I Want to Be a Doctor
12- How to Deal with Overwhelming Thoughts?
April 6, 2022
Today's question is from a college sophomore who asks, “How can I deal with all the thoughts that keep popping into my head? There’s so much I’m trying to figure out right now and I just want a brain break!” I’m so glad you’re realizing you need this now instead of waiting until you’re further along in training or your career and totally burned out. There are many ways of dealing with all the thoughts but I’ll tell you some of the things that I do. These are what I recommend to my kids, who are in 4th and 7th grade, and to the medical students I teach. They are what I use every week to keep myself sane and happy. https://podcasts.bcast.fm/i-want-to-be-a-doctor

How Do I Deal with Overwhelming Thoughts?


Welcome to the I want to be a doctor podcast where insider information about what it takes to become a physician is available for anyone. I'm Dr. Robin Dickinson, a board-certified family physician and I will give honest answers to your questions.  Today's question is from a college sophomore who asks, “How can I deal with all the thoughts that keep popping into my head? There’s so much I’m trying to figure out right now and I just want a brain break!”

I’m so glad you’re realizing you need this now instead of waiting until you’re further along in training or your career and totally burned out.  There are many ways of dealing with all the thoughts but I’ll tell you some of the things that I do.  These are what I recommend to my kids, who are in 4th and 7th grade, and to the medical students I teach.  They are what I use every week to keep myself sane and happy.  

Are Thoughts True?


First, it’s important to remember that thoughts are just thoughts.  They aren’t facts.  Your brain’s job is to make thoughts.  Ears make ear wax, your nose makes snot, your mouth makes spit, your arm pits make sweat, your brain makes thoughts.  Just like you don’t sit around analyzing your ear wax, you don’t need to take all your thoughts seriously either.

I live in Colorado at the foot of the mountains.  In 20 minutes, we can be up in the mountains hiking along a mountain stream.  So I like to think of my thoughts as flowing through my brain like water flowing down a stream.  You often see things floating along in the stream--pretty leaves, sticks, garbage.  Your thoughts are also just flowing through your brain.  You can let them flow right out.  If you try to dam them up, they just overflow.  If you follow them downstream you can end up where you didn’t want to be.  But if you just live your life and let them flow through, you can wade in them and just grab the good stuff.

A pretty leaf, a flower, a little toy boat that escaped some child’s play, those are all good to pick up.  You choose which thoughts are beautiful, inspiring, and so forth.  Keep those.  Ponder them.  Carry them home with you.

Now in real life I collect the garbage and throw it away.  When your thoughts are flowing through your brain though, everything you choose to grab out of that stream and hang on to, you’re choosing to keep in your brain.  So if garbage is floating on the stream of thoughts in your brain and you hang on to it, you’re polluting your brain with it.  You’re choosing to let it take root and grow.

How to Contain Thoughts in a Box


Some thoughts are important but are maybe allowed to take up more space than they need or deserve.  They crowd out other activities your brain needs or wants to be doing.  In that case, I like to use a thought box.  Some people like imagining something large like a closet or a room to keep all those thoughts in.  I like to imagine a tiny little box I can keep in my desk drawer.  To help me remember that my thoughts aren’t allowed to take a huge amount of space unless I let them.  I imagine a pretty little pirate’s chest looking box with metal hasps and a key.  Anything I don’t want to deal with at the moment, I can put away in that box. It’s always there if I want it.  I can pull it back out.

Can Keeping Lists Help with Overwhelming Thoughts?


I also keep a list of it all so I don’t try to keep track of it.  I actually have a lot of lists.  I do lists of worries I’ve put in the box for long term storage.  I have a list of what I actually need to get done so I don’t have to remember it all.  I have a list of what my husband needs to get done so I don’t keep checking.  Figure out a system that works for you.  

For me, I have a list for my husband on the fridge where we can both see it and a weekly list in my planner for myself.  My list is a list of weekly to-do’s that I can schedule onto the particular day I’m doing it or leave it in the weekly list if it doesn’t matter when exactly I do it.  Then when I have a few minutes to knock something off my list, I can just take care of it.  Nothing is hanging over my head because it’s all written on paper. 

Two Patients...And a Choice


I hope some of these ideas help you.  The most important thing is that you’re tackling this now.  The saddest patient I ever cared for was a person in their 90s who had never learned to let go of the overwhelming, negative, thoughts.  They had a very comfortable life but we all have problems and worries and they were so consumed by their thoughts that they couldn’t be present in their life, enjoying family, neighbors, community activities, and so forth.  That person was such a contrast to another patient I care for, also in her 90s.  She had worked at a job she loved into her 80s but had needed more help and moved to be with family.  She didn’t pretend that the problems didn’t happen, but she was able to really enjoy each moment whether it was a card game with her great-grandchildren or reading a book on the porch in the evening.  It’s never too late or too early to put thoughts in their place so you can be present in your own life for your entire life.

That's it for today. Subscribe, share with your friends and mentors; and remember to live the life that is right for you with your personality interests and values. 
Please send your questions to me at podcast@docrobinschool.com. That's podcast at d-o-c Robin like the bird school dot com.
Show notes are available on the podcast website linked below. 
This episode was sponsored by Dr. Robin's School, the first premedical curriculum for kids, and recorded and produced in beautiful, downtown Englewood, Colorado. 

https://podcasts.bcast.fm/i-want-to-be-a-doctor