I meet a lot of clients who are suffering from overthinking and usually they want to learn how to get rid of overthinking and unwanted thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t always have good news to give them because the studies have shown that if we are trying to push away something, we will become even more conscious about it. We get what we deny or push away. So, this means that by trying to get rid of unwanted thoughts or emotions we are actually making them worse. Suppressing thoughts and emotions is in a way like taking a high interest payday loan which will give you a short-term relief but turn out into bigger problems.
What would then be a better solution than suppressing the thoughts and emotions? Many of us try to get a break from overthinking for example through intoxicants, work, serving others, social media, sports, or movies. These things are good if they are enjoyed reasonably and for the right reasons. If you do them to escape from your emotions and thoughts, you will end up in a dead end.
Although we cannot choose our thoughts and feelings, we can choose how to deal with them. We can learn a new, more accepting, perspective which is more practical also in the long run. Let’s use this metaphor as an example of this accepting perspective.
Imagine you are a bus driver and your thoughts are passengers on board. One yells that you’re a lousy jerk. Another one sits nodding quietly. Two passengers argue over whether you should turn right or left. Some passengers are leaving from the bus and some are getting on board, somebody is always there.
If you start listening to passengers, you will drive a terrible zigzag and you can’t get anywhere. Everyone has their own view of what you should do and what kind of a jerk you are. And if you throw some aggressive passengers out, you’re in trouble. They will get back on board angrier than before with a fist in the air.
Thoughts are not commandments and they don’t need to be obeyed. Instead you should learn to accept your thoughts. Thoughts can be seen as harmless travelers coming and going.
So, as an answer to the headline, thoughts can´t nor should be stopped or pushed away. We may never get rid of some of the uncomfortable thoughts, but as our relation to them changes and becomes more observing and accepting, thoughts become less frequently and no longer have the same power on us.
If you want to learn more about this accepting perspective, I encourage you to read more about Acceptance and Commitment therapy which is a part of cognitive therapy family. Acceptance and commitment therapy has shown to be a very effective treatment for example for depression, anxiety, sleeping problems etc.
Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Clinical Psychologist at Willingness Clinic. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 79291817