Help me deal with negative patterns of thinking.
July 15, 2012 1:49 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn how to control my own mind. How do I stop thinking about things that I shouldn't be thinking about?

First off, I know this is probably a question best left for my therapist. Unfortunately, I am out of the country for the next two months and am unable to visit a therapist until I get back, so I'm once again turning to the hive mind to help me deal with my own mind.

My mind is often filled with thoughts that are pointless and unhealthy. These have, as of late, centered around a relationship that ended about 5 months ago, but this has been a problem that has dogged me for a long time (maybe most of my adult life?) and in all liklihood was a contributing factor to the end of the aforementioned relationship.

Some examples:

I relive the past, a lot. This sometimes takes the form of me remembering something I wish I hadn't done and just feeling bad about it, but more often than not, it starts with a mistake and then progresses to me thinking about a hypothetical past where I did things the way I wish I'd have done them and everything turns out ok. I'm getting better at catching myself when this kind of thinking starts and telling myself something along the lines of, "hey! get back to the present here, that was then, it happened, you can't change it, and now is now, focus on now," which helps, but it doesn't stop me from falling back into those thoughts later on. I'll often catch the thought, pull myself back into the present only to find myself falling back into the same thought pattern a while later.

When I am successful at drawing myself back into the present, I often start worrying about the future! For example, I'd like to be in a relationship again, but I don't have many opportunities to meet women, and am picky, very picky as well. There are very few women I'm attracted to or feel a connection with. So I start to worry about running out of time (especially since I hit 30) worry that I won't find someone I like as much as my last girlfriend, etc, etc. This is just one example, I also worry about career, education, life path, etc.

The thing is, I know, intellectually, that all of these thoughts are useless. The past is unchangeable, and I've learned the lessons that were there to be learned from my past mistakes, so there is no use in thinking about it any more. I don't know what the future will bring and worrying about it is mostly pointless, I know that. All of these thoughts just distract me from the present and make me lose out on the life I have now, and hamper my ability to work on myself and try to make a better future. I know all of this, but I have a really hard time stopping myself from either ruminating on past mistakes or worrying about the future anyways.

Does anybody know any ways to deal with this? What are some things I can do to center myself in the present, stop thinking about the past and stop worrying about the future. And specifically, what are some ways to stop these thoughts from happening in the first place, if that's at all possible? I am getting better with catching and dealing with these thoughts after they crop up, but they crop up all the time and it gets to be a lot of work to constantly catch them and deal with them.

I try to get as much exercise as my schedule allows, which helps to a point, and I try to stay busy and occupied, but I continue to struggle with this.

As always your suggestions and advice are much appreciated.
posted by tokaidanshi to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I think everyone experiences this, to some extent. If you really feel like it is getting in the way of functioning normally, see a therapist. If you just want to stop thinking "useless" thoughts, give up that want. Your brain simply doesn't work that way. The more you try NOT to think of these things, or the more you regret thinking of these things, the more you WILL think of these things.

The way I deal with this is to simply let my brain do what it does naturally - wander. When you have a useless though, don't dwell on it, don't try to think of something else - just let the thought give way to another, unconnected, thought. Let go of the control of your thoughts. You cannot stop the useless thoughts from happening, but you can keep them from the center of attention by simply treating them as small links in the long chaain of your conscious, no more important than any other.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:59 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you tried or considered meditation?
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:56 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

One way to alleviate excessive rumination is to specifically assign blocks of time for the specific thoughts to be explored without resistance or denial of them. If a particular thought arises and is discomforting in the moment, merely address it with the statement "I know that you are important and I want to deal with you, but right now I'm doing this. Please come back at a time that is more appropriate." Dismissing unwanted thoughts in this manner can be very effective, provided that you do in fact follow up with dealing with those concerns in an appropriate and timely manner later on. Give your thoughts and feelings the validity of being important and be true to your intent of processing them to completion in due time. What you'll likely find is that the thoughts do return with remarkable fidelity to times that are indeed most appropriate.
posted by RoseyD at 4:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just recommended Pema Chodron's books in another AskMe thread, and I'm going to do the same here (or just any book on mindfulness, doesn't have to be Chodron). That might help tide you over until you can see your therapist again... Most of those books will discuss meditation too, which Ms.Moonlight suggested and I second. I also like Dr. Wayne Dyer's talks on CD and video.
posted by désoeuvrée at 4:38 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a similar problem, unable to stop reliving stuff from the past that just doesn't matter anymore. Though it doesn't always work, sometimes I can mentally "change the channel" - rather than try to reason myself out of it, which doesn't work. Click! Something else. I can't stop the broadcast, but I don't have to tune into it 24 hours!
posted by tomboko at 5:14 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Google 'mindfulness' and try out some of the podcasts that come up. Mindfulness techniques are particularly good for this sort of thing, and if you start with some beginner stuff, they don't require a lot of previous experience, nor do yuo need a lot of time. It's just the sort of thing that could tide you over until you see your therapist.
posted by JeanDupont at 5:58 AM on July 15, 2012

One thing recommended by my therapist was keeping a little book with me all the time. Every time I find myself spiraling down a what-if hole into the past I stop and write it down. I try really hard to think about what the first thought in the chain was, or if I was doing a specific activity right before it happened.

This helped me realize that there are a limited number of thoughts that trigger my anxiety, and once I realized that, I could be aware what they were and shut that train of thoughts down much faster. I'm very prone to getting on auto-pilot in terms of dwelling on the past, and being mindful of what's happening is helping me stop!
posted by itsamermaid at 6:21 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

It sounds kind of OCD. Some people can curtail that with extra vitamins.

I would also suggest not just keeping busy but doing so with something very engaging, either intellectually or emotionally or both. You sound like you lack adequate engagement. It takes more than "busy work" to achieve that. It takes something engaging enough to leave no room, mentally, for also fretting or obsessing in the background.

You could also try to get some perspective. No disrespect intended, but if you are that obsessed about whether or not you will find a girlfriend, maybe you would benefit from doing some volunteer work in a cancer ward or an AIDS hospice or something. If that is not currently possible, you could instead watch movies like "Beyond Rangoon", surf the internet looking for stories about real people with heartbreaking tragedy happening, etc. The point: To put your own problems in perspective.

This is a proven method. When my oldest son was maybe thirteen and bellyaching about being a terrible human being (something he did constantly for a time) because I was crabbing at him for not taking the trash out, a news piece came on about a boy not much older than him being tried as an adult for the murder he committed while robbing a bank. I turned to my son and said "Robbed any banks here lately? Killed anyone? How bad are you, really? If your mother crabbing about the trash is your biggest problem, I suggest you count your blessings. The trash matters. I will crab at you when it doesn't go out. But it is hardly evidence you are evil incarnate." He stopped being neurotic and obsessed and his general anxiety about his worth as a human being largely went away. It never came back.

I learned long ago that while things like romantic relationships matter, much of my "obsessing" about men is a form of entertainment, distraction from more serious problems that I am trying to resolve. On the rare occasion where such thoughts stop being entertaining and/or a mental exercise for helping me sort out what to do in case of x, y or z, it usually only takes me about thirty seconds to wind up laughing at myself for taking it too seriously.

Since you mention a therapist, I will assume you are working on whatever underlying legitimate relationship issues might exist for you.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:21 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd start by trying to observe yourself and taking notes on what you are thinking, what triggers it, where it goes and what are the circumstances when it starts.

When I am tired or in a borderline migraine I tend to start thinking bad thoughts. Also if I am too hot, or hungry, or over stimulated by human interactions. For me it is a given that if I have a lively intense day talking with other people and doing things I am going to have fleeting shreds of panic flitter through my mind, regardless of any other facts about the day, such as if I enjoyed myself thoroughly and so did the other people and we are all eager to get together again.

So it is very worth checking if there are moods below the thoughts that can be disengaged from the thoughts. Sometimes the quickest solution is a mug of milk and a biscuit, or a dark room and some slow tempo music, or a cooling shower.

Sometimes you can get familiar enough with the thoughts that you recognize them and type them. I-have-wasted-my-life or Nobody-loves-me or It-is-all-my-girlfriend's-fault or I-can't-be-happy-until... are examples of these lines of thought. It may be that you have your own and they can be given names. Once you have them labeled you can start to figure out the triggers and spot them when you begin ruminating. With practice you can even get to where you feel the emotion that goes with the spiral of thoughts and start to combat it even before it gets internally verbalized.

It helps to have replacement thoughts. It needs to be something that works and fills your brain so you can choose to think it. One thing you can do is take a project you have always wanted to work on, such as learning to code HTML or getting fit and every time you catch yourself having one of your Bad Thoughts immediately figure out a line of HTML code or do one push-up, while telling yourself positive stuff about how your have finally started to learn to code and are making so much progress - six practice lines already today - or fifteen push-ups since five o'clock! The idea of doing this is to get your brain into the habit of linking the Bad Thought to transitioning to a good and cheering self affirming thought, and getting a toehold on your project.

Your brain is basically on auto-pilot and your consciousness is two (or fifty) beats behind. Your brain is also a jelly of fluctuating chemicals and of electric linkages. If some chemical level goes up you get the Bad Thought and experience it as an internal monologue. If you start on a particular habitual train of thought your brain has an electrical path of least resistance to follow. Lots of things work to raise and lower your levels of brain chemicals-simply smiling, for example causes certain chemicals to start flowing, the same way that thinking putting something tart into your mouth starts the saliva flowing. You can find convenient things that work for you. Try talking out loud about something that makes you happy. Often you can't think two thoughts at once.

Most people find it very difficult to recite all the capitals in Europe and sort them into alphabetical order as they go and still run a mental track of "It's all by girlfriend's fault!" So you can try prayers -"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth..." if there is a prayer that works for you, or bellowing out "Singing in the Rain!" while doing flamboyant but clumsy dance moves, or looking at a photograph of your grandmother, or recite the capitals of Europe, or mentally code HTML or snap an elastic that you wear around your wrist. You just need to figure out what works best for you and turn it into a habit.

Another thing that might work is to picture yourself at an age when you were much more deserving of nurturing and mentoring and start talking to that self, reassuringly and affectionately. Your brain has a not very verbal part that can understand speech but is unlikely to come out with words instead of pictures or feelings. So talk to that part of your brain using the verbal side of your brain and explain that you have taken steps to be happy since your relationship has broken up, that you will always take care of yourself, that in many ways the relationship breaking up is not all bad, and it now leaves you open to getting into a much better relationship.

If you are spending a lot of time back in the past mentally retelling it as a story with a happy ending and this makes you happy, then this is not a bad thing. But if you don't feel happy after you do this, or while you do this it might mean that you are still trying to understand the past so that you can put it into a narrative that satisfies you and let go of the emotions involved. For example if someone misused you and you keep telling stories about how you stood up to them, but the stores don't make you feel good, then there is something missing in your understanding of the past that won't let you put it away. This could be another thought like," I deserved to be misused" or, "If only I had done something different I could fix it, and I should be able to find something I can do now to fix it." . You might still be emeshed in the situation or a relationship that you keep trying to re-tell.

If you are retelling a story there is a reason it keeps recurring. The conflict has not been resolved and the re-tell isn't doing the trick because you haven't figured out what the conflict was. An example might be that you are still blaming yourself for the relationship instead of saying, you know what? Other Person was not someone who could be helped. Or you are trying to hold onto an unrealistic self image - possibly one given to you by the Other Person, when what might work better is to say, no, I never could have done that. I never had the capability to do what I tried to. So maybe try telling yourself your story with a completely different direction, or with completely different actions to see who happens. What happens if you tell the story of fleeing the situation before it even began and going and doing something different that you always wanted to do? What happens if you retell the story mentally but instead of standing up to your abuser and getting into control they escalate the abuse? Is one more believable than the other?

But one important thing about using stories to understand yourself and your past is that it is critical to always give the story a happy ending. That non-verbal part of your brain who is listening to you tell these stories can't completely tell stories from reality. Imagining being in a car accident gives this part of your brain a little bit of the trauma that really being in a car accident would give you. So the story always has to be taken to a conclusion that is comforting and safe and reassuring.

This is one way a ruminating thought can go:

Non-verbal part of the brain: "Scared!!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Ex always used to threaten me!"
Bad Thoughts: "Why didn't I stand up to ex and tell her no? Why didn't I just walk away? I should have just walked away!"
Non-verbal part of the brain: "Still scared!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Ex always used to threaten me!"
Bad Thoughts: "Why didn't I stand up to ex and tell her no? Why didn't I just walk away? I should have just walked away!"
Non-verbal part of the brain: "Scared and ashamed now too!!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Ex always used to threaten me!"
Bad Thoughts: "Why didn't I stand up to ex and tell her no? Why didn't I just walk away? I should have just walked away!"

So what you want to do is train yourself into a different path:

Non-verbal part of the brain: "Scared!!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Ex always used to threaten me!"
Bad Thoughts: "Why didn't I stand up to ex and tell her no? Why didn't I just walk away? I should have just walked away!"
Non-verbal part of the brain: "Still scared!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Wait a sec!! I am ruminating!! Gotta stop this! Now what was it I was going to do...?"
(Five push-ups later)
Verbal part of the brain: I may have been threatened by ex in the past but now I am the kind of person who uses bad experiences to motivate myself!"
Non-verbal part of the brain: "Proud!!"


Non-verbal part of the brain: "Scared!!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Ex always used to threaten me!"
Bad Thoughts: "Why didn't I stand up to ex and tell her no? Why didn't I just walk away? I should have just walked away!"
Non-verbal part of the brain: "Still scared!"
Verbal part of the brain: "Wait a sec!! I am ruminating!! Gotta stop this! Now what was it I was going to do...?"
Verbal part of the brain: "Once upon a time I got into a relationship.....(highly flattering analysis on how you couldn't get out before you did, but the moment you realised how toxic it all was you took every step you could).. and so today, I stand scarred but competent, with much more insight about relationships so nothing like that will ever happen again!"
Non verbal part of the brain: "Proud!"

I think using stories to pull yourself out of a ruminating track is better than just triggering a different train of thought such as envisaging your dream homestead or snapping a rubber band on your wrist, or yodeling "Singing in the Rain" at the top of your lungs, because while these distract you, the conflict remains there underneath everything. Distractions however can be helpful to get you into a state where you can analyze your story so that you can retell it in a way that makes it possible to bring it to a happy ending, integrate it and make your brain do what you would like it to do, so that the obtrusive thoughts and feelings doing just bubble up again some other time. These are chiefly useful because they shunt your train of thought down the track towards your dream homestead instead of allowing it to chug on to the ruminating track. If you can't think about your ex without ruminating, then they are useful to help you at least stop the inexorable juggernaut towards unhealthy monologues.

My examples are probably not particularly apt, especially if you are thinking things like, why oh why did ex leave me, and suffering from the drop in brain chemicals caused by feeling secure or being in love. But the general idea still works.The fact that you keep telling the story over to yourself is not a bad thing. It means that you have story telling as a tool readily at hand to work on integrating things that trouble you from your past and that you are already trying to do this. Once you have figured out how to tell the story so that it makes your non-verbal brain content I think you will find that you have no desire to go over that story any more. Other more exciting and successful stories will replace it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:27 AM on July 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

Two things:

1) If I have some kind of regret or other haunting memory that keeps coming back, I sit down and figure out what lesson I should have learned from it. Sometimes the lesson is just "I need to let that go." Having a remedy to these mindworms dramatically reduces their power.

2) When I get stuck with other counterproductive thoughts I think about tulips. Really concentrate on them, about how they looks, smell, feel and in a surprisingly few seconds the counter productive thought has evaporated. Tulips are the right thing for me because I never think about tulips at any other time and have no other baggage for me. They're roughly familiar enough that they can come to mind easily, but I'm not incredibly familiar with them so it takes some effort to imagine the details. You emergency rescue thought will likely be different.
posted by Ookseer at 9:31 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm similarly wired the same way (I relive the past, revisit conversations in my head) and am constantly obsessed with future scenarios. This is how I dead it, which may or may not work for you.

tl;dr Use those ideas as starting points, but make an action plan, follow through and build more plans. All these plans will contribute towards building tokaidansh 2.0

So here are some examples. Let's use your worries about relationship futures. I would set aside some time, and then think through 1) how to change the negative thought pattern in your head (example below), 2) make steps/plans to also make yourself part of a 0.5% (if you are very picky, I'm guessing you have to be or become the same for your partner), and 3) make plans to run across other women. So let's go through this.

For changing your thoughts, you can do exercises. For example, if you think "I will never have a girlfriend in my life." Make a list of the last few years. Did you have other girlfriends? Women who were interested in you? Look at the evidence in front of you and revisit the original thought and revise. There are ways you can learn about this --Do BT with a therapist, read clinical trials about CBT, or if you want a lay person's book, others in the green may have recommendations.

Now for the steps/plans. Okay, so you have high standards. What makes you stand above the pack or for the type of women you want to attract. Let's pretend that getting in phenomenal physical shape is part of it. Go do research on nutrition. Go do research on exercise plans. Make a plan. Read more. Make another plan. The key part though is do it (so star doing a daily exercise and eating plan). But the interesting part is that rather than have 10% of your thoughts devoted towards relationship, now 3% will be devoted towards that and the rest towards fitness. But the neat thing is can use the energy /obsession about something else from to fuel these other actions. It doesn't need to be fitness; it could be learning how to cook for your dates or acquiring ninja skill whatever ...but use your obsessions to build other things that you want to do. when that partner comes along, you may have (insert the skills and things you build up during thistime).

Since you actually do want to work on the original goal (meet women for your relationship),do something once every (month? 2 weeks?) to encounter women in this setting. It can be a social group, date, redo whatever places and things that you did to meet previous partners , etc. But you are doing this with the hopes of meeting new people, but remember you are working on the other goals.

So now if the thoughts start to enter your head (I will never have a relationship again! Augh!), you can start to think: I'm going to activity X later this month. I'm working on fitness. How can I improve fitness? (The idea is to use the energy and obsessions to go a new direction).

You can do this with the past, too. Let's say you are reliving the breakup or an argument or two before the breakup. It is helpful to revisit to some degree, because you review and hopefully don't do those things again. But you could also go back and say: Was it communication problems that led to this? If it was, then go read a book or two on communication by someone like Gottman. It won't contribute to fixing the past, but it will help help with the future. Do recognize that it wasn't just you that was part of the problem and try to let go, too, but you can use "revisiting" past events to build for the future 2.0 you.

There are some mental health researchers who have proposed that although things like depression, anxiety, etc. to a extreme degree may become an illness and problematic,a small amount can actually serve a purpose. From your description, I think that you could use this to work on all kinds of things that are bothering you (relationship, career, or whatever other worries that you have).

Again, tl;dr Use your obsessions to visit to problem (past/present) and ask yourself "what do you want/need to have to make this successful next time." Do lots of research, make a plan, do it. Let these other plans and research for new skills take over your brain and replace everything else. Then build 2.0 you. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 9:34 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

"How do I stop thinking about things that I shouldn't be thinking about?"

You can't. The mind runs itself, it is impossible to just avoid certain thoughts. Trying to avoid thoughts, well, a thought comes up and you try to swat it away, doesn't work, right? It just comes back. If not during the day then when you dream. At least that is my experience. The power of the thought to trigger you increases the more you try to restrain it. It becomes like a dark area in your psyche that you can try to avoid, but know it is always lurking, just barely out of sight.

An intellectual understanding of how useless most thoughts are (especially negative ones) is a good first step, but it won't actually do anything to assist you on lessening their impact on your well being.

"Help me learn how to control my own mind."

Yup, well, you can't, but you can do things to make life easier, since your mind is not going to go away, neither are negative thoughts. Meditation, yes, is all about this. So is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), making peace with your thinking (this was major for me, starting to become less judgmental about myself and others, and events in my life), and also working with the nature of your thinking. I found meditation too hard at the beginning, my mind was too all over the place. I started with cbt-ish styles of working with negative thinking. There are lots more resources, here are some of my favorite books/teachers on working with the mind's craziness.

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Turning the Mind into an Alley by Sakyong Mipham
There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheryl Huber
Loving What Is by Bryon Katie
posted by nanook at 10:28 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I have intrusive thoughts or worries, I visualize putting the thought into the drawer of a (very specific) dresser and closing the drawer, and then walking away. Other times I visualize the thought as a helium balloon on a string; I open my hand to release it and it goes up and up into the sky until I can't see it anymore.

If I am driving my car and listening to the radio when the thought or worry intrudes, I literally change the station. Somehow that literal act helps me "change the station" in my head and start thinking about other things.
posted by southern_sky at 10:45 AM on July 15, 2012

So, intrusive thoughts are something that most people have, but that some people have to the point where it interferes with their daily life functioning and/or makes it challenging for them to maintain a stable mood.

There is a specific type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder diagnoses where the diagnosis of OCD is based entirely on the client having persistent intrusive thoughts, with no experience of compulsive behaviors. This used to be called "Pure Obsessional Disorder" by some researchers and clinicians, but that term is now considered inaccurate and out of date.

When you are back in session with your therapist, it seems like it would be wise to talk about whether you should be evaluated for OCD on the basis of your experiences with intrusive thoughts. If this turns out to be an accurate diagnosis for you, there are issue-specific treatments for that, including medication and behavioral therapies.

So. In the short term, what coping strategies might help? Lots of good suggestions in this thread already; let me just add the old MeFi standby, Feeling Good, by David Burns, MD.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So much great advice here, thank you so much every one. Just a quick question, I've had "Feeling Good," recommended to me before but neglected to pick it up before I left the states. Just checked on the kindle store to see if it was there and it isn't, does anyone know where I might be able to find it in ebook form? I don't think it's easily available where I am at the moment.
posted by tokaidanshi at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2012

There is no ebook to date. It is out there on pirate sites as a PDF.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2012

You might find you need to try out a variety of approaches because there really isn't a quick fix for any of this. Out of everything I've tried breathing exercises and yoga have netted the quickest benefit because both force me to think about what I'm doing in the moment and both pay it forward by reducing stress in the future. In terms of an approach Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindful Based Stress Reduction has had the most lasting effect. You might also get some benefit from his other books as well.

To put your own problems in perspective.

Who's perspective will set that bar? I don't understand why we are continuing to suggest that comparing the quality of life of one person who's in pain with the life of another as a technique to alleviate suffering is effectual. What is to be gained by holding someone else in judgement like that?
posted by squeak at 2:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

People who have lived through something terrible firsthand, like war, sometimes find more prosaic problems less stressful. One man became very wealthy in real estate. His explanation: He flew more than 100 live missions while in the Air Force and was shot at every single time. After retiring from the military, he figured the stress of commercial real estate would pale in comparison. It apparently did.

The point is a person can choose to (re)set their own bar if they wish. An individual doesn't have to wait for life to stomp on them to conclude that X problem is not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. A person can, instead, choose to look around at life a bit more than people seem to typically do. It's one possible choice, if a person wants to try it. Some people find it helpful.

If "comparing" oneself to another person doesn't sit well, there are other ways to intentionally raise one's own bar, such as perform something very challenging -- train for a marathon, swim the English Channel, climb a mountain, etc. It doesn't have to be physically challenging. That's just the first examples which come to mind.
posted by Michele in California at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2012

Definitely try mindfulness! This is exactly the tool you're looking for, trust me!

I was exactly the same, and my psychologist gave me some mindfulness tracks to listen to every day. It has worked amazingly well. Just 5-10 minutes each day.

Mindfulness is a practice that does two things. At the time when you do it, it (usually) has the immediate benefit of helping to you step outside yourself and stop worrying. And if you do teh exercises every day then it creates new healthy mental habits, so you can easily access that mental state whenever you find yourself over-thinking things.

I have some mp3 mindfulness tracks which I'd be happy send you. Just PM me your email address. Or find mindfulness resources online as JeanDupont suggested.
posted by pablocake at 8:44 PM on July 15, 2012

My brother was greatly helped by Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman. It does discuss obsessive thoughts and how to learn to control them.
posted by theora55 at 9:11 PM on July 15, 2012

Yep. Another vote here for meditation/mindfulness practice.

You sound like a person with a mind, and people with minds usually benefit from meditation! You will see the activity of your mind more clearly, and this will make a little more space inside; you'll get the chance to make choices sometimes about what your mind is doing.

Reliving the past and fantasizing about the future is pretty obsessively the normal state of affairs for most of us... but it's not the only option.

Meditation and mindfulness practice are totally made for exactly the thing you are asking about...

Have fun!
posted by eyesontheroad at 10:21 PM on July 15, 2012

The book I was trying to think of by Kabat-Zinn is "Where Ever You Go There You Are".

Michele in California, I'm not sure you understand the point I was trying to make. Comparing yourself to another is flawed because you're making presumptions about the other persons suffering and how much they suffer; in doing so, you've dismissed the pain felt without examinination. You haven't solved the problem, but you've created a bunch more by being rude and dismissive.

Sometimes I'm not sure I've made myself clear so feel free to memail me if you want.
posted by squeak at 6:40 AM on July 16, 2012

I will answer it here because it seems I have been unclear. The point is not about judging other people. The point is to put your own feelings on the line. It isn't about judging the life or suffering of a cancer patient. It is about doing something as an act of caring for another human being which might make you go home and cry, yet not regret having given of yourself.

When people cry over failed romances, they basically cry for their own sense of loss and don't want to risk their heart again. When they cry over being there for someone else who is suffering, they are more likely to cherish paying the emotional price involved. It can make it easier to put your heart on the line again because win, lose or draw, it is worth the emotional price.

And if that still makes no sense to you and you wish to understand my point of view, you are welcome to email me.
posted by Michele in California at 7:54 AM on July 16, 2012

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