How to address massive amounts of mental verbosity
May 11, 2015 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Hi. I would like to explore new ways to address my problem of too many thoughts.

I have been doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for the past 2 years for my OCD which was very very bad. I have exposed and often reappraised my irrational thoughts and I have now overcome most of it. I was able to go back to university and perform very well academically and I am proud of this. However, I cannot say I have returned to "normal" (whatever normal may be) and there is one element of my problem which seems to be ingrained in my mind. Which is why I am here asking this question.

The problem I (still) have now and that I'd like to work on is that I have a LOT of thoughts. Lot of talking in my skull. And that's fine for the most part. I can function very well even with these. Sometimes I might get caught in a thought while watching something or talking to someone but then notice that I wandered and come back here. I think it might have to do with my prefrontal orbital cortex being more active than most people from what research on OCD shows.

In any case, I don't think it's just a problem for people with OCD. I am sure a lot of people in the population have strange, obsessive, irrational , intrusive thoughts that come in their mind as well, although I am not sure about their frequency in others. Having said that, I would like to work on this problem of mine.

Now, it seems to me there are 3 ways this problem can be approached:
1) Completely eliminate all intrusive thoughts
2) Consider the possibility that in fact, this is NOT a problem
3) Have greater capacity to ignore and let go of the thoughts and with time the frequency of intrusive thoughts will decrease as well.

I think 1 is unrealistic (and am ok with not removing all intrusive thoughts ever) and 2 is mistaken (It is a problem since I lose focus that way and it is distracting, although there is no harm physically for example).

And so have tried to work on 3 for the past few months in the normal OCD way of reappraising the irrational thought, or often not even talking to the thought and just letting go. I have done Zen meditation regularly for 30 minutes to 1h per day for the past 2-3 months. And yet, I still wake up with a bombardment of thoughts every morning. And I still have intrusive thoughts all day long. It keeps talking to me. The thing is sometimes/often what my mind says is interesting, so I listen to it voluntarily sometimes. But to do that, it seems that I must have a sort of screening process and therefore I do not let go automatically of every incoming thought.

(Breathes heavily...) Ahhhh... As you can see, I am very introspective, and I think this is very nice, and I also like to experiment. So if there is anyone out there who went through this same problem, what have worked for you? If you are a psychologist, I would greatly like to try new therapy techniques if there are any that works. Or maybe there is something in my problem I am not seeing. Maybe I need to keep doing what I currently do for one more year for the effects to be seen. All these are interesting avenues...
posted by iliketothinknu to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Meditation is called a practice for a reason. It's not about the number of times you do it, or how long you sit. I have been meditating regularly for the past 30 years and I still battle monkey mind regularly too. Something that works for me when my brain goes bonkers with too many thoughts is interrupting - when I notice it's happening, I call a break and meditate for a couple of minutes until I feel clearer and I can reset and move on. It's not just you - you're all good. :)
posted by deliciae at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I recommend the animated videos over at Headspace.
They're a great education and a great reminder that while we can never 'get rid' of our thoughts, we always have the choice to watch them drift by, like leaves caught in a gentle mountain stream.
Once the leaf is out of our field of vision, we can just gently look at the next leaf.
We don't need to jump into the stream and try to direct the leaf elsewhere, we just need to let it drift.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 9:44 AM on May 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Meditation and mindfulness absolutely helps, and it's a slow curve.

However, as an adjunct: perhaps it would help if you make time to exercise. A lot. If you can take up an intense cardio activity (I prefer running most of the time, personally, but strenuous yoga practice or just about anything physically exhausting), and engage in it for at LEAST an hour most days, it might be possible to quiet down some of that "noisy thought syndrome." It works for me,* anyway, especially afterward.

*obvious n=1, severe OC features have been the most treatment-resistant of my issues.
posted by Naamah at 10:00 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A simple thing I've found helpful is "formatting" my thinking as like a CNN-style news crawl. Like whatever's going on IRL is the picture & sound, the main news, and my constant stream of thoughts is the line of text running across the bottom of the screen. It's always there, but I don't have to focus on it.

(And nthing continued meditation practice. My experience has been that my relationship to my thinking can be problematic; the thoughts themselves are not.)
posted by generalist at 10:27 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't have a great suggestion here but do want to say that from what you're saying, you have done a lot of work on this and it has improved your situation. So I hope this thread provides some additional ideas but also I hope you can view your work as successful even as you continue to be burdened by this.
posted by latkes at 10:45 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know if I have this problem as badly as you do, but I do know that I certainly have a very cluttered mind and that my thoughts often distract me. So I can relate, at least a little. I will second the point deliciae made about meditation. Zen meditation in particular, is not really about trying to make your thoughts go away--like trying to go to sleep, the harder you try, the more frustrated you will be. Just observe your thoughts coming and going. Eventually, your mind should quiet down. It might not. If it doesn't, try not to get upset and just keep observing the mental noise from a place of relative detachment. Every time you do it, you'll meet with differing levels of success. That's kind of just how the mind is.

Do you write? You talk about being distracted by thoughts you find interesting--if you find a particular thought interesting, write it down. See if you can develop it. By giving yourself that particular thought-stream to focus on, it might help you tune out all the other mental chatter.

What is your environment like? Is it distracting? Is it not distracting enough? If it's distracting, try to find somewhere peaceful and quiet to go for a while. If it's too boring and your mental chatter is driving you stir-crazy, maybe go for a walk and distract yourself by focusing intently on your environment.

These are just things that work for me, and of course YMMV. I hope you find a way to make it work.
posted by zchyrs at 11:16 AM on May 11, 2015

How exactly are you practicing zen meditation? I would need more details but it might not be the right kind of meditation for you right now. Especially if it is "meditate on nothing" or "observe the flow of your mind" type meditation, which can be very challenging for those with OCD / excessive thoughts. It doesn't train your mind to be focused per se. Only focusing on one thing trains you to be focused.

Try meditating on the breath. Like, focus on the physical sensation of the breath as it goes in your nose and out your nose. If you have any thought that is not observing the breath, let it go or push it away. Not even "huh my breath seems shallow today." Nada. Just focus 100% on that physical sensation of the breath at the nostrils. And always keep coming back to it, even if you get distracted.

I would say it does take a lot of time, on the order of months to year(s), to re-train a particularly entrenched habit such as you describe. So keep at it!

When you are not meditating, then try to keep your actions slower paced and deliberate and present. What am I doing / saying / feeling / thinking right now? Just try to keep aware of that. You don't need to change it necessarily, but just notice it.

The attitudinal foundations of mindfulness is helpful outside of meditation as well. Pick one and "work" that one for the day.

Finally if you're stuck on a thought... it's because you're attached to it. So try to understand what it is about a particular thought that is so alluring. And if it's a nonsensical stream, then why now? Why do I need this stream so much? Is there anything else going on? Am I afraid of the silence underneath the noise? Just explore what the thoughts mean for you, why they seem to hook you so well. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:58 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

You sound like you have many good tools in your kit. Sometimes it can take a while to see the kinds of results you want, so be patient, you're doing all the right things!

I found The Power of Now really helpful -- especially the part where he talks about just observing your thoughts and gaining some distance between 'you' and your 'mind'. Once I stopped defining myself by my thoughts, and viewing them as separate from 'me', turning down the volume on them became much easier.
posted by ananci at 4:07 PM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

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