Why is it that certain thoughts or concerns can weigh so heavily on the mind that you feel physically exhausted and need to sleep it off—for hours?
Thank you for writing in! Your question is a valuable one, bringing attention to a struggle that many of us, if not all of us, get caught up in at one point or another. Your query also points to the connection between the mind and body. Thoughts can impact our energy levels through their relationship to physiological responses. Negative thinking can trigger the stress response, which, in excess, can tax us physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Due to each of us having a unique set of life experiences, I cannot offer specific insights into why the particular thoughts or concerns you are experiencing weigh you down. But I can tell you, usually, negative thoughts stem from adverse experiences that may eventually grow into negative core beliefs. These beliefs then shape one’s perception of the world. If there are negative core beliefs present, and they are particularly potent, they will likely color your worldview and skew your interpretation of events toward a negative bias.
For example, imagine a person who holds the belief “I am not worthy of love.” They may then attribute any experience, positive or negative, as evidence of their unworthiness. They may take a compliment from another person as being given as an ulterior motive. Therefore, any potential experiences that could help to reshape this belief are filtered, which, in turn, reinforces the belief. This kind of doom-and-gloom thinking accumulates over time and weighs heavy.
So how can we work to uncover these beliefs and restore your energy system? The recovery process primarily involves learning how to catch negative thoughts as they arise and create a compassionate contemplative space to explore these beliefs and their antecedents (activating events or triggers) as well as the subsequent response (the consequences). It is a kind of causal chain where negative or neutral events filter through beliefs, which end in you zapped of energy. This exploration requires mindfulness to get clear about thought content and the development of a necessary amount of affect tolerance to be able to stay connected to your emotional experience as you work to uncover the relationship between challenging thoughts and physical exertion.
There is a mindfulness practice that I have written about previously known as RAIN. In a nutshell, the method involves the recognition (R) of the negative thoughts arising, an acceptance (A) of their existence, and a contemplative inquiry (I) into their underlying nature. The latter could be how they are being experienced, both physically and emotionally, and other related thoughts, beliefs, and events. Lastly, there needs to be a practice of self-nourishment and non-identification (N) with the negative thoughts and beliefs.
The RAIN practice will help you to begin to identify sources of negative thinking, your physical and emotional responses to the events and thoughts, and also help you to build the ability to take a step back before feeling drained.
Another way to stay clear of negative thinking is to work to generate polar opposite positive thoughts. This practice must be used skillfully to not fall into a different trap of a positive thinking bypass. Meaning, there may be times when there is truth in challenging thoughts and emotions. These “facts” need to be examined and worked with rather than skipped over, dismissed, or left unexamined because they don’t feel good. This type of self-inquiry is a practice of wisdom and discernment. Remember, transformation often comes through challenge.
In working with positive thinking, it is helpful to set aside time to deliberately contemplate experiences, sorting out what are genuine, healthy, and wholesome thoughts. For instance, using the vignette above, a person attributing positive compliments from someone to ulterior motives can, first, sit down, take a few breaths, and notice their tendency to be skeptical of affirmative feedback. Next, they can focus on “hearing” (taking it in) the compliment, feeling its impact and saying “yes!” to it. Lastly, they can take a moment to bask in the warmth and pleasantness of being honored and appreciated for something fantastic about themselves. It would also be beneficial to journal about one’s experience utilizing this type of process.
In my own experience, working with negativity with this kind of practice usually leads to me feeling lighter, brighter, happier, and more connected to what matters in my life. Also, I know that when I do get caught in negative thinking, I can sometimes feel dark, sad, and trapped in pessimism and fatigue. The work is to recognize these emotions as signposts pointing toward essential needs in our life that we are not tending to. Again, it’s important to bring self-kindness to oneself in these moments and remember that we all get caught in negative thoughts traps from time to time.
It is also helpful to remember that it is natural for us to feel a full spectrum of emotions. These emotions, whether they are welcome or not, are an irreplaceable part of our humanness. It is also difficult to connect to the light when surrounded by the dark. Therefore, patience is critical, and the key is to notice negative thinking without turning away from it. Our thoughts enable us to learn more about what our needs and desires for life are. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To examine one’s existence is to create a life that continually renews itself.
In overcoming negative though patterns and the related fatigue, it is necessary to stay committed to a contemplative life. Negativity can creep up at any moment, so it is important to remain present and aware of your thinking and beliefs. I hope you find these techniques useful and I wish you the best on working to stay out these negativity traps!
By John Rettger