How to Stop Thinking Too Much
This is for Cindy – and it’s a great one. Thanks girl!
If you prefer to listen, here’s the podcast version of this blog.
Does your brain start chattering and seemingly never stop? Do you feel distracted and unable to focus? Like your brain won’t seem to shut up and it’s getting a bit noisy up there. This is for anyone who suffers from chronic over-thinking. I will cover the what, the why, and most importantly, the solution.
Firstly, I am stoked you are reading this because despite how simple it sounds, constant over thinking is a big deal. It’s really bad for you and you’ve got to do something about it because you’re likely creating gene damage and advancing your brain’s aging. Overactive brain chatter is also tied to lots of other diseases – autoimmune disorders, heart problems, not to mention emotional disorders like depression. How the crap?! I had no idea about the majority of this research but I am definitely changing my habits as a result of it. Once it sinks in, makes a lot of sense – here’s my summary of the science behind it. If you’re interested in reading the research for yourself, I’ll post all the links to my reading at the end of this blog.
Fight or flight mode is your body’s reaction to stress. It’s when it’s preparing to help you escape danger. Extra blood flow is directed at your muscles. Sugars and fats pumping in blood stream. Your body takes all the blood from other places like your skin and gut - so your digestion shuts down. Your immune system pumps out inflammatory chemicals to give you a short burst in immunity. It’s designed to save your life. As humans with imagination, when you are replaying past events, getting angry/upset about events in future, or generally stressed out every day of the week, this is an over-activation of your fight or flight response. In the short term that’s not going to do too much to you, but long-term it has a major one. It’s called allostatic load and it’s basically wear and tear on your brain and body.
It accelerates aging and the illnesses associated with aging. The affects are on your metabolism, your immune system, and also the aging of your DNA. What does that mean? It affects how we accelerate chronic illness. It also damages your brain cells.
The Relaxation response is the opposite of fight or flight. We calm down and relax. Things go back to normal. So if you don’t have a relaxation response, you’re going to stay chemically in stress mode. If this is you, right now - you need to start a regular manual shut down practice, today.
The other state of brain chatter is called default mode.
When we’re not present (aka distracted and chocked full of brain chatter) the brain slips into something called default mode. This is when the executive functioning of your brain doesn’t work well. You won’t be able to remember things and you will get worried or anxious because the part of your brain that tells the other parts what to do (including emotional regulation) is not working right. In things like schizophrenia, there’s a lot of default circuit activity. It means the decision-making areas of your brain as well as the emotional regulation areas are not working well. The brain gets clogged up with something called Amaloid, which is a protein that later leads to Alzheimer’s. So all in all, this distraction and brain chatter is a big problem and I want you to decide to change your behavior to remedy it, starting now. Which brings me to…
Part 2: The solution.
The solution to brain chatter is all about altering your behavior in simple ways – just being cognizant and conscious of the solutions and shifting your habits in any way that occurs to you throughout your day. I have listed a couple super, super simple tools and I will ask you to please use at least ONE of them every day – or better yet, start up your own relaxation practice and make it a part of your ritual. Just do something – and start doing it today.
Choose to be Caveman
This is quite simply, when you’re bored or maybe you get home and you’re stressed and want to watch junk tv– Choose to be Caveman. Meaning, do not turn on a screen or device. Sit with a book. Draw something. Write a letter. Journal. Or better yet, sit quietly and “watch” the thoughts that drift through your mind while you do some deep breathing. This tool is just about deliberately choosing NOT to turn on a screen when you normally would have. So employ it in any moment you might be faced with a choice throughout your day.
It’s like training yourself to meditate when you’re in bed! How easy is that?! This is a tool that is only asking for 3 minutes in the morning, 3 minutes in the evening. Do it in bed while you’re still lying there first thing in the morning – and again right before you go to sleep. Close your eyes and breath deeply. Literally, observe yourself from a distance – like you were another person listening in on your brain. Allow thoughts to float through your head and watch them – as though you are outside of this brain. You are just floating through and listening in on a bunch of noisy voices – they are not yours.
Kick the Phone out of Bed
This is just a simple promise to yourself to get the phone out of your bedroom and away from your eyes. The blue light from the screen stops your body’s ability to make melatonin which inhibits you from reaching a deep sleep. Sleep is hugely important to your mental balance, not to mention your diet and health overall. Sleep is when your brain is doing a whole lot of relaxation and repair – it’s when you’re processing emotional memories (dreams) and metabolizing your food and repairing your muscles. It is necessary. Don’t keep it partially “on” right before you snooze. Kick that phone out of bed!
Don’t Analyze This
That’s a play on the movie – analyze this, get it? When you are overthinking things, often the suffering comes from getting obsessed with your own feelings, thoughts, memories and what they mean. As a rule, do not analyze your feelings - ever. Just observe them and watch them pass through you. If they are feelings of anxiety, just watch them. Take note and do not analyze or react. Allow them to be. Once you start simply observing your feelings and allowing them to be in your body, you’ll likely be shocked at how quickly they pass.
The 1-Hour Pillow
This is similar to the phone one, but basically, make a rule for yourself – set an alarm even – that you are not going to pay attention to anything that involves work or stress or even watching things that are stressful, one hour before bed. So no reading the news, no working on your credit card debt, no figuring out the schedule the next day.
Anywhere. I don’t need you to sit down in the dark. Just pick any and all times that you are not forced to do something else. Let’s say while you’re in line at the bathroom. Or at the breakfast table. Close your eyes, sit and quietly breath in and out at an even pace. Focus on the sound of your breath – or watching the colors you see in the backs of your eyelids. See how quiet you can get your head to become.
When you meditate, you grow more grey matter, stimulate new neuronal growth and quiet your brain stress center significantly. Also, meditation may be huge in preventing brain decline. It can also flip the switch on genes that cause disease – so if you have active genes that are on their way to becoming a disease, meditation can potentially undo them.
Train Hard to Relax
A lot of us are workaholics and we can just go go go! Even though it feels kinda cool, it’s really not good for you and it’s especially not good for your brain. If you don’t have a balanced lifestyle with a dedicated time for mental stillness, start training yourself to schedule relaxation. Push yourself into new areas – like try sleeping in once every other weekend. Leave your phone at home all day. It won’t feel quite right at first, but know that it’s going to max out your body if you don’t make this a priority.
Your chemicals can’t handle being taxed for the rest of your life without a side effect of some sort. Do it for the future-you who wants to have complete sanity and balance in your old age.
Life is a ratio: not all of it goes to work and thought. There’s part of you that is meant to lie in the grass and watch clouds shift shape. There’s part of you that is meant to stare at flowers and listen to music while doing nothing else.
When you get in the habit of working and thinking and analyzing things non-stop, it becomes your life. It’s part of culture’s habit and right now, it’s time to untrain it in favor of having the innate balance you were born with. It doesn’t take too long to get back there and once you start, you will find you will be able to quiet your brain more and more quickly. Keeping that mental stillness and physical state of calm takes maintenance on a regular basis – so prioritize that time you spend relaxing yourself. Make sure you put in some time set to “off” on your schedule. If you commit to doing one thing daily that promotes you relaxing and being more present and in your body, not your brain, you will see change. Just start there and know that it’s not lazy – it’s healing.
I hope this helped and I send you my love and vibes of positivity – I will post a mini-meditation recording soon – so keep your eyes peeled for that. Smile peeps! Xox Sarah May B.
Featured image via Flickr