Have you ever found that you just can’t stop thinking about someone—what they did or said, and how bewildered or hurt you were by their actions? When someone hurts us, our children, or someone we love; gossips behind our back; or simply acts crazy in ways that confound us, we can get stuck thinking about it for hours or days. We’re washing dishes, driving, or walking the dogs and we can’t stop thinking about how unkind, untrue and self-centered the things that person said were. Their image, their words, keep resurfacing. Five hours, five days, five weeks later, there they are—we see their face in front of us, even if we haven’t seen them in all that time.
(Just to be clear, I'm not addressing how we deal with trauma or abuse here—situations which require professional help and intervention—I'm talking about the day-to-day interactions we have with others that leave us mentally sputtering).
How can we stop feeling embroiled in other people’s craziness? How can we stop thinking about a person or situation—what we should have or could have done differently—when the same thoughts keep looping back, rewinding, and playing through our mind again and again?
Or maybe, for you, it’s not about a person. It’s about what you got or didn’t get, what you need but don't have, what just isn’t right in your life. Usually, of course, there is a person involved whom you feel deserves blame for whatever is wrong.
It's toxic cyclical thinking. And most of us know that this kind of ruminating is both emotionally and physically harmful to us.
In fact, studies show that a ruminating mind is an unhappy and unhealthy mind. When our monkey mind is unhappily fraught with replaying altercations, resentments or losses, we marinate in a cascade of harmful inflammatory stress chemicals and hormones linked to almost every disease we can name. Increasingly, scientists can pinpoint how ruminating plays a role in diseases including depression, cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disease. The stress chemicals we wallow in are far worse for us than the thing that actually happened to bring them on in the first place.
Moreover, toxic thinking just doesn’t feel good: It’s like getting caught on a spinning, centrifugal-force ride at the fair that was fun for a few turns, but now just makes you feel sick.
You want to get off. But you can’t.
We work so hard to remove whatever is toxic from our lives: We buy organic, we avoid unhealthy foods, we remove chemicals from our home. We eat green, we clean green, we buy organic cosmetics. But we put very little concerted effort into trying to go green in our minds. What is the green solution for toxic thinking?
In researching and writing my recent book, The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life, I developed a number of insights on how to stop myself from spinning stories, ruminating, worrying, and replaying thoughts about someone or something.
These 15 small but powerful ideas work for me. Many are based on teachings from today’s leaders in mindfulness psychology and meditation. Choose the ones that resonate most with you:
Now, doesn’t that feel good?
Follow Donna Jackson Nakazawa on Twitter and Facebook, or join her at her blog at donnajacksonnakazawa.com. Find out more about how to Green the Mind in her new book, The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life.