Confronting Bipolar’s Negative Thought Spirals

Contemplation—the act of thinking about something with careful consideration—calms the mind and spirit. In fact, all cultures and religions have had these practices for centuries.

Instead of quieting the mind through traditional meditation, contemplation allows us to gain wisdom by finding out what’s keeping our mind busy. It’s an unhurried, careful act done at a pace that, while potentially challenging during hypomanic and manic episodes, helps prevent negative thought spirals.

Our natural urge is to escape painful emotions, says clinical psychologist Jonice Webb, PhD.

But “sitting with the feeling is step one toward processing it … take a deep breath, and set a goal to sit with it,” explains Webb. “Recognize that no feeling lasts forever. And the best way to get a strong emotion to pass is to accept it. If you fight or escape it, it will keep its power over you.”

It can be important to engage with these negative thoughts seriously before they fuel each other and turn into full-blown depression.

“Nothing is foolproof … but acknowledging what is going on and actively trying to find a way to stop the cycle go a long way,” says Deb Knobelman, PhD, about her own relationship with rumination. “They bring my mind space back to the present moment. They help me acknowledge the good right in front of me. Instead of the bad that might happen in a murky, uncertain future.”

According to Stanford University, taking time to pause for self-reflection enables us to be present, competent, creative, compassionate, resilient, and better able to care for ourselves and others.

It has physical benefits as well. Multiple studies have shown that contemplation also can lower cardiovascular risk, help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and mitigate medical conditions such as depression and high blood pressure, among other things.

Some ways to practice introspective meditation include deep breathing, taking moments for self-compassion, and spending time in nature. (When in nature, pause while admiring the trees, or observing the angles of the footpath.) Yoga, tai chi, and qigong are also good for slowing down and reflecting with conscious effort.

“Whether you pose a question and listen for some clarity, or you’re just open to receiving whatever comes, the intent is to be a curious observer,” says bp Magazine columnist Rwenshaun Miller. “Be open to your thoughts, instead of running from them.”

Read “Facing Thoughts, Instead of Running from Them” >>

Originally posted July 13, 2022

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