By now I’m sure many of us, especially if you’ve stumbled upon mental health or spirituality tik tok, have heard the phrase “you are not your thoughts.” When I first came across it, I was confused by it. It felt similar to the faraway idea of meditation that would make me constantly question, “how are all these people controlling their thoughts?” My brain has always felt like a running hamster wheel that I can’t slow or stop. Yet, after deep-diving into more and more books and videos about these topics, I’ve realized something: these tips aren’t meant to stop your overthinking, they’re meant to help you cope with them. Choosing not to identify yourself with your thoughts doesn’t mean that they will suddenly clear up, but it means you make the choice to let the overthinking pass you by. Here are some phrases that helped me get started:
- “Oh, so this is the story you’re telling yourself again”
Sometimes addressing your mind as “you” instead of “I” can help you create distance between yourself and what’s going on in your brain. Brains love to keep us comfortable so they will make assumptions based on patterns they’ve seen before all day long, but that doesn’t mean they are true. Using this phrase with others can also help you explain your feelings better. Tell someone your viewpoint on something by starting with “the story I’m telling myself right now is…” and see how it can clear up both sides much easier than trying to pass the blame for our own feelings (bless Brené Brown).
- “That’s enough”
Our minds are basically meant to keep us busy every second whether it’s by processing information, making judgments, imagining new scenarios, etc. They will not really allow us to sit and do nothing, but we can use that to our advantage rather than our detriment. This means that most of our thoughts are just fluff, our brains trying to meet a word count you could say. So if you’re ruminating over the same thought or worry, cut your mind off in its tracks and say “that’s enough.” Hold a hand up too if you want, then move on to a more relevant thought.
- “Today’s date is _____ so I will focus on the present, not the past”
Plenty of us have fallen victim to our mind’s mission to make us relive our most embarrassing moments over and over again, even at 2 a.m. while we’re trying to sleep. One quick way to anchor yourself in the present moment is to look at the date or say it aloud and focus on all your current senses. Ground yourself in the now. Then let the past or anxieties about the future fade away.
- “That’s an interesting thought you’re making up”
You can even separate yourself from your thoughts by creating a more physical distance in your mind. Imagine your mind walking around outside of your head, maybe sitting in a chair across from you, and talk to it as an individual being. Don’t blame yourself for your mind running in circles, because it’s just doing its job. If you start questioning your negative thoughts more, instead of immediately identifying them as true parts of yourself, you’ll see that most don’t even have any proof behind them!
- “I gift this to the universe”
This sweet and simple saying is such a kind way to get rid of little worries throughout the day. If you find yourself stressing over something that is no longer in your hands or has already been dealt with as much as possible, take a moment for yourself and “gift it to the universe” or any higher power you prefer. You could also say “release,” whatever makes you feel the weight lift off your shoulders and outside your energy bubble. You don’t have to carry the weight of every potential problem each day! Be gentle with yourself and pick your battles.
Of course, all of these sayings are meant to help with general worries or overthinking habits, not to cure anxiety disorders. Use them whenever they can offer help to you but not as an end-all, be all treatment (and not to gaslight yourself either!) Take care of yourself by being picky with which thoughts you give energy to. Not all of them deserve your time and focus! Even if it’s hard to switch to a majority of positive thinking, start easy by limiting the negative.