How to stop dwelling on problems... and solve them instead
Are you one of those calm, collected types who lets life’s problems float on by? Or, are you – like the majority of Irish people – a bit of a stress ball?
If so, the chances are you’ve a tendency to ‘ruminate’ and dwell on worries and problems a bit more than you should. Rumination, the positive psychologists tell us, doesn’t really fix anything. In fact, it often prevents positive thinking and the kind of problem solving that can actually make a difference.
Here are six tips for managing your worries and tweaking your thinking:
1. Don’t worry
Okay, okay! I know this is a phrase calculated to drive us worriers just that little bit closer to the edge. But, it’s good advice. Accepting that worrying won’t change things can be a big breakthrough. Positive psychology tells us that only actions bring about change, and, as Baz Luhrmann reminds us wearing sunscreen works, but worrying doesn’t.
2. Distract yourself
Positive distractions can clear the head. In fact, positive psychologists believe they can actually ‘re-set’ our mood. Distractions break the cycle of rumination and negative thinking and allow us to switch track to more positive thinking. The trick is to figure out what works for you. Run, cycle, walk, sing, dance – anything that helps to break out of a negative thought cycle. Make a list of the songs, movies, friends, websites that help to shift your mood. Keep it handy for those occasions when worry threatens to take over.
3. Snap out of it
Sometimes the grip of anxiety can threaten to overwhelm us. That’s when negative distractions (binge eating, etc.) and compulsive behaviour can kick in. The practice of thought stopping is a great way to prevent worries from spiralling. It involves a simple verbal or physical cue to halt unhelpful negative thinking. Whenever you catch yourself obsessing, try saying the word ‘stop’ loudly to yourself. You can also picture a big red stop sign or do something physical like snapping your fingers, squeezing your eyes shut or snapping your wrist with a rubber band. You do need to give these thought stoppers a bit of practice – and you may feel a bit odd doing them on the bus – but gradually you’ll find they automatically distract you enough to break free from debilitating thinking.
4. Switch focus
Once you’ve interrupted the flow of negative thoughts, you can begin to shift focus to something calming and positive – like a holiday or celebration that’s coming up. Alternatively, focus on something relatively complex that demands concentration. Something like saying the alphabet backwards or counting in sevens will completely occupy your mind and change your focus.
The more you practice techniques to switch focus, the better they’ll work and the easier you’ll find it to move away from negative and intrusive thoughts.
5. Take perspective
Once you’ve broken the rumination cycle, put your concerns in context. Taking a big picture view can shrink your worries – or at least give you perspective and free up more headspace for positive thinking and problem solving. Ask yourself if a row with your boss or your boyfriend is going to matter in a week, a month or a year’s time. Chances are that it won’t. If you feel that it will, make a plan to resolve things.
6. Know where to turn
For some of us, anxiety is a minor fact of life, but to others its impact can be crippling and life-limiting. If distraction tactics and thought stopping just won’t work for you, it’s time to talk to a friend and to consider professional support.