Our mind has this funny habit of getting stuck on one thing or one thought once in a while, causing a good bit of distress. If the thought is frightening or saddening, such as the feeling of an impending accident of a loved one, or fear that a cancer might be developing in the colon because you saw a streak of blood in the stools this morning, it often consumes you and makes the mind get “stuck”, refusing to move elsewhere, generating a great deal of anxiety.
But till such time that the issue is resolved, worrying yourself to catastrophic levels may do you a lot more harm. The solution lies in getting your mind “unstuck”.
There are several thought stopping techniques that can come handy. There is no one-fit-all formula, as we are individuals with separate distinct abilities, inclinations and preferences.
1. Distraction is the commonest method employed by most. It is a good idea to watch a gripping movie, go for a walk, watch television or catch up with friends. It helps to disengage the mind from that “sticky” negative thought. If however, the thought recurs on getting back home or frequently, you may require other methods.
2. Ventilation, by which we meet up with a friend or relative, and talk our heart out, is a frequently used method, especially in India. Getting the load off the chest serves to unburden a great deal. Positive reassurance from the well-wisher can make the negative thought look trivial. But gripping compulsive negative thoughts can be stubborn and return again, and you may have to decide if you are the “auditory” type or “visual” type of person, to go to the next step.
3. For the ‘auditory types’, music could be a great thought breaker. The only catch is that it works well if you try to sing or play, rather than merely listen. While striving to strike the right notes and get the correct tune, the mind gets focused, thus helping push negative thoughts aside. It is not without reason that most religions use music, with chants, bhajans and mantras to create that transforming trance-like state where the mind gets unstuck from daily worries and fears.
4. For the visual types, focusing on a picture (real or from memory) and keeping the mind focused on it for five to 10 minutes, can be a great method. In the initial stages, one can “feel” the mind wandering off frequently to the bushes of negative thought. One needs to recognize this straying, and consciously bring it back and focus it on to the picture for a while. Combining the visual and auditory methods can often add up.
5. Meditation is, of course, the best tool, but it is not easy unless the mind is prepared and trained a bit. Steps 3 and 4 can be the initial steps towards meditation, where the body, breathing, focusing of mind are achieved in harmony.
6.If negative thoughts keep haunting you and pushing you to a state of anxiety, consult your doctor.
Dr Gourdas Choudhuri is the Director & Head of Department of Gastroenterology and Hepato-biliary Sciences at Fortis Memorial Research Institute.