The self care antidote to rumination

Rumination is over-thinking or obsessing about situations or life events, such as work or relationships.

The constant replay of a stressful event, or rather the story we tell ourselves about that event, entrenches a false belief that makes us think there is a real danger, and distorts how we think and feel – that self-talk that stress sets off.

With the knowledge that this is a thing, it’s common, I was suddenly very compelled to find a way to stop it happening to me. I read A LOT of papers and columns, and they all (there and abouts) said the same thing – the best counter is physical action and relaxation experiences. These can shift our focus of attention and shut off the stuck record. Not rocket science stuff here, but rather something in every persons control.

So, my healthy distractions became:

  • Mastering something outside of work – experiences, particularly involving others, make us happier than material things. Getting really good at something not connected with work gives you a level of control over how you day goes.

I’ve tried my hand at a few things – badminton, improv classes, learning Italian, learning piano (I actually bought one, and ending up selling it for more than I paid – I briefly considered opening an online shop :S). But I haven’t quite found my thing. I figure it’s part of the game, and I’m just going to keep on trying. Maybe I’m mastering trying! I’ve recently booked on a beginners photography course for the New Year.. let’s see.

  • Moving my butt – It’s easy to neglect exercise when rumination or mental exhaustion makes you want to curl up in a duvet. It requires time and energy, starting something new can be daunting, and the whole process doesn’t feel comfortable or familiar at first. But I realise a lot of doing it is making it routine to just get there – I mean physically getting to the place you workout, whether that be the gym, or any sports club or lessons. Then your only focus is on the workout itself, other things melt away for a while.

When I worked my first job I had someone to go with, and the gym was on the ground floor of the office, so exercise made it into my routine. Subsequent jobs didn’t make it easy so I neglected exercise for years. But this year I decided to look into commute options to my current job. I’ve chosen a certain route with a gym situated half way, and I know I do better in the mornings (evenings are for chilling!).

As a side note, it’s a total bonus having complete control over my commute by walking to the gym and on to work from there – no trains, buses, traffic. I didn’t appreciate the low level anxiety I felt with frequent London transport issues, until I decided to walk the 40 minute route each morning.

  • Actively clearing my mind – Meditation is a great way to calm an over-thinking mind, as it’s an exercise in not thinking. Those minutes each day are as much a part of our self care as eating well, getting enough sleep and brushing our teeth twice a day. I often use this time to tell myself a positive affirmation or mantra to ease the troubling thoughts of the day.

Outside of mantra meditation, the most frequent things I do to relax and clear my mind, are: read something inspiring, sit quietly and focus on a lighted candle, cook with my partner, snuggle up with a hot water bottle, take a bath, listen to guided meditation on you tube and i-tunes, spend weekends in the Cotswolds with family (one of my favourite places for nature and a unique stillness), sit in a quiet coffee shop and be in the moment for every sip of coffee – bonus if they have a window to sit by!

  • Listening to music that works for me – it can change our emotional temperature. I now have a growing playlist of meditation, zen and relaxation tracks, sounds of nature and piano music.

The thing about music is I’m often still going about normal everyday life, but this is on in the background as a kind of soother. Someone came up to me in Covent Garden the other day, and asked where I was from. When I replied “London”, he said I was the most chilled Londoner he’d ever seen, whilst we were in the mist of busy Christmas shopper crowds. I was half way through a sleep mediation album. It works in angry crowds too!

There are so many things that can be worked into life to shift our focus of attention, quiet the inner critic, and give your mind a break.

When I don’t feel on top of things in my life I start to find it harder to switch negative thoughts off, so I do these things now even when I feel great. Rather than dwelling, I feel strong enough most of the time to rationalise self-reflection by telling myself a positive story and filling my time with real, self caring experiences.

Emily x


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