The Rumination Gremlin
Despite feeling like I've been on top of my mental health for a good few years now, there is one thing I still struggle with from time to time: rumination. The frustrating grind of being unable to let go of those negative thoughts that swirl around your brain. Most of us have had this at some point and it's usually worse when we're alone or trying to sleep. In fact, here's real life footage of me alone with my thoughts last night:
Ok that's not me. Although Bert and I share the same troubles and lockdown eyebrows.
As I've discussed many times before, improv has been a great help to my mental wellbeing. It gets me out of my head, feeling present and gives me time to connect with myself and others. Usually my long winter evenings are spent rehearsing, performing or watching comedy but alas that has not been possible and so the rumination gremlin has occasionally sneaked back in.
I've heard of a number of exercises for quieting rumination from therapists such as Worry Time and Negative Thought Diaries but they can require a lot of focus and at least pen and paper.
Often negative thoughts hit you when you least expect them and steal your precious time.
That's why I was so tickled today when I discovered a new game. This isn't an improv game, it's an exercise Dr Sophie Mort discusses on this episode of the Calmer You Podcast. There are two steps.
Firstly, when you find yourself having negative thoughts you stop yourself and say:
"I notice I'm having the thought that..." And fill in the thought, for example "... people think I'm stupid." (This seems to be a common concern these days and one I touch on in another blog post.)
If you've been through CBT you'll be familiar with this sort of exercise of taking time to recognise that negative thoughts are indeed thoughts and not facts. Giving yourself this distance allows you to interrogate them rationally.
The second step is to sing it. Dr Mort suggests you sing it to a tune you know like "Jingle Bells" or "Staying Alive" but I'm not very good at that so I just make up a tune. I don't specialise in musical improv so it comes out a bit like Buddy the Elf...
Mort stresses that the objective isn't to make fun or diminish the thought but give yourself distance from it. However, you try doing this and not laughing! She admits herself, it often results in giggles.For me it helped deflate the negative thoughts I was having. I needed to shake myself and realise that I was letting the gremlin get the better of me.
But for others I can see how more deeply rooted thoughts or serious concerns require more attention. I therefore would not use this exercise in an improv workshop. Whilst I do create improv sessions to boost mental wellbeing, I am not a qualified therapist and do not expect participants to share personal thoughts with me. Instead I suggest you try it as "homework".
Even if you find yourself laughing after quite a sad thought, remember laughter is a release of tension. Allow yourself that moment to breathe and then take the extra distance you've created to look at the negative thought objectively. It may help you get into the frame of mind you need to focus on your "Worry Diary" or "Worry Time".
I hope you find this new tip as helpful as I did.
Take care. And thank you for putting up with my sudden love of gifs.