Have you ever had a string of bad luck, things not going well with your job, finances, intimate relationship, friendships, neighbors; car trouble, sleep issues, health issues, all at once? Bad things seem to come in multiples, and at times nothing seems to be going right. At other times negative changes seem sudden; one day things are fine and the next everything is going wrong. Some Eastern philosophies even predict that there will be periods of bad luck in one’s life. When faced by too many negatives, it is hard to find the upside; you see only the dark clouds and feel overwhelmed. Your mind struggles, trying to think its way out, often catastrophizing; “I will lose my job, my house, my friends…” This struggle makes things worse and is what therapy can help with.

The stress of being overwhelmed—the mind struggling—affects your nervous system, the emotional control center that can suppress the feel-good chemicals and produce the “not feeling great” ones, compounding overthinking. Being overwhelmed is a whole body experience and is not good for us physically and emotionally. The mind can make us ill, and compounds an already tough time. Also, when the going gets tough we often stop doing the things that help–talking to good friends, sleeping well, eating, exercising, taking time to put things into perspective.

Overthinking is like being in quicksand, the more you struggle, the further you sink. Embracing the negatives does not work either—you just sink more slowly (“I am not in quicksand, nothing is wrong”). What is the way out of this quagmire of negative thoughts? In Zen, the painting of a circle, “Enso”, expresses the freedom that one finds when the mind is not trying to manage, control, predict, or figure things out. The result is peace, contentment, and creativity to see things differently. Psychologically, you reactivate your parasympathetic nervous system; the part that keeps you content and looking for the good. The circle, Enso, is also a zero, or “nothing”—no thought of control, prediction, managing; and no negative value statements like, “When is this ever going to end,” Oh great another crappy thing,” or, “What’s wrong with me!” By disconnecting from the mind’s panicky grasping, you can find the space to breathe, and let thoughts and feelings go so that resilience returns. You can then focus on one small aspect, one thing you have control over. This sparks positive movement.

“I overthink and ruin everything for myself”; this is the mind struggling to control what it cannot—everything negative that might happen in the future. The illusion is that if you think hard enough you will be able to deal with negatives when they happen; “Plan for the worst and be surprised by anything better.” The reality is that you just make yourself miserable and drained, left with less to deal with things that do happen. Letting go of anxiety means acknowledging what you cannot control. This allows you to find calm and focus on what is within your control. The result—small adjustments that lead to feeling better.

There is no blanket prescription for how to calm your thoughts, find peace, and allow forward movement; each person is unique. This is where counselling comes in; a therapist with good training, skills, and intuition can help you find the way that works for you. If you feel overwhelmed, let me help you find your calm center.

John Taylor    Counsellor & Psychotherapist in Nanaimo

“Sometimes when you’re down in the dumps. I mean WAY down in the dumps…  You find a cookie.”   – Garfield (Jim Davis 4-14)