July 2021 Vol 3 Issue 7
Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!
IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE 1: Do you think too much? How to free yourself from overthinking, with Pea Callesen
STORYTELLERS’ CORNER: Word nerd alert! The case of pall and pallor
Welcome Mid-July, 2021!
Another week-long heatwave has blanketed Western Canada, punctuating these late days of the Covid pandemic. The heat has brought some needed stillness, it seems to me, amidst the discovery of yet more unmarked graves from Indian Residential Schools and amidst other stories of suffering and loss, such as the devastation of the collapsed condominium tower in Seaside, Florida.
When so much of our planet is dogged by strife and loss, I am especially grateful that many of us (including me) are blessed to have safe homes and communities in which to live and work and have our being.
As we ease back into life after the lifting of restrictions last Sunday, do you feel trepidation, relief, or both? And as high summer brings holiday time to many, what are you most grateful for?
In this month’s issue, I discuss the challenge of overthinking–something which so many of us are prone to, especially in recent times, and which can precipitate anxiety and depression. Psychologist Pea Callesen weighs in on what we can do to stop mental rumination.
And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” we visit “word nerd” Bryan Garner’s blog posting, where he differentiates between the use of the ominous terms of “pall” and “pallor.”
Although technically, our daylight hours are shortening and although rain is desperately needed across the province, I remain aware of the beauty of nature that surrounds us: Early morning birdsong and resplendent peonies all greeted me on my morning walk, today. Once again, we are reminded of the miracle of our seasons.
To all of my readers, Happy Summer!
Article One: Do you think too much? How to free yourself from overthinking, with psychologist Pea Callesen
The May 2021 issue of the journal, “Psyche,” featured a fascinating article by the Danish metacognitive psychologist, Dr. Pea Callesen, called “How to stop overthinking.”
Although the article spanned several pages (and I recommend it to you), Callesen’s main argument was that persistently worrying, “stewing” and ruminating about one’s problems can yield unhealthy results. These include insomnia, trouble concentrating, a loss of energy, all of which can propel one’s worries further, “creating a vicious cycle of overthinking”(6).
Callesen writes that for many, overthinking results in anxiety and depression, which are exacerbated in pandemic times, when physical and mental isolation from family and friends intensifies our vulnerability to mental illness.
Given the times we live in, almost everyone has experienced overthinking at some point. Most of us also want to stop it, so Callesen’s insights are timely and relevant. But the world of overthinking is not a level playing field: People who have been overthinkers for many years sometimes feel ambivalent about stopping, afraid to let go of a familiar “crutch or coping mechanism.”
Callesen recommends that we confront the assumptions that underpin our fears, such as “ ‘If I worry about what could go wrong, I’ll be able to do better next time.’ ” Ask yourself, she says, “if your ruminations have ever led to better decisions, fewer symptoms and more control?” Instead, worrying increases “tension, restlessness, . . . anxiety” and brings no better decision-making.
Callesen identifies five aspects of overthinking that clarify why we would do well to free ourselves from it:
(1) When we overthink, she says, we use defensive strategies to try to reduce our already present anxieties and worries, such as monitoring “threats, . . . seeking answers and reassurance, and excessive planning.” Such rumination is unfruitful and ends up “backfiring.” It “often leads to a heightened sense of danger, more worries and will maintain your belief that worrying is out of your personal control” (7).
Callesen reports from her clinical practice (some of which is conducted online from her clinic in Denmark) that many laypeople assume that thinking too much is “an innate personality trait; something we can’t change. However, the worry and rumination brought on by overthinking are a learned strategy that we choose—consciously or unconsciously—[when we try] to deal with our thoughts and feelings.” We’d be more accurate to think of ruminating as “a bad habit we fall into” and one that we can learn to change (7).
(2) While overthinking is triggered by a particular thought, Callesen says that “it’s not the trigger thought in and of itself that causes unpleasant symptoms, nor is it the [number] of trigger thoughts we might have. It is the time we spend engaging in these thoughts, ruminating and worrying, that weighs us down” and burdens our minds (7).
(3) Trigger thoughts are automatic and can’t be stopped, but we can choose not to engage in them—not “to ‘answer’ that thought and follow it up with more related thoughts,” and just to let it be.” We forget that thoughts are “ephemeral” and will go away, “if we don’t expend energy on them.”
(4) We can challenge the belief that overthinking is beyond our control by exploring “whether we’re able to postpone worries and ruminations” for a specific time of day (say one-half hour, late in the afternoon). Callesen says we can tell ourselves: “I’ll deal with this later.”
(5) It’s tempting to avoid situations that provoke trigger thoughts, but it’s more effective to practice letting go of those thoughts, rather than avoiding situations or settings.
Callesen and her mentors and colleagues have found that metacognitive therapy (and not cognitive behavioural therapy of the past, CBT) is the most effective way to deal with overthinking. And their research shows that it works effectively to counteract anxiety and depression.
She has published a book on metacognitive therapy, called, Live More, Think Less: Overcoming Depression and Sadness with Metacognitive Therapy (2020). She describes it as an “easy read” for laypeople that focuses on depression but applies to “overthinking in general.” Other online resources, including online treatment, are available from her and her colleagues on Zoom, YouTube and social media.
Callesen recommends that we train our attention to move from obsessive “interior inputs,” like trigger thoughts; and that we restrict “outer inputs” that come from external stressors. She recommends that overthinkers practice a 10 minute, three-step “attention training” exercise:
(1) Tune in to three or four environmental sounds, such as traffic, birdsong, chatter on a nearby radio, renovation noise, etc. Seek a setting where “some of the noises you select are nearer and louder, while others are further away and quieter.”
(2) Of the three or four sounds you’ve selected, practice tuning in to just one at a time, for about 10 seconds each (use a digital timer to help you). Let the other sounds fade into the background. After 10 seconds have passed, switch your focus to another of your sounds.
(3) After two minutes have passed, repeat the exercise, but switching more quickly between the sounds, allowing only 2-4 seconds for each one.
This exercise will help us to shift our attention between thoughts. Callesen suggests introducing a recording of a trigger thought into the exercise, to switch our attention toward and away from the sound of that thought.
With repetition, we can learn to let go of overthinking as a defensive strategy. Callesen says that with it comes “a great relief, and . . . the decisions you make won’t suffer from it.” If this and related exercises don’t provide much relief, she recommends a course of Metacognitive therapy (MCT) as a more intensive way to reduce anxiety and depression.
And now it’s your turn: Do you tend to overthink your way through life? Do you think that MCT could help? Please weigh in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.
STORYTELLER’S CORNER . . .
A visit from “word nerd” Bryan Garner: Should we say “pall” or “pallor?”
In a recent blog posting, American etymologist, Bryan Garner, explained the difference between the terms “pall” and “pallor.”
A “pall” means (1) a piece of cloth draped over a coffin or tomb; it can also be (2) a shortened form of the word pallium, a robe worn by a bishop or by a monarch at a coronation.”
Garner says that the set phrase to cast a pall over (a situation) figuratively reflects the first meaning, above, to have gloom and defeat settle in. By contrast, “pallor” refers to “a paleness of face, esp. a deathly lack of color.”
He writes that both words suggest that things “aren’t right!” But there the difference ends: a pallor is a paleness in the face, while a pall is something that causes gloom. Only a pall, not a pallor, is cast or hung.
Garner jokes that one “grows pallid” when reading the misuses of these terms that he cites:
“The strong-arm tactics cast a pallor [should read pall] over the once-lustrous Espy name.” Charles Whitaker, “Mike Espy: Bruised but Unbowed,” Ebony, 1 Apr. 1999, at 98.
Garner also cites this sentence: “Commerce students said the noontime fights cast a pallor [should read pall] on the rest of the day.” Mary Ellen O’Shea, “5 Arrested at Commerce After Fights,” Springfield Union News, 19 Oct. 2002, at B1.
What are your linguistic bugbears, these days? Please send them to me for future issues!
I am grateful this month to be immersed in a 32 hour practicum, teaching English as a Second Language to several new, Middle Eastern Canadians. Special thanks to the staff of Nevy’s Language (Toronto) for keeping the teacher resources and bookings as highly functioning as possible.
And thanks to my Ontario – and Quebec-based students who show up faithfully for our Zoom-based lessons, despite the temptations of nearby beaches and parks!
I’m also delighted to have begun professional coaching, as I broaden the scope of my storytelling services, from Saskatchewan’s own, Deanna Litz, of Powerful Nature Coaching & Consulting.
Over the past 12 years, Deanna has been the main facilitator and coach of the startSMART program, through the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship. Deanna is a seasoned veteran with so much to share; I look forward to learning from her insights and guidance!
Many thanks again to the Saskatoon Health Region for ably managing and dispensing second vaccinations, when Pfizer supply temporarily waned (last month) and when the variants raised local anxiety. Particular thanks go to lifelong friend and medical librarian (extraordinaire), Erin Watson, for informing me about a clinic that would expedite the process.
Special thanks as well to cousins and old friends in Ontario (from both university and copywriting days) who continue to write or call at holiday times, even when time is a limited commodity.
And a shout out to all colleagues and friends who (like me) are major caregivers for their elderly relatives in Saskatchewan’s flawed senior health care system, navigating challenging paths when resources are scarce.
A heartfelt thank you this month to the Drebit family and to Gisele Stodola for their generous friendship toward an aging family member.
And to my loyal readers who continue to read this newsletter, now 10 years since I first began it, thank you for your loyalty and interest!
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.
Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” Under the umbrella of assisting others in telling their stories, I help new- and economic immigrants to secure better jobs by improving their language skills; I help small- and medium-sized businesses to close more sales by communicating more effectively; and I help major companies to tell the stories of their legacies.
After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).