Adapted from Joelle Anderson, MA, RP, CCC
Have you ever laid in bed at night just about to fall asleep and BAM - your mind decides to think about a million different things? Thoughts that no matter how hard you try, can't seem to escape your mind. It's as if our minds are a record player that's stuck and keeps replaying the same lyrics over and over. This can be quite common for those who struggle with anxiety. In fact - this thought process even has a name - it's called "mental rumination".
Despite thinking and thinking and thinking about these thoughts, rumination does not lead to a better understanding of the situation. This is because when ruminating, our thoughts are often stuck in the right hemisphere of the brain. This is the side of the brain that is not particularly good at organizing thoughts. What it is good at is mental imagery and it’s also where we process emotions. This is also where imagination stems from.
The left hemisphere however, is the side of the brain that is quite good at organizing thoughts. But how can you get these ruminating thoughts from your right hemisphere into your left hemisphere? One way is to put these thoughts into the form of language -ie. writing them down. This is called free flow journaling.
When free flow journaling, write down ALL thoughts that you have as they show up. Be as non-judgemental as possible. Don't get stuck on the "why's" (ie. do your best to avoid over analyzing your thoughts). Simply observe your thoughts and write them down.
For example, one thought you may write down is "I'm observing thoughts of this thing happening", or "I’m observing thoughts about what if this or what if that. You can also apply it to emotions - for instance "I notice I'm feeling anxious".
Remember, this is not the time to process the "why's" of these thoughts. The goal for that moment is to simply make the "record player" (so to speak) stop replaying the same lyrics. It gets the thoughts symbolically (and almost literally) out of your head, by putting them onto the page. This can help stop your brain from replaying the same thoughts continuously so that hopefully, you can calm your mind enough to fall asleep.
Sometimes, finishing with a grounding technique can really help calm the body and simplify the mind, after letting go of thoughts. For example, the 5,4,3,2,1 Technique or the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique. Any technique that takes your mind off the thoughts in your head and really makes you focus on the present moment.
So give it a try! Keep a journal and pen beside your bed so you don't have to get up! And hey - free flow journaling works during the day too, for those moments when we can't focus on anything other than the thoughts repeatedly going through our mind.