Educación, Psicología & Ciencia

Peace of Mind

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You once told me you wanted to find yourself in the world, and I told you to first apply within, to discover the world within you.

You once told me you wanted to save the world from all its wars, and I told you to first save yourself from the world, and all the wars you put yourself through. – Suzy Kassem.

We are stuck in our own heads. Is not a way out?

– Yes, stop over-thinking, obsessive thinking and worrying too much. – Move on!
– Where is the anxiety button? Is it possible to shut down this state? Maybe the pill will help.
– There aren´t pills for a state of mind… How many years have you been taking benzodiazepines?
– Three years with Alprazolam (Xanax) … but I tried others like Diazepam [1] (Valium)… etc.
– How old are you?
– I am 29 years old
– What´s the main problem?
– I cannot control my thinking.

Don´t be able to control out worries, feed our fears and lose the control of our thoughts; get caught in loops where we are thinking about one single thing (or circumstance) over and over, going around in circles in our mind until feel totally dizzy. When we don´t allow ourselves to focus the attention in other event, so the thoughts never disappear because they are always present in each single activity we do every day. We also feel that we need search for advise, so we are collecting data all day long, talking about the topic, getting more and more confused so we try to solve the situation, which leads again to the loop of over-thinking. After hours of thinking and days of no sleep, we´ll often go nowhere. As we taught our brain to over-think, the brain gets hard-wired to the anxiety response. Sometimes we get addicted to over-thinking and over-analyzing, spending too much time inside our own brains. There is no place for a “Peace of Mind”.


But, how overcome my problems without “worrying”?

– How realistic and effective are your worries?
– I have no idea…
– Write down your latest worries…
– How many of them?

Over the course of evolution, we have developed all those high mental processes for something – Right? And we talk and read books about “the new economic thinking”, “creative thinking”, and almost everything plus thinking.

Worrying has been adaptive for our specie, because it let us to be aware of our true problems and address them in an effective way. If we understand “worries” this way, we can say that it is something positive, because it makes us productive – We need a bit of arousal in order to result effective.
When we worry about predictable problems, our “worries” can help in order to avoid negative outcomes (about relationships, money management and so on). In fact, is not possible “don´t worry” because it´s a human condition. Everything is okay until the process breaks down.

How then we distinguish from normal to undesirable worries?

– How much time do you spend thinking about your worries and not taking any action toward them?
– All day! Because I don´t know what to do…
– Right! Could you describe briefly the topics that are related with your worries?
– Economy, the economy of thy family, my relationship or better lack of relationship, my job and my career. I also worry about bad things that can happen: car accidents, illness and so on. Lately I worry because I feel less attractive.
– I see. Do you worry because you are not being happy? – Or because you are wasting your time?
– Yes, all night.
– Don´t you feel as you are “figuring it out” too much?
– Yes.
– Is it healthy? Is it productive?
– No
– So, probably you worry too much.

Worrying has a cognitive component; it implies an anticipated negative event. Psychologists tend to classify worries in different categories, depending on the severity [2].

This is a very simplistic sorting, but it can help to identify the level of our worries.

  1. “Good” worry is an adaptive survival function; we tend to use our imagination to anticipate potential dangers and try to develop strategies in order to avoid them.
  2. Unhealthy worry is a lasting preoccupation with past or future bad events. Worries are challenged by problems that have no clear solution.
  3. Fear is an alerting signal to an identified danger (can be real/pertinent or not).
  4. Obsessive thinking implies an inability to gain control over recurrent, distressing thoughts or images. Also includes a complex network of feelings, sensations (and sometimes behavioral rituals).
  5. Rumiation implies an obsessive thinking with the past – with irreversible and catastrophic results.

The problem comes when worries shift from an adaptive and practical skill implemented in problem-solving to an obsession about what we don´t want to have happen. We become hypnotized by our fears, and then worry becomes a way of life.

Over time, these reactions tend to trigger a stress response. Even stress is an emotional response (feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or run-down), it comes accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes causing health consequences and affecting terribly to our well-being.

From where does this bad habit come from?

There is a debate in Psychology, regarding if our behavior is determined by inborn predispositions (genes), education and experiences, biochemical issues and so on. And I think there is a little of everything in our problems.

About “Unhealthy worries” I bet for a bad learned habit that can be changed for better. It comes when we degrade our problem-solving techniques (It doesn´t matter if we are biologically susceptible or not right now). The fact is that every brain can learn and unlearn, and our brains (between all species) appear to be the only ones that can decide whether to learn or not (and these are fantastic news). – Depending upon of learning, our brains can rewire themselves!

Regarding education and prior experiences, the most famous cognitive behavioral therapy educator (CBT), Aaron T. Beck, explained that cored beliefs are formed over all livelong experiences. We all have irrational and automatic thoughts about negative ideas about ourselves, the world and the future that influence our emotions. Therapists (cognitive-behavioral therapists) try to help clients to recognize these irrational patterns that may be causing harm.

For example:

  • Magnification the importance of events: “…if this happens, it will be the end”.
  • Personalization: “…she is upset, and I should be able to make her be happy, and it´s my fault”.
  • Should statements: “… I should be responsible/smart/perfect/productive every day”.
  • All or nothing – thinking: “… must be this way, or nothing”


Of course, it is nothing new to say that child rearing styles are linked to anxiety and stress responses. The expectations, needs, social behavior and adult attachment bounds are linked also to childhood and parenting styles. We often see how some parents teach that thing “take care; we must at no point lower our guard because maybe something bad is above to happen” to anxious children.

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Can we change this bad habit?

– Yes. But…

It´s not that we shouldn´t worry, because thanks that we can solve many problems; the reality also makes us to face very different and important problems every day. The “trick” is to worry well and at some point, and educate others (especially kids) how to worry well. We should understand that unhealthy worry (and worse versions) is totally useless, that we are spending our precious time with any results. Worrying is not a coping strategy itself.

– The trick is to reconcile ourselves with our imagination; pull out all these bad thoughts and images.

Here are some advises for stop over-thinking:

  1. Recognize that you are an “Over-Thinker” and that you need to change something.
  2. Understand that “Worrying” is not a coping strategy anymore.
  3. Practice Mindfulness and be able to focus the attention on the present (not past, neither future).
  4. Learning to calm yourself, to deeply relax mind, brain and also body.
  5. Raise a healthy awareness.
  6. Understand that we cannot control 100% the flow of life. As my colleague says “Trust that everything happens in its proper time and place and you are exactly where you are supposed to be”. And this is different than “giving up”, it means that you cannot get repeatedly bashed into the rocks of reality.
  7. Ask help to recognize your cognitive distortions, the biased conception of the world and universe.
  8. Ask help to understand how your emotions, thoughts and behavior are linked.
  9. Remember, “Your thoughts; your reality” [3]
  10. Learn to feel comfortable with being wrong; even if you applied critical thinking to the best decision. (%)
  11. Forgive yourself.
  12. Get physical and busy. I recommend get busy with Arts.
  13. Don´t talk about it all day long. Limit the time and space for worries.
  14. Document your thoughts and correct yourself (or with therapy help).
  15. It is time to think about a next action and an “Action Plan”.
  16. Give up those perfectionist tendencies.
  17. Don´t be afraid of criticism, blame or embarrassment.
  18. Make fear manageable. Break it in chunks and transform it in discrete actions.
  19. Learn to accept yourself.
  20. Learn that you deserve peace and happiness.

Let me know how it works!

Enjoy the little things (Naomy Kawase- An, 2015)

[1] Please keep in mind that benzodiazepines are drugs with potential secondary effects. They must be prescribed by a physician after an individual medical examination. It is recommended to use benzodiazepines as short-term treatment because they can lead to tolerance (dependence-addition).
[2] DSM-5. Anxiety disorders should be assessed by a Clinical Psychologist and be treated as soon as possible.
[3] Unfortunately, this is a very simplistic way to present “problems” in our society, but there are realities (sexual abuse, terrorism, domestic violence etc.) which need another approach.

Thanks for reading

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Autor: Lorena Álvarez

Psicóloga, activista, trotamundos y una apasionada por la ciencia y las letras.

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