Sunday, January 14, 2018

How to Stop Excessive Thinking: Dealing With Racing Thoughts

How to Stop Excessive Thinking: Dealing with Racing Thoughts

Do you ever feel as if you just can't stop thinking no matter what you do? I know that feeling. It's like having a little person inside your head who doesn't know how to shut up, even for a second. So, how can we break free from this constant mental chatter and racing thoughts?

You would like to experience some peace and quiet but whenever you have a moment for yourself the mind seems to just go out of control. While brushing your teeth, while taking a shower, while driving to work and so on. It seems that the mind never ever stops.

Maybe you are just thinking about the past, worrying about the future or creating events and conversations in your head that haven't even happened. Maybe you are just having random thoughts about everything and anything all day long.

Sometimes life events might trigger this excessive thinking, making us feel somehow unbalanced. Maybe you are dealing with problems at work, relationship issues, career changes, financial difficulties and so on.

On other occasions this excessive thinking is not because we have issues to deal with but because we get overexcited about an idea or project. How can you even fall asleep when you get that million dollars idea?

I get many of those, but Getting Things Done is still in my reading list. Lol.

But either way, this excessive thinking is still taxing to our nervous system and it rob us of all peace and calm. We are not able to be present no matter how hard we try.

So let me share with you some tips that have helped me deal with this excessive thinking and racing thoughts. I have tried all of these tips myself, that's why I can write about them.

I hope they will also help you to finally quiet that monkey mind and find some calm.

Empty Your Mind on Pages


If we pay attention to the content of our minds when it is racing, thinking non stop, we might notice that we are usually having the same kind of thoughts over and over again.

We keep dwelling on the same matter repetitively all day long.

A very useful and simple technique to deal with this kind of incessant thinking is to simply empty our minds, to put it all out... in a journal.

By pouring our thoughts out into a journal we give ourselves a break.

There is no more need to keep repeating those same stories in our heads. There is no more need to keep dwelling on the same thoughts over and over again.

The mind then naturally becomes a bit more quiet and still.

Change Your Beliefs About Thinking


But even if we empty our minds in a journal sometimes we might still continue dealing with a very agitated mind.

The reason is that we also need to change our believes about thinking.

We keep dwelling on the same thoughts or issues because unconsciously we believe that by doing so we will be able to find the solution to whatever issues we are dealing with.

Until we find that solution or conclusion we can't allow ourselves to stop thinking.

So we keep going on like this all day long, thinking it over and over again, waiting for that magic moment where we get enlightened and find the answers that we were looking for.

Unfortunately this belief is completely counterproductive. That magic moment never comes.

The more we think about the same matter the more tension and anxiety we add to our system. The more tension and anxious we become the less clear we can think and the faster our thoughts go.

On top of that we keep accumulating more and more issues to deal with. The more thoughts in our heads the more blurry our vision becomes. This makes it impossible for us to find a resolution to our issues.

Solutions or answers don't come in this way.

They actually come when we stop thinking about our problems. When we give ourselves a brake and relax. When we totally forget about the issues that we are dealing with.

This sometimes happens when we are immersed in another activity that draws our attention fully, allowing us to forget completely about our problems.

Then the answers that we were looking for just down to ourselves. Our intuition takes place. You must have experienced this at some point in time.

When the mind stops and becomes quiet and still, it is at that moment that we are able to listen to our intuition.

So whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by excessive thinking, remind yourself that this is not helpful at all, you can't find solutions in this way.

Pour your thoughts into your journal and then allow yourself to focus on whatever you need to do, knowing that by doing so you give space for those solutions to come forward.

Think at the Right Time and in the Right Way


To be able to find solutions or answers we first need to be very clear about what issues we are dealing with. What exactly is the problem? What mental or emotional conflicts are we facing?

Again, this is where our journal comes in handy.

When we use our journal to empty our mind of those constant thoughts that keep nagging us all day long, we are also getting some clarity about what our issues really are.

As we become more clear about our issues we can then think creatively, trying to find solutions or a deeper understanding. Whatever conclusions come we can write them down.

Schedule in your calendar a specific time during the day and a specific length of time to have this meeting with yourself, one of the most important meetings during your day.

But after dedicating that time to journaling, and thinking consciously about your issues, then you should to put that pen down and continue with your day. Even if you didn't come up with any answers or conclusions.

You need to allow the unconscious mind to do the work. Let the answers come by themselves.

Because the mind moves to fast

The reason why this works is because the mind moves to fast. When we are thinking about our problems over and over again we are not really focused. Keeping our issues in our heads in this way is completely useless.

Although it might seem that we are focused on our problems, the mind actually keeps moving in one direction and then another, never resting one pointed on the subject at hand.

This is why it is important to have a specific time during the day to really focus on the problem that we need to solve, and to use pen and paper to write our thoughts down.

Writing on paper, or on a digital journal, help us to slow our thoughts down and to stay focused instead of letting the mind wonder in all directions.

Train Your Mind to Slow Down


Allow the Breath to Slow Down

What if you can't focus on whatever task or project you are working on, even if you remind yourself that it is completely unnecessary to think about your problems?

You can train your mind to relax and to slow down using nothing but the breath.

  • Sit in a comfortable posture with the back straight.
  • Relax the whole body and then simply watch the breath.
  • Observe the gentle expansion and contraction of the abdomen.
  • Mentally repeat "in" on the inhalation and "out" on the exaltation.
  • Allow the breath to relax and to slow down.

Such a simple and powerful practice, and very scientific.

By observing the breath in this way we allow the breath to slow down, and since the breath and the mind are connected this in turn allows the mind to slow down. We enter a deep relaxed state of being.

By the way, you've just learned how to practice mindfulness, mindfulness of the breath. Congratulations!

This is an antidote for anxiety and stress. Practice this for just ten minutes and you will most certainly notice a big difference after, guaranteed.

Rest at the Eye of the Storm

Now, when the mind is running a zillion miles per hour and you sit down to quietly observe your breath, sometimes this might seem like an impossible task.

But even if there are a gazillion thoughts in our heads we can still watch the gentle movement of the breath. There is no need to try to force the mind to quiet down.

However we can also try something else.

While you are sitting quietly observing your breath you can direct your attention to your thoughts instead.

What kind of thoughts are you having? How many issues are you dealing with at the same time? Where do these thoughts arise from? Where do they go after?

As you observe your mental activity try to create some space between yourself and your thoughts, recognizing that you are not your thoughts. You are the witness of your thoughts.

The problem is that we are usually taken by surprise by our thoughts. Without noticing it we are carried away by them, we become identified with them, we become one with them.

But we can certainly take a step back and observe our thoughts from a distance.

I usually give this simile in my meditation classes:

Think of your thinking process as a storm. The thoughts our moving violently and at high speed on the eyewall, but in the center, in the eye of the storm, there is absolute calm and peace.

We can find that center within ourselves by detaching from our thoughts and becoming a witness of them.

Remain Vigilant

Another way to practice becoming a witness of your thoughts, to avoid being taken by surprise by them, is to observe the very next thought:

  • Wait attentively for the very next thought that appears on your mind.
  • Try to catch that very next thought as soon as it arises in the mind.
  • Once you catch and become aware of the next thought that arises in your mind, let it go and then try to catch the following thought.

The moment that you do this you will notice that the mind immediately becomes quite. All of a sudden there are no more thoughts! But as soon as you get distracted the thoughts come back.

The more you practice this the more you develop the alertness that you need to avoid getting distracted by unwanted thoughts.

You can do this for a few minutes and then return to your breath.

This is to practice mindfulness of our thinking process. It is a very important mental training to prepare ourselves to practice one pointed meditation.

Have an External Memory Aid


One kind of thought that we might be having repetitively all day long is the things that we need to do.

We keep dwelling in those thoughts because we don't want to forget what we need to do.

The easiest solution for this is to keep an external memory aid, a to-do list or an agenda, and to keep it updated constantly.

You can update your to-do list before going to sleep, or perhaps after your morning routine. It's also a good idea to keep it with you all day in case any new ideas keep coming to your head.

In this way you don't need to worry about forgetting what you need to do.

Not only that but having a to-do list will help you to stay clear and focused during your day, and every time that you complete an item on your to-do list you will feel a deep sense of achievement and success.

Give an Extra Rest to Your Body


Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by racing thoughts, and getting more anxious and anxious about it, a good trick to find some calm here is to simply take a nap. You'll wake up feeling refreshed and calm.

Even better than napping is to learn to consciously relax the whole body.

Some people might struggle to sleep during the day, even if they feel tired and fatigued. By practicing conscious relaxation we can give to the body the rest that it needs.

When you practice conscious relaxation, moving the awareness through each body part, the idea is not to fall asleep. The idea is to remain awake and consciously relax each body part.

However if you fall sleep while practicing conscious relaxation do not worry. That probably means that you need it. With practice, and whenever the body have found the balance it needs, you won't fall sleep anymore.

Give Yourself No Time to Think


Work Your Butt Off

This is a no brainer. We all know how important it is to do regular physical exercise. It provides innumerable benefits for our bodies and mind.

For instance, the release of endorphins make us feel so good, and knowing that we did something good for our bodies make us feel even better. On top of that we can have a better sleep at night.

That alone should be good enough reason to motivate us to exercise regularly, but to help us deal with overthinking it's even better if we workout with intensity.

It is easier to have a quiet mind when we do something that is physically challenging. Don't believe me? Just try to think when sprinting and let me know how it goes.

When we workout with intensity we are forced to put our full attention in what we are doing, withdrawing the mind or diverting our attention from all other issues.

Working out in this way allow us to stop that incessant thinking. That give us the space to receive the solutions to our problems when we are least expecting them.

This is one reason why physically demanding yoga practices are so popular today.

When we practice challenging sequences, performing postures that are difficult for our level, we have no choice but to use our whole attention and concentration.

Although this yoga practices might be more fitness oriented, they are still useful to exhaust the body and the mind. There is no time to think.

Be Sociable

Another easy way to give yourself no time to think is to be sociable.

Go out! Have a good quality time with your friends or family. Be present with them and immerse yourself in positive conversations.

Whenever you go back home after a nice time out you will probably say to yourself, "Oh, I have not been thinking about my problems at all!"

Even better, go out and play some sports with your friends. In this way you can combine physical exercise with a social time.

But sometimes life put us in situations where we have no way choice but to be by ourselves, all alone with our own thoughts.

Maybe you are traveling, or maybe your friends are out of town. Maybe you moved to a different city or country and you haven't met anybody yet. Maybe you quit your job to find a new life path.

My nomadic lifestyle has given me plenty of opportunities to experience all this.

Luckily for those situations we still have all the other tips that I've mentioned so far.

But here is one important point to keep in mind: you can be your own best friend, and you can establish that friendship by having a regular dialogue with yourself using your spiritual journal.

Be a Busy Little Bee

Another good way to give ourselves no time to think is to immerse ourselves in work. But we all know that being a workaholic is not necessarily a good thing, unless we have the right attitude to it.

We can develop the right attitude to work by applying the philosphy of karma yoga.

Do your work with a sense of urgency, because it needs to be done and not because what you can gain through it. Do your work with love.

Work here doesn't limit to just going to the office. Every action is work. Doing our duties, fulfilling our purpose in life, that is our work.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati says in his book Steps to Yoga:

"You should not allow the mind to sit idle even for a minute. The first step to spiritual life is to keep the mind ever busy. Every work is sadhana if done with concentration..... Become the master of your mind by applying it to various jobs from morning till night. Do your work efficiently and with full concentration"

Swami Satyananda always made emphasis on work as a tool for mental purification, and as a preliminary practice before even trying meditation.

Our work can be a spiritual practice, our sadhana, a means to attain the supreme reality, if done with concentration and with the right attitude.

So, it is important to make ourselves busy, giving us no time to think, to help us stop that excessive thinking. That will help us to find the balance that we need.

But we shouldn't try to escape ourselves by being busy all day. Don't forget to take a break during the day to be fully with yourself.

You can use that break to train the mind to slow down, as I explained before. It will be much easier then.

Pray


It doesn't matter what is your belief system. It doesn't matter if you are religious or not. It doesn't matter what concept of God you have. You can always pray.

When we pray we empty ourselves from all our mental and emotional issues, all our inner conflicts, and we offer them to whatever concept we have about that supreme divine being.

We surrender and trust that that divine being, that dwells within, will guide us and will help us find the answers that we need.

Praying is just another form of journaling, it is another way to establish that friendship with ourselves, or rather with our highest Self.

Actually those who pray regularly knows that mental prayer can be difficult because of the tendency of the mind to get distracted. That's why they recommend praying out loud or writing the prayers down.

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I hope you'll find these tips useful to stop those racing thoughts and to have a clear calm mind. Try them and let us know about your experience in the comment section below.

Do you have any other tips to deal with overthinking? Don't hesitate to share them with us in the comments below. And don't forget to like this blog and share it with your friends. Maybe some of them will find it useful as well.

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