Have you ever noticed that if you are having a difficult thought or mood, that it can get much worse when you mull things over in your head?
This article is to alert you to the possibility that, when your mood goes from bad to worse, it is you that is doing it!
This article will be of interest to you if you have
- Intrusive thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Health anxiety
- Negative thought patterns.
I am going to give a brief overview of how this works, and then relate it to the areas that I noted above.
A difficult thought may occur randomly, or you could experience an unpleasant emotion. More often than not, if the thought stays, or if the emotion intensifies, it is due to something that you are doing.
Let me start with an example. Let’s say you are feeling just fine, and I insult you. Naturally this could make you feel bad; your mood has changed. This occurs pretty much automatically and there is not much you can do about it, but you can choose what happens next.
Often, (if you are a normal human being) you will not even be aware that you have a choice!
If I insulted you, it would be my words that caused the change in your mood. This is not strictly true, it would be the meaning that you attached to my words that caused the pain.
If I meant nothing to you, my insult may not hurt. However, if my opinion of you was important to you, there is a stronger chance that my words will hurt.
If you are able to move quickly past the insult; the pain will fade and your mood will return to normal. However most of us don’t work that way. You might try to ‘make sense of it’ by going over it again and again in your mind.
The pain intensifies, and you might now be feeling anger at me!
You would be forgiven for thinking at this stage that I am trying to turn you into a walkover; free to insult and not challenge anyone opinions. I am not trying to do that, rather I want to introduce you to the element of choice.
If I insult you, you can choose what to do next. You can quickly weigh it up in your head; was it a flippant insult, will your life change because of it?
If it was a small matter you can decide to do nothing. This does not make you a pushover, rather it gives you control over your own emotional state.
Many people get stuck at this bit. They want to defend themselves and stand their ground.
It might be easier if I flipped the example and pretend that you insulted me. If you insulted me and I decided that it was a small matter I have 2 choices;
- mull it over
- Do nothing
What happens if I mull it over?
I am still hurt. I am now thinking of other times that you hurt my feelings as my brain will want to make connections with what is happening now. These connections are not helping, but that’s how the brain works.
I am now angry, and it has nothing to do with the initial insult. I am angry at a thought relating to you doing something last year that I did not like!
My feelings not only intensify, but now I have a new negative emotion to spoil my day – anger.
If I choose to ignore the insult as I weighed it up quickly in my mind and realised it was not important, my mood quickly returns to normal as I am not doing anything that will intensify the emotion or create other negative thought processes.
Important point to note
Misery loves company. If you mull it over in your head, your brain will quickly match up other instances when I annoyed you.
You will find it hard to see all the other times when I did not annoy you or my company was neutral.
Unfortunately we do not see that we have a choice, and more often than not will end up with a mood much worse than the initial insult warranted.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that this will be of interest to those of you who have certain difficulties and I want to talk about that now.
If you have an anxious thought and mull it over, you will more than likely end up with more than the initial anxious thought in your head.
Due to the fact that your thoughts can make you feel something in your body, there is every chance than you will now feel anxiety.
Tip Note that you are having an anxious thought, you can label it as that. Rather than going into the content of the thought and analysing, just tell yourself “I am having an anxious thought” and carry on with what you were doing before the thought arrived.
Read more on anxiety here
If you experience unwanted thoughts or images you will know only too well that it can be difficult to just let the thought go; but it is not impossible.
You will want to mull it over in your head as you will need some sort of reassurance that the thought is not true.
However, doing this will not only increase the intensity of the thought but will make you more likely to have the thought in the future. You can read more on this here
Read more on Intrusive Thoughts here
Like the anxiety example above, if you have an anxious thought and analyse it, this will lead to more anxious thoughts.
If you feel any symptom relating to panic, if you focus all your attention on this, you will probably notice more symptoms in your body (that are perfectly normal) and are more likely panic.
It’s like your brain has a spotlight and you are shining it only on the negative thoughts and emotions.
Read more on panic attacks here
Picking up on what I said above about your brain acting like a spotlight. If you have a thought about your health and you shine a light on in, you will fail to notice all other evidence that will let you know that you are okay.
Label your thought. Try to resist the urge to analyse it or seek reassurance. Tell yourself “I am having an anxious thought.”
Read more on Health Anxiety here
The one thing that I would like you take from this article is that you have a choice when something is making you anxious.
Most of the time you will not be aware that you have a choice and will default into the analysis which will make you feel worse by intensifying the emotion and giving you secondary emotion.
By secondary emotion, I mean the initial thought or feeling is what hurt you first; you have no control over that. Mulling it over in your head is what gives you the secondary pain and this you have control over if you exercise choice.