Friday 10 April 2020

How to Stop Reliving Painful Memories

Katie discusses some techniques she uses to stop overthinking and start living in the present 
- Katie Heyes

Memory… a funny thing isn’t it? Whilst happy memories can leave us feeling nostalgic and grateful for having shared such memorable moments with people, it sadly seems to be the unhappy memories that we tend to dwell on more. When you’ve endured a lot of hardships, reliving them is inevitable at some point or another. Just when you least expect it, hurtful comments you heard years ago, or that job interview that didn’t go as planned can start to slowly invade your mind and the pain or stress that comes from these memories can soon become overwhelming. You become daunted by this fear of not being able to escape these feelings, which consequently can negatively impact your day-to-day life. Sometimes you can feel lost in the memory itself, as if you were still there, leading you to forget about the present.

Overthinking a scenario is nothing new. I myself have fallen victim to catastrophizing several scenarios and reading all sorts into them countless times. So much so that it has caused my self-confidence and trust in people to plummet. The past few days, in particular, have been…challenging to say the least. A regular sleeping pattern has, once again, gone out the window, with many painful memories wanting to resurface right in the middle of the night. What’s most peculiar about this, and perhaps what most unnerved me, was the fact that some of these memories weren’t even recent. This week alone I’ve had three nightmares, each revolving around a high school bullying experience. I’d wake up sometimes on the edge of tears at all these raw emotions suddenly being brought up to the surface which would put me in a pessimistic and depressive mindset for the rest of the day. And last night, just to spruce it up a bit, I dreamt about an old friend who grew distant and chose a bully over me.

Obviously reliving such raw, distressing emotions isn’t helping me in the slightest. As the majority of this pain stems from the lack of closure I’ve got from certain situations, I’ve become overly sensitive and many times it’s like I’m unable to control how I’m feeling. Although for the most part, it is a subconscious feeling, it has been seriously affecting my actions in the present. However, ever since the overthinking started this week, I’ve started adopting a few more tricks to retrain the subconscious to start the healing journey.

So let me share a few of these coping mechanisms with you to try and put those restless minds at bay and start living in the present.

1. Keep a positivity journal: 

Whenever you feel those anxious thoughts starting to invade your mind, grab a notebook and try noting down 5 happy thoughts or memories instead, and why you enjoyed them. Finding a positive memory to combat a negative one will help the latter gradually seem insignificant.

2. Try some mindfulness:

I’ve written a blog post about this a few years ago which I’ll link down below, but this has proven to be one of the most effective forms of therapy for me. Instead of allowing yourself to become consumed by one hurtful experience, try to focus your mind on the present. Think of what you can see and hear around you. Whilst for some it may be difficult to get started, through following a guided voice or soothing music, your attention will soon be brought to your surrounding environment, leaving little to no room for those nagging thoughts.

3. Try putting things in perspective: 

Whenever you imagine an embarrassing or unpleasant scenario in the past, try writing down a few questions such as "Does this memory really define me?” or ”Does anybody other than me think that situation is important?”. This is particularly effective when considering recent events, for example, if a person blanked a message you sent them. You can allow yourself to be lost in the potential negative reasons behind it, however, there can be just as many, if not more reasonable explanations behind the action such as “they were just busy,” or “they might not know how to respond.” Adopting the ‘glass half full’ mindset rather than the ‘glass half empty’ will help you become more optimistic about not just the present, but about the future.

Although these are only a few steps for now, they’re helping me to get my healing journey on the right path. So if your mind ever finds itself wandering off to somewhere unpleasant, try adding a few of these activities to your daily lifestyle. No more lurking in the past! Onwards and upwards! 

Katie has written another piece about mindfulness which can be found here.

For more information and support on looking after your wellbeing at university, click here.

I'm Katie, currently a Modern Languages student at Durham University, with a passion and drive to fight against mental stigmas and offer my support to anyone who feels like they can’t reach out. I hope everybody can get a little something out of my posts. No matter where you look there is always support whichever way you turn! 

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