Have you ever obsessed over an unpleasant situation in your life until it just about drove you insane? Tell the truth! Well, when we zoom in on our problems and continuously revisit them, we keep our focus on the problem, not allowing room for a solution to pop into our heads. And it’s like picking at a sore. It never heals, and it gets inflamed.
I’m a work in progress, but below are a few things I do to get my head out of that cycle of replaying painful conversations, or carrying on internal dialogue, or over-analyzing an unpleasant issue I must deal with.
This is excellent for perspective and objectivity. Here’s how it works for me:
I picture myself doing whatever I’m doing (sitting at the table typing on my laptop, for example) as though I were a different person standing in the room watching me. And then I zoom out. Maybe I picture myself as though I were standing on the roof of our home looking down into the room I’m sitting in. Then I maybe picture my neighborhood in my head like I was looking at Google Earth. Then perhaps I zoom out so it’s the whole city I see, and so on. Eventually, if I haven’t gained perspective about my situation, or achieved some emotional distance from it, I can zoom all the way out so that I’m picturing the whole universe and I, and my problems, are so completely lost from view that I can really feel how small they are in the bigger picture.
This isn’t a transcendental out-of-body experience, and I don’t open my mind up to just whatever is out there. It’s a focused and intentional visualization. And I can often effectively remind myself through this exercise just how finite my problems are and gain perspective and objectivity, so that I can approach the issue later, less emotionally and more realistically.
Healthy, Happy Hobby-ing
Another thing I do is craft. I make and sell greeting cards, and sometimes when I find myself obsessing over a problem I will hole up in my studio with some jazz and a candle burning, or essential oils in the diffuser, and design and create pretty things that require me to engage a different part of my brain and focus on the current project. It’s best to go for a hobby that requires your full attention and being artistic or creative really does wonders for balance in the old noggin’. I do not recommend reading unless it’s an intensely engaging book; it’s too easy to zone out and let the mind wander right back to the situation you’re trying to leave behind for a while.
I specify “healthy, happy hobby” because throwing darts at the picture of the person who is at the center of a conflict you’re obsessing over isn’t healthy and isn’t happy (though it may be gratifying); also, baking 4 pans of brownies may not be a great plan in case you are inclined to sit in the floor and eat them all in a fit of emotional bingeing!
Yep. I went there. Though it’s not my favorite option, because it’s easy to zone out and get back on the crazy train heading right back to the den of turmoil you’re trying to vacate for a while (especially jogging, walking, riding the stationary bike, etc.). That said, certain physical exercises, such as yoga, require concentration. When I’m on my yoga mat in a tricky posture, if I let my mind wander I’m likely to hurt myself, possibly seriously. It’s the same with lifting weights. I imagine martial arts and tai chi are similar, though I don’t practice them and can’t say for sure.
Serving others takes my mind off my problems, and afterward I invariably see my problems – even the really big ones – in their proper perspective. Look for organizations that can help you find a place to serve in the community, or go directly to a soup kitchen, or something similar. You may well fall for this this labor of love, and if you serve regularly, you’re less likely to lose perspective in your own life.
Do Not, Under Any Circumstances…
Lose yourself in television, binge eat, turn to alcohol, or indulge in any of your addictive behaviors. Afterward you won’t have better perspective, and you’ll have to dig out from under guilt and self-loathing and start over in an even worse frame of mind. Also, don’t run around and retell the story to everyone with a pulse. Talking it over with multiple people is even more harmful than internal dialogue, because now you’re involving other people in your business, and probably someone else’s. A counselor or a trusted friend or two – who will give you honest feedback or be a confidential sounding board – should be plenty.
You may be wondering why I’m not recommending prayer and meditation. That’s because, depending on your level of discipline on a given day, that may well end in frustration as you spiral right back to the obsessive thinking.
The point is to create distance from the issue and break the obsessive thinking, not to run from problems or pretend they aren’t there and don’t need addressing. This gives us the ability to rest our minds and approach the situation/person from a calmer, more balanced place.
Hope this helps!