What is causing my brain strain?
March 11, 2006 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Questioning my core beliefs causes me mental discomfort, which is understandable, but it also starts to cause me physical brain discomfort if I persist, which lingers...

This brain discomfort is not like a headache which is something that I can also get that I was asking MeFi about earlier... The best way to discribe it is that theres been a brain chemistry spill from overload... If I persist in trying to philosophize about stuff that questions the core of my existence I may get into a panic... If I just try to think about normal stuff, the blood starts pumping in my head in a way that I can see in the mirror from the veins popping out. So basically I have to stop thinking for a while. I dont expect to be back to normal now until tomorrow morning. I plan to see someone in some medical capacity, but I was wondering if anyone has experienced anything like this. My theory is that the brain is an organ that can be overloaded like any other. When I think hard and put it through its paces (rather frantically sometimes) I think theres only so much it can physically take...
posted by dino terror to Health & Fitness (23 answers total)
these things are best worked out in dialogue, with a friend both critical and sympathetic. talk it through!
posted by ori at 6:22 PM on March 11, 2006

Sounds like hypomania to me, or something of that sort. You're working yourself too hard, too stressed, etc. Although hypomania is pushing it. I think it sounds like a standard stress symptom, which may result in a hypomanic episode (among other things).

If its that bad I recommend relaxation techniques, taking it easy on the "big questions of life," etc. If that doesn't help you might want to consider counseling.
posted by skallas at 6:24 PM on March 11, 2006

Also, if these are truly panics you should ask yourself if you think you have some kind of anxiety disorder. Usually neurotics gets caught up on the "big questions" and overload themselves with the burden. Thats stressful and might lead to minor panic attacks.
posted by skallas at 6:26 PM on March 11, 2006

Are they religious thoughts that cause you to panic? Or just philosophical thoughts in general? Were you brought up in a highly religious household? I only ask to understand more fully what is the cause.

I feel the same way as you lately, albeit to a much lesser degree. I sympathize and hope you are able to remedy it as soon as possible.
posted by orangeshoe at 6:44 PM on March 11, 2006

Its bad timing for me to be asking this now while Im in the middle of one of these episodes but I wont be able to see someone at my school until monday I presume and I see this as becoming a more common occurrence with me... so Im not in the best mental shape...

Basically the things that cause me distress/discomfort are thoughts like 'I need to get out of this culture. Its all backward. Im getting more screwed up. If I dont get out now I'll become another zombie.' And I push myself to get to the bottom of the problem with why I have a problem with this culture, trying to gain momentum to make a breakthrough...

I think the problem is thoughts that cause anxiety combined with me pushing these thoughts and not backing off. (I can think hard about non-anxiety causing things fine). So either I need to find a way to deal with these problems in a detached way (which is hard because they are concerning myself and perhaps my emotional involvement will help guide my thoughts), or get to the root of why each thought causes me anxiety and expose it or something because part of it is just a deep fear that everything is at stake unless I can figure everything out.

I dont want to make this chronic and just not be able to think about anything without an anxiety like doubting every thought that comes into my head, and I dont want to try to push it and perhaps 'lose my mind' if only temporarily because my limited understanding of mental illness leads me to think that you arent the same after youve gone over the edge and its easy to have a relapse...
posted by dino terror at 7:10 PM on March 11, 2006

I think the technical term for this is "freaking yourself the fuck out". If I start thinking about bears while I'm hiking in the woods alone or vampires while I'm in the basement doing laundry I get remarkable similar symptoms. Athletes are also prone to this, especially when they try to think positively about an upcoming performance at the same time as trying to superstitiously refrain from thinking about winning. Your brain literally starts racing. Trying to stop your brain from doing anything at all and needing a nap after you calm down are common symptoms.
posted by fshgrl at 7:10 PM on March 11, 2006

You're not going to lose your mind, my friend. You're also not going to burn your brain out or otherwise damage it by any kind of thinking. I am a board-certified neurologist and I promise you that this is true.

However, the sorts of things you're describing are the very unpleasant manifestations of anxiety. Psychologists might tell you that you have subconscious conflicts, and that when you try to think your way past the defense mechanisms your mind has put in place for you, your mind throws up another defense - which is the production of these unpleasant feelings.

Give these kind of thoughts a rest, my friend. Trust your subconscious to take care of you and keep your ego integrated. And if you find that you are not in command of your thoughts, and that these awful feelings continue to pester you despite your best efforts, you should consider going to your university health service to get some counseling. The kind of troubles you describe are easily helped by someone trained to do so.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:37 PM on March 11, 2006

I definitely agree anxiety plays a part in bringing it on, but I dont feel in any panic right now, yet my brain feels 'messed up' and I just dont want to think hard and I cant wait until I go to bed so I can wake up back to normal hopefully. If it were a headache it would make perfect sense. Ive given myself a headache and I have to wait until it goes away. Except its not a headache. Its something messed up feeling...
posted by dino terror at 7:52 PM on March 11, 2006

Dino: 'I need to get out of this culture. Its all backward. Im getting more screwed up. If I dont get out now I'll become another zombie.' And I push myself to get to the bottom of the problem with why I have a problem with this culture, trying to gain momentum to make a breakthrough...

As you think these thoughts, realize that you are in a place of discomfort, and you are thinking about thoughts that you think will solve the discomfort, and by solving it will get you out of the discomfort. Now, as you realize exactly where you are at, ask yourself "how can my thought process be diffferent?" and notice how your mind goes towards solving this and you might find that you are in a more comfortable place that will continue to become more comfortable as it becomes more familiar.

Next time you have voices in your head that seem to be overloading you, notice the voices' properties. Are they loud or soft? Are they near or far? Where exactly are they coming from in relation to your body? Are they slow or fast? What type of voice is it? And after you've identified the properties of these voices, notice how your response to them is affected by changing these properties (submodalities). Some of these property combinations will make you pay attention to the voices more while others will make the voices almost inconsequential. For example, it may be that changing the voice from close, loud, fast and high to far, behind you, soft, slow and low will practically filter the voice's effects out and allow you to choose your involvement/connection to the material at that time much more easily.

Once you've figured out what works you can try to make the change automatic. Think of the voice in the original way and then very very quickly change its properties. Do this a few times and your brain will quickly learn that you like to have your thoughts presented in this more comfortable way.

BTW this is all NLP type stuff.
posted by blueyellow at 8:15 PM on March 11, 2006

Your brain needs the exercise, and then your brain needs to rest. If you're like me, sleeping is not rest for my brain (it just causes insomniac thinking).

You need the other sleep - meditation.
posted by mediaddict at 8:45 PM on March 11, 2006

dino terror: your agreement or disagreement is pretty much irrelevant. The things you're worried about can't happen. You've also got an idee fixe going, which is rendering much of the conversation in this thread useless.

Get off the computer, go to your university health service, and talk to someone who is trained in helping people with problems like yours.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:18 PM on March 11, 2006

For immediate relief, follow mediaaddict's link above and follow the instructions therein.

The human brain is a hell of a horse to ride, and meditation is the only riding school I know of.
posted by tkolar at 11:30 PM on March 11, 2006

See a shrink. Ikkyu2 is right about university health, that would be the first place to go. Fixing this could be as simple as taking some antibiotics.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 AM on March 12, 2006

er, antidepressants, not antibiotics.

I need some sleep.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 AM on March 12, 2006

dino terror: You are not hearing voices, you have having thoughts. You may be experiencing anxiety, but there is nothing in what you are describing that is psychosis. You don't need something else to worry about :)

As for your thoughts, this world is screwed up. I sometimes think I am living in a huge insane asylum and don't belong there. What I do is go down to the local mall that attracts people from all over the world. It is reassuring how normal everyone is.

Anxiety can be very unpleasant and it is certainly something to talk over with a therapist, be beware of labeling yourself as worse than you really are. Good luck.
posted by phewbertie at 2:53 AM on March 12, 2006

One thing that has helped me is to realise that society is screwed up in some ways, and to take small actions to try to change it. Getting out of a closed thought-cycle and into the world of action alleviates physical symptoms of anxiety from these thought patterns.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:11 AM on March 12, 2006

Do you sleep more than eight hours per day average?
posted by roboto at 5:46 AM on March 12, 2006

dino terror, the first sign of your sanity is your fears that you may be losing it. You are perseverating on a construct that has no conclusion. The Undertoad, as John Irving called it. You are thinking in a circuitous fashion, i.e. "what if x happens" knowing full well that if it did it would seem horrific to you but also not acknowledging that there's really no likely reason it would. This is classic. If you had ikkyu's or my vantage point, you'd see how common this is. And yes, it truly is a variant of panic and anxiety. You aren't going to wind up on the streets pushing a shopping cart wearing a tinfoil hat. But you may piss away a lot of good days caught in this loop of yours, when it's possibly the most treatable sort of psychological issue on the planet.

fwiw, I know at least two other people during med school who went through this. And those are just the ones that fessed up.

Good luck. Talk to someone live asap. Get some exercise, and stay away from caffeine.
posted by docpops at 7:24 AM on March 12, 2006

Thanks for the advice folks... Interesting tidbit on the dangers of meditation on wikipedia fwiw
posted by dino terror at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2006

From the article:
Stories of unguided practitioners or inexpertly guided students developing chronic mental and physical health problems as a result of their attempts at meditation training are not uncommon.

Well, my knees do hurt sometimes. And more than once a body part has gone to sleep.

I do like the concept of meditation as an extreme sport though. And I would absolutely love to see a Surgeon General's warning about sitting quietly and counting your breaths. Haven't people suffered enough?

Humor value aside, there have certainly been cases where meditation has triggered psychotic reactions. The numbers on this are extremely thin, though -- largely anecdotal on both sides. It's not clear to me that the incidence of psychotic reaction from meditation is higher than the incidence of psychotic reaction from, say, sitting around with your brain making frenzied thought loops.

Personally, I'd risk it.
posted by tkolar at 11:29 AM on March 12, 2006

By the way, just to add some context, the quote above was taken from the section on Qigong, a practice that from the outside looks a lot more like faith healing than meditation.
posted by tkolar at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2006

possibly the most treatable sort of psychological issue on the planet.

Yes, yes, yes.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2006

My friend has these. He calls them 'derealization trips.'

It's like 'consciousness' version of the old 'say scissors a million times and it'll stop sounding like a word' paradox.

They are, in a way, refreshing. If you look at it positively--for me, humans tend to view things in a very linear fashion. So the few times you feel out of your mind or body (quick example is drugs, but it's why I love them) are perfect for mental explanation.

Marvel, don't get frustrated. Obviously there's a factor of frustration, but instead of, "Why do I exist?!!!!!" something like, "Wow...why do I exist?"
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

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