Sticky thinking is the culprit – the problem waiting to be solved.
Sometimes we indulge in just a moment or two of worry or feel a little down. But when we’re having problems with anxiety or depression, we might discover that negative thinking has gotten a grip on us. Then it can really make us uptight or bring us down.
Active worry, bouts of self-blaming, seething, obsession, and brooding rumination. . . all these can be sticky thinking (ST) – bursts of negative, repetitive, complicated , unproductive thought that are tough to stop once they’ve begun. Even worse – the more we try to control ST, the more anxious, down, or riled up we’re likely to get. Sticky thinking can govern our bad moods and draw us down into anxiety and depression. But we can learn to gain the upper hand over sticky thinking and move it out of our way.
Drawbacks of sticky thinking to keep in mind
- It’s irrational. Worrying frantically about paying bills doesn’t help straighten out the finances. Worrying about being unable to sleep never helps us fall asleep.
- it obscures our awareness of the immediate present. How many times – caught up in worry or preoccupation – have you missed the look of joy or disappointment, excitement or hurt on your spouse’s, child’s, or friend’s face?
- It suppresses our lively, vibrant emotions. – Too preoccupied with sticky thinking to burst into laughter or get excited about anything?
- In the long run, it’s demoralizing.
More than meets the eye: Sticky thinking is a core process of of emotional distress.
Sticky thinking occurs naturally for many of us who have a tendency to get over-emotional and negative. It resembles useful, healthy thinking, like reasoning with ourselves, introspecting, or reflecting. . . until negative feelings get too caught up in the mix, the intensity and negativity ramp up, and our thoughts and mood get all tangled up. Yet even as we’re noticing the worry machine cranking up, we may hesitate to put ST in check. Because we can’t be sure. . . Isn’t this just me being highly responsible? After all, so much is uncertain. Aren’t I searching for the real meaning of what happened? Am I not just trying extra-hard to be safe rather than sorry in order to prevent more bad things from happening?
The answer is a resounding “No!” There is no need to overworry or dwell in order to act responsible or be careful about the safety of those you care about. Even rumination can appear to be just a good way of grasping the meanings of things, cultivating self-understanding, or gaining insight, rather than what it is – a black hole where you’re caught up thinking disturbing thoughts over and over. When we develop a pattern of dwelling on our vital concerns and struggling with ourselves, our sticky thinking might start to act like you’ve granted it permanent residence in your heart and mind, and it can even become the core of emotional disorders like generalized anxiety disorder or major depression.
Sticky thinking is a problem waiting to be solved
You’re not at its mercy of sticky thinking. Now you can get the help you need to overcome it. You can learn to diminish or neutralize its creepy power by short-circuiting or redirecting it. The first step is to detect when ST starts and acknowledge when it’s taken hold. Then 3 types of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be helpful.
- Cognitive reappraisal and emotional exposure can help people with anxiety, depression, or overworry – by learning to identify when their thinking has turned unworkable and training to intentionally think and act in ways that untangle and counteract it.
- Utilizing attention training techniques, men and women develop the capability to shift their focus from negative trains of thought onto the immediate environment or incompatible mental processes that counteract the brain mechanisms that sustain sticky thinking.
- Mindfulness techniques – like concentration on the breath (samatha meditation) and insight meditation (training to shifting to a state of mind where you can abide with negative feelings without getting stuck on a negative train of thought or caught up in a grim story line) can be honed into durable, potent means of counteracting sticky thinking.
The bottom line: Sticky thinking needn’t turn you into a worrisome person who ruminates or obsesses. It need not rule your moods nor eke away at your morale. By learning to overcome sticky thinking, perhaps through therapy with a clinician skilled in helping people overcome over-worry, rumination, or obsessiveness, perhaps you can gain the upper hand and liberate yourself from anxiety and worry.
Please feel free to contact me at 818-716-1695 about therapy for sticky thinking.