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RADIO DOOM AND GLOOM- how can I stop all these worries and thoughts I keep having?



Do you ever have what feels like a thousand thoughts going through your mind, all at the same time, probably negative, judgemental, harsh, critical, worrying, scary and relentless?




Then you are not alone and you are a normal human being!


We all have human minds and what human minds do is analyse, predict, go over events, compare, worry, think of how we can protect ourselves or how we can do it better next time. Human minds have evolved to protect us- in caveman days it was completely necessary to be one step ahead of the game. We had to remember what cave the sabre tooth tiger lived in so we could avoid it, we had to scan the environment for risks so we wouldn’t get eaten by a predator, we had to reflect and analyse how and why we didn’t get eaten that day, we had to constantly be on the look out for all the bad stuff! We also had to hunt and live in packs in order to survive longer and pass our genes on, so needed better and bigger caves, more sophisticated tools, healthier bodies and so on. So comparing ourself with others and trying to do better is all part of how we have evolved and survived.


Thankfully there are no sabre tooth tigers around any more but we still have plenty of perceived predators in our mind:


-that presentation we need to do for work

-that date we are going on this weekend

-that insecurity that we are just winging life and are about to be found out

-that friend who hasn’t replied to our message

-that internal critical voice that tells us we are a waste of space

-that thought that we will get a serious illness soon


That’s just a few of the typical thoughts that we all get, day in, day out. Sometimes they are very LOUD, sometimes pretty quiet. But often they dominate our minds and really affect what we do, what we see, how we behave, how we connect with others, how we live our lives.




So what can we do about it?!


🧠     Try to solve them all?!


Our minds are made to solve problems, after all trying to figure things out is what human minds do. This might mean desperately trying to find a solution for something (Did I say something stupid? What do they really think of me? Will I get found out? Did I lock the door properly?) but often the solution never comes, only the doubt. It is hard to reach firm conclusions about many things especially those situations or scenarios that are unpredictable, not in our control or are uncertain.


There are some situations we find ourselves in that have a clear and obvious solution. For example, if we fall and get a bad cut on our hand it would make sense to clean it up, put a dressing on it or see a doctor if it’s particularly deep, they’re all things within our control. However we may then wrestle with thoughts of ‘what if I get an infection? What if I can’t use my hand? What if I then can’t work and I lose my job?’. These are examples of thoughts that end up being unhelpful and don’t lead us anywhere. Trying to endlessly find the answers can often just make us go down various rabbit holes and make us get lost and even more overwhelmed.


🙅‍♂️      So just don’t think about them?!


People often think the solution is to ‘just don’t think about the thoughts’. But we are pretty sure you’ve already tried that! It’s actually really hard to just switch thoughts off (especially the negative ones). For example if we told you absolutely DO NOT think about your favourite pizza topping, whatever you do DON’T think about it, what do you notice yourself doing? Exactly! The pizza topping is clear in our mind and probably making us salivate.  And the more you try to push that thought away, the louder the thought gets and the stronger the image becomes (and the more we want that pizza).


💦     Just drown them out then?!


We might also try to drown out our thoughts by using substances or throwing ourselves into activities and overdrive. We may also try to have ‘positive thoughts and affirmations’ and use these to try to replace the negative thoughts. But this ends up going a bit like this…


Imagine your thoughts were like a radio playing. There might be many different stations such as ‘Radio Doom and Gloom’, ‘Radio Work Presentation’, ‘Radio I’m So Stupid’ and so on. Sometimes certain stations might play with the volume up so high you can’t think of anything else. So we often think ‘I know! Let’s get ‘Radio Positive’ to drown out ‘Radio I’m So Stupid’!’ and we get this radio and turn the volume up on that too.


But imagine you actually had two or more radios in real life playing different channels at the same time…. This would no doubt lead to complete overwhelm, noise and confusion! And that’s exactly what ends up happening to your mind.


The art installation above (‘Babel’ by Cildo Meireles at The Tate Modern Art Gallery in London) captures this metaphor perfectly. It has hundreds of radios stacked on top of each other, all playing at a low murmuring volume but loud enough to hear them all competing for your attention. When you walk into that gallery room of radios all piled on top of each other you suddenly find yourself completely thrown, taken aback, overwhelmed with different words and noise, are unable to focus clearly and don’t know what to think. Indeed, the artist himself describes it as a ‘tower of incomprehension’. This is exactly what our minds do when we have tens, hundreds or thousands of radio stations all playing at the same time. All murmuring away and trying to grab your attention, only serving to make us feel worse.


Which brings us to another solution:


🌤     Let’s just sit with the thoughts and let them be


This response may sound counterintuitive but if we are able to allow our radios to simply play in the background then they start to lose their power, volume and control. It’s not their presence that’s the issue, after all that’s what human minds do. It’s what we then DO with the thoughts and how we respond to them that is key. We can get pulled into them, struggle with them, try to push them away, or we can notice them as simply just thoughts and stories that our mind is conjuring up, acknowledge them by giving them a nod and then come back to focusing on the present and what really matters to us. Often easier said than done and it’s a skill that needs practice but it’s a strategy that many people have described as both liberating and hugely helpful.


These concepts are a large focus in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and we acknowledge and are thankful for the work of Russ Harris who helps bring these strategies to life in a clear and engaging way. (You can read more about ACT in our previous blog here.)


So the next time your ‘Tower of Incomprehension’ comes along, do what the folk at The Tate Modern do and just observe it with curiosity and wonder, notice the radios humming, step back from trying to work it all out and simply allow it to be. You may just be amazed at how that simple act can make all the difference.

Thanks for reading!

Jo, Jan & Catherine


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