Thinking Can't Dig Us Out Of Distress: There's An Alternative


“I think, therefore I am,” wrote Rene Descartes. For those of us with symptoms of a mental health disorder it is sometimes more like, “I think, therefore I am making myself feel worse.”

Our thinking can turn into circular mayhem, negative rumination, rigid roadblocks and endless analysis that stir our anxiety, depression and obsessions.

Thinking is a wonderful tool that serves many purposes. We analyze, compare, categorize, summarize and perform amazing feats of deductive and inductive reasoning. Unfortunately, thinking is so wonderful we forget that it is not good for every purpose.

One Thing Thinking Cannot Do

We often use thinking as a giant mechanical claw, attempting to dig ourselves out of our pit of symptomatic distress or despair. We know it does not work, but thinking is what humans habitually do. Plus, some disorders seem to hijack the mind. Our thoughts race, nag, shout, repeat, turn black and turn against us, and we cannot find the off switch.

So we start thinking about where to find the off switch and we get angry with ourselves because we can’t find it and we should be able to see it and flip it but we haven’t got the energy to do that but we should have the energy and even if we find the switch we know we won’t throw it because we can’t but we should and the agony continues...

One Thing You Can Do About Thinking

There is a difference between thinking and entertaining thoughts. When thinking, you are actively engaged in using thoughts to figure something out or accomplish something, like digging yourself out of distress.

To entertain thoughts, you simply allow them to sit in the living room of your mind and chatter. Observe the thoughts or hear them, but avoid making judgments. By doing this, the thoughts become guests. They may be unwelcome guests, but they no longer seem a part of the self or like fix-it tools.

You can stand quietly by, holding a tray of appetizers, and listen with curiosity or detachment. Negative-thought guests can be ordered to leave, but if they are stubborn or leave and return, you can at least refuse to feed them an appetizer, meaning do not become emotionally caught up in them.

By entertaining thoughts instead of thinking with them, you can offer yourself some relief or at least refuse to fan the flames of your distress. This will also make it clear that you are not your thoughts, no matter how insistent or compulsive they are.


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