The uncertainty of Covid-19 and economic turmoil can set your mind
spinning with “what ifs.” The questions go round and round like the blades of
Whether it’s called worrying or rumination, it can lead to anxiety,
depression, and substance abuse. It can become a self-destructive habit that
floods our daily activities with anxiety and sucks our emotions and energy
down and down and down.
Rumination or overthinking has negative physical consequences as
well. Studies have shown that rumination increases the production of
cortisol, the stress hormone. In the near term, cortisol increases glucose in
the bloodstream, alters immune system responses, and suppresses the
digestive and reproductive systems. It also affects mood, motivation, and
Here are some tools to help you stop mental self-abuse as you spin
your wheels faster and faster.
Become Aware of Repetitive Thoughts. Notice when your thoughts
are running in an endless loop. With awareness, you can ask yourself, “How
many times am I going to replay this scenario? Revisit this unpleasant
possibility? Is it worth the airtime I’m giving it?” Sometimes asking myself
that question is enough to let me easily shift my awareness elsewhere.
Similarly, I may remind myself that I will at some point let the thought go
and suggest to myself that I do it right then.
Change the Channel. Start a new activity. If possible, choose a
healthy distraction that makes cognitive demands. Call a friend, play a game
on your phone, watch a compilation of funny animal videos, or play with
your pet. Even though running doesn’t have mental demands other than
worrying about whether you’ll be able to take the next breath, it can be a
wonderful distraction. If that doesn’t appeal, turn up your favorite music and
dance, do some yoga poses, walk, or stretch.
Set Boundaries. If you’re ruminating about something, make a
contract with yourself to devote a limited amount of time—maybe ten
minutes—every day at a specific time to brood and worry and only at that
time. When you start to spin your mental wheels at other times, remind
yourself that the appointed hour hasn’t arrived or, if you’re lucky, the hour
has already passed.
Put It in Writing. Set a time limit for your thinking—perhaps ten
minutes—and during this period write down every single thought that comes
into your mind. Don’t fuss with the beauty of your prose. Just get the mental
demons on paper. When the time is up, wad up the paper and throw it in the
Find the Next Positive Step. Instead of focusing on a problem, use
that mental energy to look for solutions. If a comprehensive solution is
unrealistic, think of the next positive step you can take to make forward
These are certainly difficult times but you can lessen their toll by
taking one of these steps.
“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.”