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What To Do With Repetitive Thoughts In Your Head?

 You’re in a pub with your friends. Suddenly in the back of your head, you have a thought — “They think I’m an idiot. They would probably reject me.” In response, you try to distract yourself, focus on drinking and withdraw from those around you. 

Illustration by Mamewmy

Take another scenario where you have travelled across a town to visit a friend at 11am, but he doesn’t show up. To interpret the situation, you may say — “He doesn’t like me.” Now you’re distressed and later that evening you experience difficulty in falling asleep.

Williams in a 2018 report stated that these repetitive thoughts occur because of an existing bias against ourselves. In such a case, you overlook your strengths, downplay your achievements and focus on your weaknesses. He explains that, when you have thoughts like ‘others don’t like me’ - you are attempting to evaluate how others see you. What they are thinking of you would be your core concern. 

Similarly thoughts like ‘Oh, i should have responded better’, ‘It’s all my fault’ — portray that you bear all the responsibility. This could mean that you take blame for things when it goes wrong even if its not your fault.

You’re Not Stupid — It’s Just Those Brain Mechanics.

  • Yea, I have not performed my previous projects well
  • It is indeed a situation people could feel nervous about.
  • I need more practise to perform in an expected way

On an average people hold about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts during a normal day, of which 95% are repetitive and 80% are negative as per a recent statistic. The more frequent these thoughts occur, the harder it gets to dismiss. 

The brain mechanics have been able to explain our daily struggles concerning these repetitive thoughts. For instance, Psychology Today suggests that as individuals, we have a tendency to remember information and process when needed. However, they turn repetitive when you are unable to shift your attention from such information.  

It serves a purpose after-all. By replaying the details of a situation, you feel self-soothed.

If only I think hard enough, I’ll know what to do.” — It runs on a false belief that by repetitively thinking about something, it will help solve your problems. 

As a result, you repeat scenarios in your head all day long and come up with an endless list of interpretations. Unfortunately, none of these interpretations help you reach a conclusion. This way, the thinking cycle never ends, even if you want to.

Switch Your Brain Gears

Addressing the concern, in a 2020 article, Jamie Elmer suggested that one may simply emphasise on making gradual mental shifts towards thought alternatives, instead of fighting against existing thoughts. Break down the thoughts into specific alternative situations.

I’m gonna mess it up

Breaking down into alternative thoughts can look like:

She further explains that shifting may mean that — you would be consciously and intentionally stopping a thought pattern, which can disable your thoughts from looping. 

However, it could be a matter of unlearning, undoing and relearning of these negative behavioural patterns to engage towards a gradual constructive thoughts. 

These constructive shifts are not about switching from ‘being sad’ to ‘being happy.’ You will still have those blue days, when no matter what, nothing is changed. In these times, you climb the first step when you acknowledge the feeling of overwhelm rather than acting defensive. Doing so, will save your energy from fighting back with your 100%, enabling you to create room for alternatives.


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