We all get overwhelmed, panicked, exhausted, yet breaking free of that state sometimes feels impossible. In that state, how many of us know how to gain some mental space?
Many years ago, I read a post by Havi Brooks about some ways she manages being triggered. This is my version of her “name everything you see” exercise explained in that post.
The Five-Things Tool to Pause Overthinking
Look around you; wherever you are right now.
Can you see anything with a bit of blue on it?
Currently, I can see a blue plastic basket, the board game Mouse Trap (blue box), a magazine with a blue stripe over it. That’s three…
We’re looking for five items.
Now I have to look a bit harder. A book cover in that bookcase is navy blue.
Finally, I settle on the curtains: something I barely register any more.
Count them out “1. 2. 3… 4… 5.”
Feel any different?
Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way to pause: find what works fr you. Sometimes I find 5 things that are red or yellow.
Other times, I name 10 things of those three primary colours, and 5 things that are secondary colours: green, purple and orange.
Sometimes, I let myself count something with 2 colours in both colour lists.
Equally, I often set the intention of finding separate things for each list.
The key to this technique, is to create a space between all the ruminations, worries and ‘overthinking thoughts’, even if only for a few moments.
Sometimes I look for numbers:
- This crisp packet says “2017” in the corner
- That box says “100 board games collection.”
- The video on youtube I’m watching has 34,000 views and 898 likes…
- That chocolate box says “8 famous brands” in the subtitle [If you allow the ‘words’ of numbers, then ‘After Eights’ count too]
Sometimes, I focus on sounds instead:
- I hear a bird singing.
- My cat is scratching the carpet post.
- I’m listening to a youtube video.
- I’m humming a song from Moana
- The wind is battering the window
What Does This Do?
When we feel overwhelmed or panicked, the result is often because we’re thinking about things too deeply, or without the facts.
Counting things in our environment has multiple functions. It:
- Distracts our mind for a few moments, creating a breathing space
- Tends to calm our emotions a tad: this is, for most people, a ‘neutral’ activity
- Uses different parts of our brain -> thus distracting more than one ‘part’ [visual, counting, hearing, language]
- Is a ‘mindful’ activity: focused on this very moment, not the past or future.
Now, this is not a therapy tool or the be-all-and-end-all of ‘fixing overwhelm’, but it’s a simple, accessible tool, as long as your have a sense to use and an association to ‘label’ that experience “bird song” or even “magpie noise” if you’re good with your bird songs.
It won’t make the problems go away, or change any situations, but this technique can shift that habit from overthinking to breathing. At the end of the day, give it a go, and if it works for you, add it to your list of techniques that helps you. If it doesn’t, no harm done.
You need no extra tools, and it can be done without anyone else noticing.
If nothing else, it’s a technique you can keep in your toolkit; just in case you need it.