Although we may sometimes believe otherwise, psychologists who know about these things tell us that our brains are only capable of holding one single thought at a time.
When you’ve ‘a lot on your mind’, you almost certainly have a series of thoughts tumbling over themselves in your head, one after the other.
But at any one moment, your attention can only be focused on any one thing.
Think of it like a public transport journey across a big city.
The entire trip could involve you taking two different trains, three buses and a tram – but stop the clock at one particular moment and you’ll see that you can’t be on a bus and train at the same time.
It’s an effect you may be aware of if you manage to become engrossed in a movie during a period when you’re going through a rough patch.
It doesn’t always happen, of course, but now and then you may just surprise yourself by realising that you’ve gone through a brief spell when you’ve not thought about the stuff that’s troubling you.
Is this ‘cheating’ somehow?
Are you in some way managing to deceive yourself?
I don’t think so.
Negative thoughts can be all-consuming, meaning that when things are bad for you, all you seem to do is focus on the gloom.
So think of the brief respite you get when your mind is distracted as a little vacation, or like having a snooze.
The trouble is, it’s not always possible to engage with a movie or TV show when you’re feeling under the weather, and I think that it’s at times like these that it can help to properly notice the world around you as you go about your day.
Instead of mooching along, ruminating about all that’s wrong with your world (I speak from experience), really focus on your surroundings: a good tip can be to imagine you are about to draw or paint whatever it is you see.
Deeply study colours and shapes.
Intently follow movements.
Thoroughly observe textures and contrasts.
True, the relief from undesirable thoughts may only be short-lived, but when a wave of all-pervasive glumness is threatening to engulf you, every little opportunity to breathe can help.