Every moment we are awake, we constantly have thoughts running inside our minds. Every single waking moment. We may be talking to someone, watching our 37th episode for the day or just laying on the bed staring at the ceiling. Our mind is constantly occupied.
We start with one thought and then we move on to the next and then the next and so on. Soon we have no idea what was the first thought that started this cascade. We keep thinking and overthinking anything and everything.
So far it’s not too bad. They are just thoughts. It’s still under control. But then the thoughts start making us feel a variety of emotions. Every single thought leads to some kind of emotion. It may be a positive emotion which might bring a smile on our face or it may be such a painful emotion that we just want it to end.
We feel the emotions and don’t realize that they are coming from the different thoughts running inside our minds. So we start our own personal regime to escape from uncomfortable emotions. We try to distract ourselves the best we can. And distraction helps a lot at times. It takes us to a different emotional state.
But the first thought that caused that emotion surfaces again, and the cycle repeats itself.
When we are overthinking, the thought-emotion-distraction cycle happens at hyper-speed.
It’s like you are scrolling through your Facebook (or your favourite social media) feed. You see one post from some school friend who just got married sharing their wedding pics. It leads to so many different emotions. Then you scroll down and see someone getting a promotion or celebrating their kid’s birthday or some throwback pic or something else.
Like we scroll through the social media feed, we scroll through our thoughts. We move from one thought to another thought and then call it over-thinking cos we are overworking our minds. We might think we are moving from one thought to another, but what we are doing is we are putting the thought back in the loop. So after a while, the same thought will appear again in our thought scroll feed.
Personally, I call this getting trapped in a thought spiral. It may last for hours-days-weeks or even months at a time. And every time the thought comes, the associated emotions hit me with that much more intensity. The more we ignore the thought, the more intense it gets.
When this happens to me, the only way out that works for me is to stop and go deeper into that thought.
For instance, if I am getting worried about the current pandemic and over-thinking about it, then I sit and start thinking more about it. But this time I am prepared and I take the time to understand my thought process. I start a conversation with myself. I start asking questions which are essentially of the kind – “then what will happen?” or “if this happens then what will I do?”. I keep asking this question again and again. If I do this enough times, I end up exploring all the scary scenarios possible and have an idea of what I would do in those scary scenarios. Even thinking that in a scary scenario I will scream and run away is an acceptable plan.
What I need to remember is that I do not judge any thought. I do not dismiss any thought. I just dig deeper and explore the thought from all the possible directions. I let my imaginations free and think more.
When I finish this exercise, the thought that has been troubling me goes away from the thought feed. It may come again, but that wouldn’t lead to as intense emotions as ignoring it would lead.
The way I see it is our mind wants to have a conversation. When we ignore it, it keeps bugging us like a child trying to get our attention. When we sit and give attention to our mind and listen to what it wants to tell us and have an honest and frank conversation, it closes the topic and moves on to something else.
I have never really understood what exactly is meditation or how to remove every thought from our minds. Maybe when I sit and have a conversation with my mind, when I think deeply, then that is actually some kind of meditation. Whatever it is, it works for me.
And I have these conversations with myself in many different ways. I may sit and journal. Or I may put on some music and sit quietly. Or I may just cry and scream and say everything that’s bothering me out loud (the best place to do this is in a bathroom with the shower running and making enough sound to drown out any sound you might make).
I am no expert and have no idea what’s the best thing to do is. I am just sharing what I have done and what works for me. The only thing I am totally sure of is that ignoring any problem is the best way to make the problem even bigger.