Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
You’re talking to a friend about something — a problem you can’t figure out or something that’s bugging you, maybe — and after pouring your guts out, they blink at you and say…
“Just don’t think about it.”
Excuse me? What?
I love my friends, but that’s the worst advice of all time. And I absolutely can’t stand it when someone tells me to just not think about it.
When I was little and not feeling well, I’d say something like, “Dad, I think I’m going to throw up.” His response?
“Just don’t think about it.”
So I’d try not to think about. But actively trying not to think about it made me think about it even more. Go figure. And you know what? I always threw up anyway.
The thing is, most people aren’t hardwired to just not think about it. Or maybe men are hardwired to just not think about it. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what I do know, and it’s this:
Telling someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder “just don’t think about it” is just about as effective as telling yourself to stop blinking or telling Lady Gaga to be normal. It’s a lesson in futility.
Still, for a while I tried to heed this advice, as it seemed well-meaning at the time.
I could tell you all about how that went, but instead… I (mostly) drew you some pictures!
Things To Do When You’re Just Not Thinking About It
1. Develop A Killer Propensity For Nervously Biting And Picking Your Nails.
You know. The kind of habit that makes you hide your fingers from people (unless you’re me, apparently) because you’re embarrassed and you’re afraid you might accidentally run into a manicurist who will condemn you to hell on the spot.
Bonus points if you not only make your cuticles bleed, but you then proceed to absentmindedly suck the blood out.
2. Read. Constantly. Read As Much As You Can.
Reading is an awesome form of escapism, and probably my favorite way to not think about things (except for when I have to go back and re-read about ten pages because I realized that I had, in fact, been thinking about things for the two-hundred-and-forty-seven-garfzillionth time. Obviously I would recommend fiction if you’re going to attempt to suppress the act of thinking.
Keep a large stack of books right by (or in my case, on top of) your bed. This serves a few purposes. First… you can read yourself to sleep at night. Read until you’re absolutely exhausted and your eyes won’t stay open anymore. See? No time for thinking!
Second… if you wake up in the middle of the night after having a nightmare or you’re having a panic/anxiety attack, you can grab for a book and just not think about it! I know how tight your chest feels during a panic attack. I know it’s hard to breathe. But just don’t think about it!
Third… if all else fails, a massive stack of books might topple over and knock you unconscious. Then you really won’t be able to think about it! Ding-ding-ding! WINNER!
But really, lounging around in your pajamas all the time is an excellent way to
make people think you’re a mental patient pass the time not thinking about it.
(Don’t ask about the mangled hands and feet in that drawing. I’m not very good at drawing hands and feet [or anything else, really — all the better!])
3. Watch A Movie
What a great form of escapism! As you can see here, I was über-successful in just not thinking about it when I took to watching movies that I love and haven’t seen in a while.
It seems like a totally legit way to occupy your brain. Spend a few hours thinking about something else and living in someone else’s world.
… A good idea, that is, until your overactive brain won’t let you stop comparing it to your life and you find yourself curled up in a ball with eye makeup running all over your face.
4. Throw Yourself Headlong Into A New(ish) Hobby
As for me, I took up knitting during the hottest week of the year last July. Duh. When I needed something to do with my hands that involved manipulating sharp objects while not actually maiming anyone with them, I turned to knitting.
While my hands were occupied and not stabbing anyone, my mind still wandered a bit too easily. So now I only knit when I’m listening to music. Which brings me to my last activity to help you just not think about it…
5. Listen To Music (While Wearing A Lot Of Eyeliner [Optional])
I’m very sensitive to music. Probably a little too sensitive. For that reason, it became difficult for me to just not think about it because all I could think about was how my life feels like a cliché pop song. I redoubled my efforts, but I think that maybe I missed the point.
And so, in conclusion…
Here’s why I think “Just don’t think about it” is the shittiest piece of advice ever:
Not only can many people just not turn their minds on and off like that, but it’s a cop-out. When you tell someone to just not think about what’s bothering them, you’re invalidating their feelings and telling them it doesn’t matter (at least not to you, who is supposed to be their friend/family member/whatever). And maybe it doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, but if something is giving them that much to think about, then it’s something that’s important to them.
As for me… I may be totally neurotic and I may struggle with not letting my mind get the best of me (and all the ways that can affect everyone else), but telling me to just not think about something will always piss me off. I’m an introvert and a thinker. I need to think. Sometimes I need to think for a very long time (days, weeks, months, sometimes even longer). Even if you don’t like it.
Please don’t invalidate me by telling me to just not do that.
I realise yelling ‘YEEEAAAH!’ may be a terrible response to the content, but can I just say that your leap to illustration kind of makes my heart sing. Also, Eternal Sunshine is the movie I would bring to the desert island. If the island has a blu-ray.
What would be a more appropriate response than ‘don’t think about it’… I’m thinking ‘let’s try and get you out of this cycle/what can we do?” I think I’ve said those exact words to someone. nothing like being trapped in the old brain spiral.
What could people say to be better friends and allies?
Haha, you can yell YEEEAAAH! if you want. I was pretty amused with my own drawings. :) I’m quite happy to have another tongue-in-cheek post laced with my signature sarcasm, haha.
I may or may not have an idea for how to incorporate video as well, but I can’t give too much away just yet. I have some crafting to do and a few tricks up my sleeve.
Agreed about the brain cycle. I’m not really sure what I would want people to say — anything but “Just don’t think about it,” haha. Even if they just let me yammer on for a while or converse with me about it.
Ah, human nature. :-D
Maybe a more appropriate response than “just don’t think about it” would be “let’s talk about it.” While talking at length about something that’s weighing heavily on the mind can sometimes be helpful and sometimes just fuel the brain cycle, this response at least makes it seem like they are actually intersted in what’s bothering you. It’s nice to feel like someone cares.
Also, I love the illustration for #5.
Yes! Thank you. Talking about it seems like, you know, the right thing to do. However, on par with “just don’t think about it” is “well, we talked about it once so you’re not allowed to talk about it anymore.” Haha.
And thank you. #5 is also my favorite illustration. :)