I have a very busy brain. That’s not a bad thing, but occasionally it can be a problem, especially when I get stuck in a loop of negative thinking.
Does that ever happen to you? Do you find yourself going over and over a past or current situation that makes you feel bad, sad, or uncomfortable? No matter how often you tell your brain to “just let it go,” you can’t seem to release those emotions and thought patterns. This is known as rumination and everybody does it to some extent.
There are two types of ruminating—reflective and brooding. The former means you’re trying to analyze or gain useful insight from a negative experience in order to find a solution or gain greater understanding.
The second type is less beneficial. When you brood about something that’s attached to negative emotions, you go over and over it, focusing on perceived mistakes or criticizing yourself. This can interfere with normal mental functioning like your ability to engage in daily tasks, connect with others, feel positive emotions, or concentrate.
Conditions like anxiety, depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder all share an element of brooding rumination. That doesn’t mean if you find yourself caught in a negative brain loop, you’re experiencing one of the above. I’m simply pointing out that it isn’t a healthy place to spend a lot of time.
Research shows that if you ruminate in a brooding way, you’re more likely to:
• Focus on the negative aspects of your life and blame yourself for them.
• View your future with a sense of hopelessness.
• Have a more negative perspective of your current life.
Because I spend a lot of time in my head, you can imagine my interest when I came across a study that suggests a new way to find an off switch for your brain if it’s brooding. The results indicate you can actually reduce depression and anxiety by forcing yourself to think more broadly. This isn’t a new idea, but the activity involved in this particular study is.
Participants who were asked to read lists of progressive words showed significant mood improvement when compared to those who read lists of stagnant words.
A stagnant list comprises of words that all share the same theme. For example, it could be a series of vegetables or types of food. (apple, pear, grape, lettuce, carrot, turnip, pumpkin, cucumber, etc.) By comparison, words in a progressive list are related to the previous one but then expand to another topic. (apple, worm, book, school, teacher, learning, skill, job, etc.)
Try creating a progressive list the next time you want your brain to release a negative loop.
1. Begin with any word. I find a noun the easiest place to start. Apple is one of my favourites.
2. What does your starting word make you think of? If you choose an apple and then another fruit springs to mind, let that one go and find something related but not a fruit. You might go pie, but don’t let all your words be types of food.
3. Write down your progressive list and read it aloud. You don’t have to create a new list to experience the benefits. You can use these same words next time you notice yourself brooding. Consider keeping a list on your phone. You can always use the one I created as an example.
Progressive lists aren’t the only way to broaden your mind. Here are some alternative ways to help you see the forest rather than a single tree.
• Play strategy games that involve thinking several steps in advance. Chess is a good example.
• Look for multiple perspectives. Try to think of all the possible angles a situation could be viewed from. You don’t have to agree with them, you just want to be aware of their existence.
• Travel. Like the saying goes, this is a great way to broaden the mind. Experiencing other cultures and ways of doing things is a powerful way to expand your view of the world.
• Keep learning new skills, especially if they push you out of your comfort zone.
You don’t need to avoid ruminating, but if you find yourself brooding rather than reflecting, pull out that list of progressive words, or create a new one.
Brain games aren’t just for entertainment. They can also boost your sense of wellbeing making you a happier person.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.