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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

To Calm an Overactive Mind

You know that unpleasant feeling when you want to be feel centered inside but your brain keeps spitting out thoughts at a rapid pace – useless things like the name of a song you absolutely must remember right that moment, worries, things you’ll have to do next week, fears about the future, regrets about the past, guilt, anxiety, maybe even panic? One thought leads to another until you’re exhausted and in quite a state, unable to get anything useful done or calm down and fall asleep if this happens at bedtime.

I chose the brain scan images below not to advise you to meditate (though I do think meditation greatly enriches life) but to show how different an active and a relaxed brain are. There’s lots of active thinking going on in the brain on the left and very little in the one on the right.

The scans below show brain activity in a normal brain vs an obsessive compulsive brain. You can see there’s a whole lot more activity going on in the OCD brain, most of it probably not at all helpful to the person in which that brain resides.

No matter what your circumstances or how long your brain has been running you this way, you have the ability to calm yourself down and feel centered. Not overnight but with practice. If you don’t already have helpful techniques for quieting your brain, perhaps these three suggestions will help you get out of your brain and reconnect with your body. DON’T JUMP INTO THE TANK Oregon Coast Aquarium (Newport, OR)


Our powerful human brains keep generating thoughts even when we don’t want them to. Meditators call this phenomenon monkey brain – our thoughts jump around in our heads like playful monkeys. In a meditation workshop I took with Sally Kempton, a well-known teacher and writer, someone asked her how to stop thoughts from popping into his head while he was trying to meditate. Sally offered this nice image for the hardest part in developing a meditation practice or quieting your brain when you’re trying to fall asleep – non-judgmental noting of distracting thoughts and emotions: “When you’re in front of a large aquarium looking at an interesting creature, you don’t jump into the tank and swim after it. Instead you say to yourself or the person you’re with ‘what a beautiful fish” and move on. Sally’s advice to us was simply to note that we’ve had a thought, say silently to ourselves thought – and not swim after it. With a little practice, this actually works. There are nights when my brain is abuzz with an ongoing stream of things I really don’t need to be thinking about right then. Thinking thought, thought, thought … to myself interrupts the stream and lets me fall asleep.

USE EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TAPPING TECHNIQUE (EFT) TO RELEASE NEGATIVE ENERGY & RELAX MUSCLE TENSION We tend to tighten up the muscles in our faces, especially around our eyes, when our brains are racing. Helping those muscles relax also helps us be grounded in our bodies,  feel more spacious inside, and relax our minds. The Emotional Freedom Tapping Technique is quite effective at relaxing those muscles – and other energy points you may decided to tap, releasing negative energy in them and restoring balance to the body’s bio- energy system.

EFT is an energy-based self-help method combining the principles of ancient Chinese medicine’s system of energy pathways (meridians) with modern psychology.  Its techniques are used to release negative thoughts and behaviors which have become stored in our bodies on a cellular level. Descriptions of the tapping technique usually recommend saying positive affirmations out loud while tapping in order to clear blockages. I’ve found mental, emotional, and physical relief solely from tapping, particularly around the eyes and the crown of my head,  without saying any affirmations. I do set intentions for myself. Maybe one of these days I’ll also add some affirmations.

In EFT,  you use your fingertips to tap on your body’s acupressure points. See Tamsin Young’s EFT Tactics for Success, Meditation & Relaxation for a fuller explanation of the theory and practice of EFT.  The five minute video, Intro to EFT – Tapping with Brad Yates, about half way through the article, demonstrates how to perform the technique. It’s clear and worth watching to help you get started. This 8 minute tutorial video by Dr Dawson Church offers more information on the technique: EFT Tapping How-to Video with Dawson Church. Dr Patricia Carrington’s Using EFT to Relax Muscle Tension is also interesting. CREATE A ROOM OUTSIDE YOUR BRAIN FOR CHATTERING THOUGHTS

A very smart and creative psychotherapy patient of mine, realizing he wasn’t ever going to be able to stop all the obsessive thoughts his brain generated,  came up with a clever way to co-exist with them: He ‘built’ a ‘room’ just outside his head to put them in. That way, they could still be yammering away out there but they wouldn’t take over his thinking. This ‘room’ has let him get on with what he wanted and needed to do with his conscious brain.

Alva Noë, a philosopher at UC-Berkeley, disagrees with Decartes’ famous formulation: I think, therefore I am. Noë’s version is I am, therefore I think. He argues that we are NOT our brains – that it’s considerably more than the neurons in the brain that determine our perceptions and sense of self, that consciousness is created in a continual and lively interaction with our surroundings. This view, that we are engaged in an ongoing dance with our environment,  that our perceptions are habits, makes it clear we can actively change our consciousness to alter what takes place in our brains. Which takes us back to don’t jump into the tank.

REFERENCES Carrington, P. (2012). Using EFT to Relax Muscle Tension. See: (undated). EFT Tapping How-to Video with Dawson Church. See: Hardin, J.R. (2013). The Vagus Nerve. See: Noë, A. (2009). Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness (1st Edition). See: Young, T. (2015). EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique. See: © Copyright 2015 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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