How to Get Your Mind to Stop Spinning
Even though we all worry at times, some of us aren’t able to turn off bothersome, intrusive thoughts. Although it may not warrant a visit to a therapist, having repetitive negative concerns circling through your mind can cause tension, stress, stomachaches, headaches, and irritability. Your day-to-day thoughts and behaviors also have a powerful effect on your brain chemistry. They can affect your moods, motivation, and ability to focus and follow through on things.
Maurie, 32, worried incessantly about his job and despite getting good performance reviews, he was sure his boss didn’t like him. The constant worry frequently upset him. He couldn’t get the thoughts out of his head—they looped over and over and over. No amount of rational inner dialog could get them to stop. The swirling thoughts filled Maurie with tension, gave him headaches, and made him feel irritable. He wanted help to make his mind stop spinning.
The Brain’s Gear Shifter at Work
People like Maurie, who get stuck on negative thoughts, often have too much activity in the brain’s frontal lobes, especially in an area called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). The ACG is like the brain’s gear shifter. It helps you go from thought to thought or from action to action. It is involved with being mentally flexible and going with the flow.
When ACG activity is heightened, usually due to lower serotonin levels, people can have trouble shifting attention. They are also prone to worry and hold on to hurts from the past and tend to have cognitive inflexibility and rigidity. In severe cases, it is associated with obsessive compulsive disorder.
A brain scan using a technology called SPECT showed that Maurie had an overactive ACG. Here are some of the strategies Maurie used to help him balance his brain and gain control of those racing thoughts.
5 Strategies to Stop Getting Stuck on Negative Thoughts
1. Practice Thought Stopping
Whenever you notice thoughts looping or getting stuck in your head, imagine seeing a traffic stop sign in your head and silently say to yourself, “STOP. THIS IS MY ACG GETTING STUCK!” Some people have had success by wearing a rubber band around on their wrists and snapping it when they notice thoughts starting to loop.
2. Notice When You’re Stuck, Distract Yourself, and Come Back to the Problem Later
A primary way to overcome a busy ACG is to notice when you’re stuck on a thought and do something to distract yourself. For Maurie, every time one of these negative thoughts came into his mind, he would sing a song. This worked for him. He liked the music, and he felt that it gave him a measure of control over his bothersome thoughts.
You may find it helpful to make a list of a variety of things you can do to distract yourself when you get hit by harassing thoughts. Here are some examples:
• Sing a favorite song.
• Listen to music that makes you feel positive.
• Take a walk.
• Do a chore.
• Play with a pet.
• Do structured meditation.
• Focus on a word and do not allow any other thoughts to enter your mind (imagine a broom that sweeps out all other thoughts).
3. Write Out Options and Solutions
When you’re stuck on a thought, write it down. This helps to get it out of your head. Seeing a thought on paper makes it easier to deal with it in a rational way. After you write out a thought that has “gotten stuck,” generate a list of things you can do about it and things you can’t do about it. For example, if you’re worried about possible layoffs at work, do the following:
Write out the thought:
“I’m worried that I will get laid off and will be out of work.”
Make a list of the things you can do to offset the worry:
“I can do the best job I can at work to make myself indispensable.”
“I can make sure the boss knows I am willing to learn new skills.”
“I can update my résumé and skills just in case I do get laid off.”
Make a list of the things you can’t do about the worry:
“I can’t make the decisions about layoffs for the boss.”
“I can’t control the timing of when layoffs might occur.”
“Worrying about it will not help.”
4. Seek the Counsel of Others
When all of your efforts to get rid of repetitive thoughts are unsuccessful, it’s often helpful to seek the counsel of others. Finding someone with whom you can discuss your worries can be very helpful. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.
5. Boost Serotonin to Calm Your Busy Brain
People with an overactive ACG who get stuck on negative thoughts often do better when they boost serotonin. Some helpful ways to do it include:
- Eating complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans are a healthy way to boost serotonin.
- Exercising can be very helpful in calming worries because it increases brain levels of l-tryptophan, which can boost serotonin.
- Omega-3 fatty acids (the kind that are higher in DHA), 5-HTP, inositol, tryptophan, and St. John’s Wort are the most helpful supplements to raise serotonin and calm this part of the brain.
If your negative thinking patterns are impacting your performance at work or school, causing problems in your relationships, or keeping you from living the life you want, it’s time to seek help. At Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of people change their thinking patterns and change their brain so they can feel better, perform better, and interact better.
To find out how we can help, call 888-288-9834 to speak to a specialist or schedule a visit online.