It’s a place of frustration and sometimes distress when a person says “I cant stop thinking” Its accompanied by comments about just wanting to turn off the thoughts or images and have some quiet from the demands. It’s a unpleasant place to be in. I also think its related to the despair that people express when they say " I just can't sleep ". However there are times when the thoughts and images and repetitive stories in our minds become debilitating. They become tiring and ever present. First thing is this. Everybody has them.
Our thoughts are so internal and private no one knows what we personally, are thinking, unless we disclose. The thoughts are multiple and multi themed. They are like the branch of a tree. The more it grows the branches multiply. I think thoughts become distressing when they begin to be unstoppable. The thoughts just go into freefall. They become debilitating because they seem out of our control. The thoughts are debilitating because they are not rooted in the present.
The cascading thoughts are either past thoughts or future thoughts. The past and future thoughts are not in the present reality. Past thoughts,where the past is reauthorised and relived and stepped out in phantasy are not by definition true or even honest. Future thoughts,with future conversations and reactions cannot by definition be true or honest either.
The distress comes from the reasonable and sensible desire for the thoughts to be truthful. For the thoughts to be in the present space of today and this time. Another matter is this. Thoughts past or future manufactured and ruminated over have ourselves as the central character in the drama. We either live in the past in some revised and dramatic way where we can redeem ourselves or cast out some perceived injustice or slight. Or we act out a future scenario where we act as the central character dealing with the anxiety which occupies our thinking.
The significant thing to remember is the thoughts are monologues in our head between ourself and audiences past or future. They are invariably associated with phantom audiences where the monologue is both prosecuted by you and then defended by yourself. The cascading and pain comes out of the fact that you can never out prosecute or outwit the phantom audiences. Nor can you outwit the imagined re-creations of the past or the imagined stories or monologues of the future in your head.
Perhaps the answer lies in what we think about or the rules that we make when we are thinking about a task that needs to be solved.
Perhaps its the difference between fantasy and Imagination. True imagination is creative and even artistic and takes effort. In Imagination you are not the central character in the story. You are attempting to solve a problem or create something or observe something from the perspective of the audience as well as the players on stage. In fantasy you are on the central stage and you can be the villain, the hero , the celebrity or the talent,without any reprecusions or any accountability. You can be a gallant, a Lothario, a slayer of dragons human and otherwise without critique. You also write the script for yourself. Fantasy is never hard work. Imagination requires work. Fantasy and unreality cascades and frustrates. Imagination produces an internal satisfaction or even dissatisfaction. But imagination deals with reality.
In counselling, its not uncommon for people to describe horrible episodes in their past lives, such as the suicide of a parent or a hideous household marked by alcoholism or violence or constant bickering between parents. And it may not just be episodes like that. Some people were very sensitive children, who mask a lot as adults, but still have the same sensitivities, and can be prone to anxiety or to depressive ideation. It is in such contexts they turn to consolation in the fantasy world they retreated to as children. The stories and characters and actions change. But fantasy becomes an established escape and continues unabated into adult life.
So what works ?
Talking to some one who is calm. Its probably a good idea but at 3.20 am they’re not usually available. If they are a 24/7 service like Inwit Consulting you have that available. As long as your employer is associated with a company that Inwit services you can call.
Count your blessings . Yes, that’s what I said. You want to know what breaks the terrible introspective journey, start exactly where you are. What are 50 things you can be thankful for ? Counting your blessings takes you immediately to an honest thinking place. It puts you in touch with reality not fantasy and darkness.If you don't like that idea - feel free to stay where you are. The other place it takes you to is the present.
What is the present ? Its not the past which is done and dusted, and its not the future, which is unknown. The present is the space with all its issues in your present waking and functioning place.
Its also about recognising that at any point in our waking hours, scores of invitations and themes and stories and images enter our thinking zone to be distractions from the present hard reality of life and those invitations urge us to avoid the present or to be entertained or to relive the past or plot out a future where we are the central player. None of this is real.