When was the last time you were alone with your thoughts? These days, between the radio, cell phones, television, and all the other electronic devices, we are rarely alone. Many of my patients stay busy to keep from thinking of things, from past regrets to past trauma. It’s very common to hear that when people retire, and have more time for leisure, that they struggle to manage thoughts they have been avoiding for so long. When they can’t hold them back anymore, or try to ignore them, they seek help to try to figure out what to do. Don’t be afraid of your thoughts. It’s healthy to have them. It’s how you manage them that can set you up for failure or success.
In the past, I believe that people thought that if they didn’t think about something, it wouldn’t be a problem. Veterans were told (in the past), coming back from war, to just move on and they would be okay, but what history has shown is that until trauma is processed, it doesn’t just go away. There are many camps related to working with trauma, and I have to say that I’m from the camp that says talking about it and integrating it in to who you become, is important when it comes to not being afraid to be alone with your thoughts.
These days, it so easy to avoid thinking about anything. There are games to play on your phone, people to talk to walking down the sidewalk, and you can even watch movies and live television away from home. I had a patient in the past that was admitted for medical issues to the hospital, and as they started to feel better, they started to struggle with mental health issues because they started thinking about childhood trauma. When you think about being alone, and unplugged, how do you feel? Does the thought raise your blood pressure? Do your palms start to sweat? For many these days, that is really what happens.
There are times in treatment when I will encourage people not to watch the news, or research different topics that don’t seem helpful to them. I also encourage people to journal, while they are alone, and it’s quiet, and they can just think. I want people to write, the old fashion way, with a pen and paper, no spell check or grammar concerns. I am often amazed when people do write as I review the things that float to the surface during the activity. We all have thoughts and concerns that are conscious, but when it’s quiet, the unconscious thoughts come to the surface and often need attention. They can affect your ability to think, remember things, and provide a window or a door that needs to be opened.
I will use a word of caution as you think about being alone with your thoughts. If you have trauma in your background, make sure that you have support, and someone who will check in with you after your exercise or that you will text that it went well. Sometimes being alone with your thoughts can take you to a dark place, if you do have things to address. Regardless, make the time to check in with the things that are going on in your head (get help if you need it from a professional). It can give you some insight and is a part of the process of being happy for life.