The other day I had an argument with a family member that spiraled into me spending the better part of an afternoon thinking about all the past wrongs this person had done to me and worrying about what it will be like when I interact with them next. I’m less bothered by the specifics of this incident with the family member, and more this tendency to dwell on negative things and let them consume so much of my time. What can I do to brush things off better and worry less?
It’s been raining on much of the Eastern seaboard, which means extended time in close quarters with family members for a lot of people. Cabin fever can set in as early as 2 pm on a rainy day, and by dinner time, battle lines are drawn. It can be really tough. Rainy day card games can’t fix everything.
Since I live alone I’ve spent part of this rainy day on my own, cleaning, sorting, cooking ( I made steak!!) and preparing this post of course.
I know what this is like, this problem of yours. I have a tendency as well to sit and ruminate over things for way too long. I think part of the problem is believing that you can “unravel” the issue by poring over the facts and looking for patterns. The problem for people like me and maybe you is that you can create patterns and connections in situations that aren’t really real, and are just produced by imagination, hurt, and the overthinking process in general. Then you’re stuck in this situation of being mad, or upset or anxious or whatever the feeling is that this situation brought on, and you can’t quite get out again.
There are several ways I deal with this. One is to try to limit the amount of time I’m going to dwell on the topic. I know I’m going to do it anyway, just sit there and replay the conversation or go through the steps of what happened, so I might as well just get down to it and try to keep it short. I even set a kitchen timer for ten or fifteen minutes so I can be sure to keep to the prearranged time. (The timer technique is also a key element to a method of time management known as the Pomodoro Technique. Worth looking into.) Sometimes, rather than setting the timer, I’ll add my worrying/stressing to another activity, as in “I’ll worry about how that meeting didn’t go according to plan while I go for a run, and get as worked up as I want to while I’m running.” Whatever technique you use, you have to STOP worrying about the thing when the time or the activity is up. It will be really, really hard at first but it takes practice. If you need to schedule another worry session for hours or days from now, go ahead, but for now you’re done.
This works for me because “stop worrying” is like saying, “stop thinking about a pink elephant.” Suddenly all I can do is worry, or sit and picture a placid elephant, bedecked in pink wrinkles and peppermint stripes, munching leaves against a darkening savannah sky.
By just allowing yourself to worry (or pout or rage or whathaveyou) but only for a limited time, you’re sort of making a deal with yourself. You’re giving into your dwelling tendencies but only if you can get some time back to move on in a healthy manner, which is what you really need. “Both of you” win.