I guess you could call it an occupational hazard, but as someone who’s studied and practiced as a psychologist (in various contexts) for several decades now, I think a lot (and I mean A LOT) about thoughts and feelings, about health and wellbeing.
I probably would have been “a thinker” no matter what profession I’d pursued; but taking the path I did certainly made this even more likely.
Now before I go on, I do want to note that thinking about your thoughts and feelings, and thinking about your goals and aspirations, and thinking about a range of other psychological constructs can be very helpful and worthwhile. In fact, depending on how you understand all this, you could call it mindfulness or psychological awareness or insight; and each of these can most definitely be very positive.
But, if you’re anything like me, there are times when some of us think too much; and I know I’m definitely not the only one who does this!
Many of us, in this modern world, live in our heads; fewer and fewer of us are employed to use our bodies, and too few of us use or move our bodies as much as we could.
As such, if you have any sort of predisposition to anxiety or depressive rumination, then you can get into trouble. Too much of “the wrong type” of thinking can create too much of “the wrong type” of unpleasant emotion and in the worst-case scenarios, this can even contribute to serious mental ill-health.
I’m not suggesting we should never expect to experience distress (of course we will); but I am saying that there’s no need to experience more distress than we need to. And the good news is that there’s a relatively simple way we can reduce some of this unnecessary distress, which is to … think less!
How do we think less?
Well, like many things in life it’s easier said than done. But like many things in life also, it’s possible to get out of your head. And here are some of my top tips for doing so:
- Exercise: physical activity is good for all sorts of reasons. There are obviously benefits for our health and wellbeing, but one of the great but less often recognised things about exercise is that it’s a fantastic way to think less. I know that when I’m exercising it’s like I’m meditating and I rarely, if ever worry (which is unusual for me!)
- Hobbies and crafts: as well as being fun, totally immersing yourself in some pleasurable activity is another great way to think less. If your cooking or putting a puzzle together or painting or whatever, you’re less likely to be worrying or ruminating and that’s what we’re trying to achieve here
- Volunteering / doing good: once again, this is an activity with multiple benefits. Doing good to and for others has been shown to provide many benefits to the person doing good; altruism is the perfect example of how “in giving, we receive”. And while we’re helping other people, we’re less likely to be wondering about other anxiety related matters; so that’s an added bonus in something that’s already very good
Although we’re often encouraged to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings, and to take care of ourselves, there’s no doubt these usually positive activities can backfire at times for some of us – especially us “over-thinkers”.
Self-care is indubitably important, but we also need to be wary of self-indulgence, and I’ve no doubt that at times I’ve inadvertently fallen into this trap myself.
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