a relationship nonetheless. I find it somewhat frustrating that this challenge has presented itself again, but I am confident that I am able to tackle this challenge just as I did the last time. The subject matter is different, but the habit is the same and thus, it can change.
One of the biggest ideas to keep in mind, is to ask yourself if whatever you’re worrying about has any concrete truth to it that should, and rightfully so, allow for you worry. For example, if you’re self-employed and you have financial concerns because you haven’t been able to pay your bills on time, that is a genuine concern to have and what we’ll call a ‘healthy’ worry (I’m only using the word ‘healthy’ in this context NOT because it’s a good thing to have financial insecurity, but because it’s a type of worry that is worth worrying about). On the other hand, if you worry that your best friend is upset with you, or that you did something wrong because she/he didn’t answer your text after you saw they were active on social media, then that’s an ‘unhealthy’ worry because you are unaware of the full extent of the situation and have been given no valid reason to actually worry. There are unlimited possibilities of ‘healthy’ ‘and unhealthy’ worries and the most important tool is to be able to properly distinguish between the two. So next time you worry about something, do your best to step outside of your head, or even seek advice from a loved one or a professional in order to properly identify if your concern is a healthy one or not.
OK! So, you’ve determined your worry or worries are ‘unhealthy’…but you’re still thinking about it… and can’t stop. What do you do?
I want you to remember that no matter what these thoughts may be, or how many of them you may have, they are ALL a product of your OWN imagination… and YOUR imagination is just that: imaginative, fantastical, creative and NOT real; so really, you’re worrying about thoughts or an idea that you created for your own self-deprecation. This isn’t to sound harsh or judgmental in the least, because I have had my fair share of doing so, but when I really thought about this idea, I realized how silly it can really seem. It’s much easier said than done I know, but the more you think about rumination from this lens, the more you’ll realize the truth that lies within it.
I also know that the thoughts stemming from your own imagination can often seem extremely real so much so that your mind will accept it as reality. But these imaginative thoughts only become so apparent when you indulge them. The more you elaborate your thoughts, the more detail you add to them, and the more time you spend thinking about them, the more important they become and the more real they seem. By attributing them with a greater sense of importance than they deserve, these ideas become your primary thoughts. Trapped in your mind with little room to escape; they become the forerunners to your proceeding negative thoughts and behaviours and then you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of rumination. And as long as you maintain that train of thought, your mood can plummet into a downwards spiral.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about this imagination of yours in a slightly different light. Yes, it can lead you down a deep road of rumination, but it can also be creative in many positive ways. Just like the creation of ‘unhealthy’ worries can be limitless, so can positive thoughts. Having a vivid imagination allows you to live such an exciting and colorful life so, let’s put that imagination to good use, shall we?
Please note: I’m not trying to sound cheesy or anything with this analogy, I just think that since our imaginations are so good at making us worry we should channel that creativity with an analogy; a strategy of thinking that works well for imaginative people. With this analogy, perhaps you can better understand this shift in perspective I’m trying to encourage.
I want you to try and think of your brain as a garden. It is full, limitless in fact, of beautiful flowers (thoughts, ideas, dreams), but every so often –and more often than not for anxious types, weeds (negative thoughts, ideas) will plant their seeds in your garden. How those seeds get there in the first place is yet to be determined and is a multi-layered, probably deep rooted (no pun intended) answer, but should you choose to water these seeds, the weeds will grow and multiply and if nourished enough, will overwhelm all the beautiful flowers in your garden and take over until all you can see (think) are those weeds. Wouldn’t it be easy if you could just stop watering your garden all together and then your weeds would eventually just disappear? Yes, it sure would be nice and easy, but remember you’ve got flowers in there too. So, just like you obviously can’t help yourself from thinking all together in order to avoid rumination, you can’t stop watering your garden in order to avoid the weeds. So, what can you do?
Well, you’re in luck because let me tell you…it’s YOUR garden.
Even if some undesirable seeds may blow over into your garden and you have no idea why, how or who brought them there, YOU are the gardener and YOU are in charge. Therefore, you and only you can choose to water the flowers you wish to see grow. In other words, -and I say this with confidence although I am no expert on the matter, if you refrain from indulging your worried or anxious thoughts, meaning as soon as one creeps into your mind you acknowledge that it’s there but do not pursue it any further, you will over time, (and it will take time so be patient), slowly discourage them from reoccurring.
Your worries and concerns may not fully disappear, and when it’s not one thing it’s another (like I mentioned earlier), but they will become more infrequent and your ability to diffuse these thoughts will become so natural and efficient that you may not even notice this process happening. Your ability to diffuse your worries before you ruminate could even start to become a subconscious ability and your negative thoughts will become less and less of a bother.
Remember, I am no expert or professional in depression and anxiety counselling, so whatever I discussed was a product of my own expression. Having said that, I sure know what it’s like to ruminate with my obsessive, perfectionist, imaginative personality and allow these personal attributes (which are just as much qualities as they are faults) to affect myself and those around me as well. I suppose I wrote this post today as a type of therapeutic dialogue for myself and as a reminder to utilize the ideas mentioned above when I begin to worry. I’m hoping that I’ve shared my positive thoughts in a way that resonates with you, so you can remember to use them too! I wish, and I only hope that you take nothing but good things from this post to fuel your positive mindset one step further.
So, let’s put those gloves on, uproot those weeds, plant some flowers and start watering!
Also published on Medium.