Thinking and saying your thoughts out loud do different things, as far as your mind is concerned. If you feel anxious, depressed, confused, or frustrated, it could be because you keep your thoughts to yourself. Here’s what you need to know to feel better, to integrate your experiences, and sort through the confusion.
Thoughts exist in an amorphous cloud in your head together with whatever else you are doing at the moment. They may feel like complete sentences to you, but often they are fragmented, reoccurring, and on the level of reflexive feeling. Being mindful of how your thoughts arise, progress, and meander can be helpful to notice repeating patters and how they affect your emotional state. You will notice the stream of consciousness flowing not necessarily in a way that makes sense, not always grounded in fact. Usually, we steep in speculation and focus on particular themes, specific memories, and random details.
We ignore the full spectrum of an event, like a conversation in which we might have said something we regret saying or did something we wish we should have done differently. Instead, we focus on the very thing we should have said or done, and how we believe others perceive us. When we think of the future, we easily get frustrated thinking of all we need to do, what we don’t know, what could be. Again, these are just thoughts and may have nothing to do with how events unfold in real life. Time and again, research shows, that we are terrible at estimating how we will feel when a specific future event takes place. We overestimate how good or how terrible it will be. Usually, we manage better than we expect of ourselves, and are less excited or positive about something once it arrives.
What we know is that talking about what perplexes us does make it feel more manageable. That’s because most of us need to talk to organize our thoughts. It’s what happens when people come to see me for the first time to talk about something that’s been bothering them for a while. As they speak, they organize their thought into sentences. The sentences acquire meaning. The feelings locked into the thoughts often change when the thoughts turn into verbal statements. The person talking often changes their mind, adjusts, and synthesizes what’s most important as they hear themselves speak. This is why sometimes you hear the same person tell the same story and every time the story can shorten a little, become more coherent, easier to talk about. You hear the person making conclusions, seeing lessons and exploring different ways to make sense of the story.
We need to hear ourselves talk about the things that keep us up at night, frustrate us, inspire us. We need to hear ourselves make plans, explore ideas, and explain our feelings. So, why don’t we just stand in front of the mirror and talk for an hour? When you talk to a person, especially a person who cares about you and your wellbeing, you see their reactions. You see how the words land on their ears and what they think of what you just said. You’ll see it in the emotional expressions. In the head nods. In the questions that come back to you that make you think even more about what you are saying. You might be lucky to have a friend or two who can listen to you without judging or asserting their personal agenda and hijack the conversation for their benefit. Someone close to you may be wise and patient enough to be a good listener and naturally a good reflector. But statistically, you might be more likely to have no significantly good friends and people you can trust enough to be completely honest with.
Some people resort to journaling. When writing your thoughts down, it helps you synthesize your feelings. But it does nothing to reflect back at you if you are off the deep end, completely bonkers, or onto something amazing. It’s just your own words staring at you from the paper in front of you. No questions will jump at you from the paper because the paper does not need clarification or a better explanation. It won’t tell you if you make sense. It won’t challenge your perceptions and opinion.
As Jordan Peterson likes to say, “it takes a village to organize your mind.” A good therapist, or a coach can help too. If I had a dollar for every time I asked a client a question about their story and they replied with “I didn’t think about that,” I’d have lots of extra dollars! You just can’t think of everything. You can’t see everything. Your mind mostly likes to think of what it’s used to thinking and warp your reality according to its own habits. Literally! I am really good at overanalyzing things. I can whip myself into a depression by noon, and when I realize what I’ve done, usually when I feel like it’s time to drop everything and head for the woods with my dog and a bag of chocolate to never be seen by humans again, I put on my coach hat, remember my psychology education, and pull the breaks. I make myself think in different ways. I wonder how someone else would see the situation. I bring up examples to myself of what others have done, or how they have felt, and I try to get a different perspective. I talk to friends who care about me and will help me get an attitude adjustment. By 3 pm, I am back to normal.
If you feel tempted to plaster your emotional status update on Facebook and hope that the comments, likes, and private messages will solve your thinking and feeling problem, I suggest you reconsider. Facebook status updates attract attention not connection. Attention you can get by taking your pants off in public, but no one will give you a hug at that moment. You cannot substitute a hug and a conversation with a moment of attention from a bunch of strangers who are more concerned with the way they appear in their feed than your feelings. If you need connection, you can’t talk at people and expect to get it.
Connection comes in moments of honest face-to-face conversations. People open up when feeling connected, heard, acknowledged, and mirrored. Can you be that kind of friend to others? Do you have people who you truly connect with? If not, and if you feel burdened by your own confusion, depression, anxiety, and existential angst, you may need to find a therapist or a coach. Most likely, there’s nothing wrong with you. You just don’t have the space to be honest and the connection to organize your mind and make sense of your experiences. Go ahead and try to tough it out if you like, but I don’t recommend it. You’ll be in line for pills before you know it, and poorer for it, not just financially, but also at the cost of your personal power.
Onward and forward.