It’s sometimes weird the things that make us feel depressed — a 14-year-old incontinent dog, for example. Not because that’s gross and doggy diapers are degrading for all parties involved but because it reminds us that one day, in about 490 dog years, we, too, will require diapers. The fact that one day our skin will resemble the crumpled-up newspapers that no longer exist and cottage cheese will be served to us warm at dinner is a little too much to handle. Thinking about this regrettable process of growing old makes us wonder — perhaps a bit too much. It raises questions like: Where will we be at age 50? Will we have something to show for our $150,000 educations? Will we be pursuing our passion? What is our passion? Do we even have a passion? What do we contribute to the world? And even, what is the reality behind happiness, fulfillment, love, life, death, the Big Bang Theory, Pangaea, dinosaurs and other equally impossible concepts to find answers to? And all because of doggy diapers.
This is the plight of the classic over-thinker. Anything in excess is dangerous. Literally, anything. Take these Youtube videos of the milk/ cinnamon challenges as living proof. Thinking in excess is no exception. Overthinking things can be a precursor to depression; it magnifies even the minutest of situations to the Nth degree and clouds one’s perspective on almost everything in life. It brings around the unwelcome guests Doubt and Alienation, who, like real-life bad house guests, wreck things and leave nothing but a mess and depressed feelings in their wake. Everyone has trouble with overthinking at some point in his or her life, and there are things you can do to put that overactive brain of yours at ease. Here are some of some of the most effective:
1) Reminding yourself that people can relate to your problems. When we are overwhelmed by our own thinking, we get trapped in our minds and convince ourselves that our problems are too complicated for anyone else to understand. The reality is that so many people engage in the same self-defeating modes of thinking. It just seems like we’re exceptional in our experiences of confusion, inadequacy, uncertainty, restlessness, dissatisfaction, worry, etc. because a lot of people do not vocalize these things for their own reasons. But these experiences are part of the human condition. When you are feeling neurotic, remember that a sizeable portion of the human population at one time or another has also written a well-crafted pros and cons list. We have considered deleting our Facebook accounts in particularly robust fits of existential crises. We’ve posted at least one motivational Post-It somewhere in our stuff, and we have resorted to Magic 8-Balls or horoscopes for answers. We’re all a little bit crazy. Yup, even you. No matter though. If you haven’t consulted a physic to help you with these issues, congratulations! You’re already doing infinitely better than some of us.
2) Having a stream of consciousness conversation with your friend. Speak exactly what’s on your mind to a close friend who really cares about you and is genuinely concerned about how you feel. Sometimes when you hear the destructive, polemic insults you’re throwing around in your mind out loud, they start to sound as irrational and useless as they really are. This will help you sort out the root cause of your depressed feelings and, hopefully, make you realize that the negative thoughts you might be indulging in your mind are simply not true. Basically, have heart-to-hearts, and have them often. They’re much cheaper than therapy.
3) Being awestruck. Albert Einstein once aptly stated, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead.” Being awestruck is so crucial in feeling alive and happy but has been largely neglected by scientists and laypeople alike. Contemplating the emotion of awe alone is, well … awesome. Awe is defined as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” It has inspired the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the poetry of W.B. Yeats, Beethoven’s symphonies and the discovery of the structure of human DNA. Psychologists have postulated that there is a biological advantage to being awestruck, as the ability to marvel at its own existence and feel a sense of cosmic significance has motivated the human species to survive since the dawn of time. At some point in your life, somebody has probably told to stop worrying and “just live in the moment.” At the time, you probably sarcastically retorted something along the lines of ,“Hey, great, thanks for the awesome advice, genius … maybe I’ll also try dancing in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass.” But little did you know that you may have very well been talking to an ACTUAL genius. Science has found that this is precisely what awe does — help us live in the moment. The psychology department at Stanford University has found that these overwhelming moments of beauty actually slow down our subjective experiences of time. They bring us to the present moment we are marveling over, so the past and future are inconsequential. Regular jaw-dropping moments can have some profound residual effects on our brains. They increase the empathy and compassion we feel toward others, our capacity for altruism and even general well-being. Pretty trippy stuff.
So witness the sun rise above the skyline of a ancient city, let Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 hit you live or even just see “Hubble” in Imax 3-D. You might cry like a baby, but it’ll feel so good, man — it’ll feel so good.
Image Source: Andy Matthews under Creative Commons