A woman cradles her head representing how to stop ruminating

If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in the never-ending loop of overthinking, you’re not alone. Many people don’t know how to stop ruminating, and unfortunately, rumination can make us feel like prisoners of our thoughts and prevent us from living life to its fullest. Whether you’re thinking nonstop about a breakup, a mistake you made, or about bad things that could happen in the future, learning how to stop ruminating is the path to mental and emotional freedom.

Many of my clients come to therapy for anxiety or to life coaching because they want to learn how to gain control over obsessive, repetitive thought patterns that make them feel sad, scared, and stuck. But fear not, for this blog is your guide to breaking the cycle, rediscovering inner peace, and stepping into a brighter future. 

If you would prefer to listen I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it in the player below, on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

So, let’s dive right into “How to Stop Ruminating” and regain control of your mind, once and for all:

How to Stop Ruminating 101: Acknowledging the Problem

The first step in any journey of personal growth is increasing self-awareness. In order to stop ruminating, you first need to recognize when it’s happening, which can be difficult at first if rumination is a deeply ingrained mental habit for you. Learn to notice when you’re having repetitive, distressing thoughts, or dwelling on past events, especially with a negative or self-critical focus. When you notice yourself ruminating, say out loud, “I’m ruminating right now,” to make yourself fully aware of what your mind is doing.

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Embracing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful antidote to rumination. It’s about paying deliberate attention to the present moment without judgment. When you are fully engaged in the present, there’s no real estate left for obsessive thoughts about the past or future. You can improve mindfulness by simply focusing on your breath, bodily sensations, or the sights and sounds around you. With time, you’ll build mental strength and discipline that allows you to shift your focus away from rumination.

Challenge Your Thoughts

The root of rumination often lies in irrational or distorted thinking. To stop ruminating, question your thoughts. Are they based on facts? Are they helpful or destructive? Learn to recognize cognitive distortions like catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, or overgeneralization. By challenging your thoughts, you can regain control of your mind and break the cycle of rumination.

Practice Self-Compassion:

Rumination often involves harsh self-criticism and self-blame. Not only does it make you feel regret about the past and fear about the future, but it makes you feel bad about yourself in the here and now. Counteract these tendencies with mindful self-compassion. Treat yourself as you would a friend in need. Acknowledge that you are human, and like everyone else, you make mistakes. Remember that self-compassion doesn’t mean avoiding responsibility but rather offering understanding and forgiveness to yourself, and embracing the growth opportunities that you can only gain through trial and error.

Find a Creative Outlet

What is your passion? Where do you experience flow? 

Finding a creative outlet like art, writing, or music can help you channel your energy constructively when your mind won’t stop spinning in an anxious loop. You don’t have to be a professional; the act of creation itself can be therapeutic. If there is a creative activity that you enjoy so much that you lose track of time while you’re doing it, then you’re on the right track. 

How to Stop Ruminating by Cultivating Problem Solving Skills

Rumination often revolves around unresolved problems. If you are worried about a project at work, or a conflict with a friend, or your financial situation, then rumination can be your brain’s way of seeking a solution. 

Unfortunately, thinking obsessively about a problem does not make it go away. Instead, it can make you feel overwhelmed and even paralyzed. In fact, rumination can make problems worse, and studies show that it is closely associated with greater levels of anxiety and depression.

By working on your problem-solving skills, you can equip yourself to address the concerns that lead you to ruminate. Use a structured approach: identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, and then take action. One of the benefits of working with a good life coach is getting assistance with creating actionable plans for solving specific problems in your life, and gaining an effective framework for problem solving in the future. 

Learning to Let Go of the Past

One of the fundamental aspects of rumination is the inability to let go of the past. As a breakup and divorce recovery expert, I have found this to be especially true for people experiencing heartbreak. They often can’t stop thinking about their Ex and what went wrong in the relationship, and it can keep them stuck. 

To get unstuck and begin moving forward, you need to embrace radical acceptance for what has already happened. Working through grief, validating your own feelings, and digging into the personal growth that comes from difficult life experiences can all help you make peace with the past. Then, you can focus your energy on the present and the future, which are the only things you can change. 

Getting Professional Help with Rumination

Rumination is a common problem, but it can develop into something more serious if left unchecked. Don’t let rumination persist, especially if it’s standing in the way of your mental, emotional, or physical wellbeing. A good therapist or life coach can equip you with the tools you need to manage rumination and gain mental freedom. 

If you are interested in doing this work with a clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — Please know that I have many more free resources available to support your emotional wellbeing. You can find more articles and podcast episodes like this in my “emotional wellness” content collection. I made it for you!

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How to Stop Ruminating

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Jim O’Rourke with their song “A Man’s Mind Will Play Tricks on Him.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://jimorourke.bandcamp.com/music. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby:This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Is your mind working overtime these days? So hard when you can’t stop replaying painful events from the past or worrying nonstop about the future? It feels like you’re at the mercy of your mind, but you don’t have to be.

On today’s episode, we’re talking with Dr. John Delony about Rumination and the tools you can use to reclaim your mental and emotional energy. I feel better already. We’re listening to Jim O’Rourke with a song, A Man’s Mind Will Play Tricks On Him, which is setting the theme for our show today, but also very relaxing to listen to. Like the opposite of Rumination is the song. So I love it. If you want to learn more about gym or work, you can check out his Bandcamp page, jimorourke.bandcamp.com.

I’m so glad you’ve tuned into this episode because I think you’re going to find this one very helpful. I know I am personally excited for this one. We’re going to talk about rumination, what it is and how to stop doing it. And I wanted to discuss this because I have people reach out to me all the time, listeners, clients. And one of their biggest pain points is that they are stuck in these thought loops, kind of torturing themselves from the inside out, things they just can’t stop thinking about. And they’re often painful thoughts, thoughts that make them feel badly.

Maybe it was about a breakup or a divorce or a job lost, a missed opportunity, a mistake they made, something said or perhaps unsaid. But it sticks with you and I know you know what I’m talking about. We all do this and we all know how distressing it can be.

So today we are talking about mental freedom with my guest, Dr. John Delony. Dr. John has been a guest on this podcast before and he is now coming back to talk about this subject because he has a new book coming out that’s right on the mark here. It’s called building a non anxious life. So we’re going to be talking about his book and also more about Dr. John, the Dr. John Delony Show Podcast. And he has also been the author of other books as well. Tell me again what the last one was before this, John?

Dr. John Delony: The last one was “Own Your Past, Change Your Future”.

Lisa: That’s it. That’s it. Welcome back. Actually so much.

John: I’m grateful for your hospitality. Thank you so much.

Writing About Rumination and Anxiety

Lisa: Yeah, it’s good to talk with you again today. And this subject in particular, I was thrilled to learn about your new book coming out because this is really hard when we get stuck in these anxious thoughts.

And so I know that you have some life experience with this yourself, as we all do. Is it fair to say that that’s where the origin story of this book came from? Or was there a different path towards?

John: I think it was a combination of both. People kept asking, what was my journey out of really anxious life? But more importantly, I travel all over the country meeting with groups and folks behind closed doors, and it’s a consistent drumbeat of people trying to figure out how to be well in a really chaotic time in human history. And I think we’re going about it sideways.

The things that we are doing that otherwise would normally work are just we’re not being honest about how ineffective they are and there’s not really another roadmap. And so that was my attempt with this book here, is to lay out a framework for here’s how to build a life where you’re not anxious all the time and we’re not depressed all the time, and we can go down rabbit holes there. But even saying that out loud is a little bit controversial these days. So that’s the genesis of the book.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Well, and I get that because it has felt more fraught just in the world lately, and even for people who have had fairly well developed skills and strategies for being okay when things get too much, those aren’t enough anymore. And so we need to double down or learn new things, new strategies, a new map, as you say.

We know that rumination can be a component of anxiety. That’s part of what makes us feel elevated, anxious, kind of attached to thoughts or ideas that don’t feel great. Can you take us in a little bit to your understanding of rumination and how it contributes to the experience of anxiety, or depression for that matter?

John: Yeah, I’m working on a hypothesis. I’m glad I get to talk to somebody who’s way smarter than I am about this. In grad school, they taught us that anxiety, like OCD, like these loops, are a derivative of anxiety. And then I think even in the latest DSM, they branched out on their own, but that anxiety and depression sit separate from each other.

And then downstream is hoarding and downstream is OCD and some of these repetitive behaviors. I was recently introduced to some brain maps where they can track the loops that OCD travels in your brain. And I started to wonder, what if we have it backwards?

What if the root of so much of our mental health is just simply our mind catching itself in a loop and it’s passing these thoughts back to the response, back to the thoughts, back to the response.

Because so much of our world has left the human body and we do so much of our lives in our brain. We text, we don’t talk, we send photos, we don’t show up in person. We sit down and type emails. We don’t go across the hall and have conversations. We’ve completely removed the physical life out of our existence and we’ve shoved it up in our head. And we do all of our work in our head.

Which is kind of cool. I’m glad I’m not shoveling concrete all day, but I think there’s a physiological toll. And so at the end of the day, rumination is simply your mind telling itself stories in some sort of anticipatory way to try to circumvent bad things that may happen. Or as the great Renee Brown says, it’s dress rehearsing tragedy. It’s practicing a conversation.

It’s practicing, what are you going to do when your husband dies in a car wreck because he’s late coming home from work? Or and you find out that she’s been cheating on you? It’s just this rehearsal, this rehearsal, this rehearsal. And what most of us, it was news to me that our body has one fight or flight response. Whether there’s a bear standing in front of us or whether we are consciously conjuring the bear in our minds, it’s still going to kick off the same system.

And so we can literally bury ourselves just sitting in the shower having an imaginary conversation with our boss. We can literally choose to die younger by having an imaginary conversation with the guy in front of us to just cut us off on the way to work, right? Because our body’s like, all right, it’s time to fight, even though there’s not a real threat there. And so that’s my understanding of Rumination. And it simply has begun to bury people, myself included.

Lisa: All right, me too. I think everybody can relate to having been just stuck in those loops. And I’m so glad you are talking about the relationship just between our thoughts and the way we feel because that blew my mind too.

I didn’t understand that at one point in my life that the things we think about have the same impact on our physiology as things that are happening right in front of us and that the things we’re visualizing or imagining can impact us in the same way.

John: There’s one more complexity that when our brain recognizes it. You’ve heard the term neuroception, right? So it’s your brain is scanning 24/7, 365, your environment. It will recognize threats or things that it thinks are threats before I even have the thought. And then it is firing the systems to go to battle or to run away or to pull back or to write, to freeze.

And then I’m going to conjure up a story as to why I feel that way. And that’s why I look around and go, I’m starting to feel anxious. It’s her fault, right? Or I’m flipping the news channels and suddenly I feel anxious and it must be that political party’s fault, right? So I’m instantly creating a story to backfill this threat response that my body’s kicked off. So it’s just a mess. It’s an absolute mess.

Lisa: Yeah, it goes the other way too, that we have these physiological reactions and then our brain hopefully comes along and creates a narrative that may or may not be true.

John: It’s almost never true, but it’s fun to believe.

The Physical Disconnect

Lisa: Wow. And I love, too, the very interesting point that you brought up when we’re first talking around the impact of living in a world, a society, a culture that is increasingly digital, meaning that it’s all in our heads compared to being physical creatures in the physical world. I actually recently interviewed you would appreciate this. Gretchen Rubin. She has a book like Life in Five Senses, and she was talking about the physicality of the world and just, like, being in the here and now, like, what do I see, hear, touch, feel.

And what you were just saying, it just struck me and reminded me of that because of the impact of not having any of those touchstones, but also not being aware of how disconnected and cut off from the physical world we are in some ways, because it’s normal.

John: It’s normal. I remember about ten years ago, he’s a close friend of mine. He’s a college president, and he was my boss at the time. And I was thinking some really awful things about him. Like, I thought his leadership was terrible. I thought the way he was treating people was awful. And all of a sudden, a message pops up on my phone, and it’s him. And we go back and forth. Totally benign conversation about something completely.

We’re back and forth, texting back and forth, texting back and forth. And later on that night, I remember having a panic. Did I say that to him? What did I say versus what did I think versus what did I communicate? Because used to and I sound like a 500 year old man who walked uphill both ways in the snow to school. I know when I say that, but used to, I had my thoughts, and those were private, and then I spoke things out. Now I text them out.

So everything is in my head. And I think we’re getting jumbled as to what we thought and what we texted and what we said and what we DM’d and to who and to how. And it’s just becoming a big mess. Even up to 25 years ago and all before human history, nobody could hear the conversation you and I are having unless they were in our room. 

Now they put in headphones, and I find that some travel in the country, people will come up, and they will hug me and they’ll say, how’s Josephine my daughter? And my first thought is, I don’t know you. You better not say my daughter’s name. Like who are you?

But they’ve been listening to hours of me having conversations, deep, intimate conversations, and their bodies are like, we know that guy, and he’s safe. And so it’s just a new frontier. Then we’re trying to not be anxious, right? We’re trying to not be depressed, and our bodies are just going haywire.

Lisa: Right? A certain level of paranoia almost comes with, like, always exposed in hard ways, then it is natural. Okay.

John: It’s a new frontier. It’s a new frontier. So the whole idea for me is what if we stop trying to be not anxious? What if that wasn’t the goal to try to stop anxiety or to stop depression? What if instead we focused all of our because if we look at it and we’re really honest in you and I are both mental health folks. That’s our world. That’s our tribe. More people are in counseling under the tutelage of a mental health professional than ever before in human history.]

People who went to grad school got tons of hours of training and practice. More people are taking psychotropic medications than ever before in human history. And the depression anxiety trendline is continuing to be almost vertical.

So we have to be honest and say, okay, maybe something else is in the air because everybody’s still getting sick. And if I back out, what if I quit trying to be not anxious and I let the anxiety, my body’s just natural alarm system let me know where I’m not safe or where I’m lonely or where my body’s out of control?

And what if I created a world where my alarms weren’t going off all the time trying to get my attention to tell me I’m not safe? And that’s a much more challenging conversation but it feels over the long term a much more simple and secure way of going about it.

Trust Your Emotions

Lisa: You’re saying to respect your emotional guidance system as opposed to-

John: Trying to pull the batteries out and shut it down? Yes. Yeah.

Lisa: Take influence from these feelings and respond to them. Think maybe my values this is telling me something important about my values or telling me something about this relationship that I should listen to rather than trying to, as you say, take the batteries out or anesthetize myself.

John: I used to tell my college students I’ll never forget doing, we used to do a survey, especially with the law students, it’s older professional students and I’ll never forget doing a survey. I would do it at the beginning of every year and then I’d go read the data back to them and it never failed that a high percentage of them in the high eighty s or ninety percent would answer the question I need a few drinks to feel sexy, to feel engaged in intimacy.

And what I would always tell them is if you have to override your body’s innate systems that say I don’t want to do something, listen to your body. Don’t numb those alarms. Don’t try to cover them up with a pile of pillows and some dirt so that you can pretend they’re not going off because they are. Right? You’re violating your own core self if you have to drink to accomplish something for somebody else or if you have to right.

So yeah, listen to these alarm systems and ask yourself what they’re trying to tell you. Sometimes they’re just telling you nonsense, but sometimes they’re trying to save your life.

Lisa: I know it trying to save your life. Say more about that idea.

John: I mean, if you look at the, we’ve seen the Diseases of Despair literature, right? Particularly people of means are dying of addiction and organ disease failures and suicide. You ignore the alarms long enough, it goes back to just using a smoke alarm in your kitchen, right? And we may have talked about this last time, but anxiety is just a smoke alarm in your kitchen trying to let you know, hey, something’s on fire. And if I spend all of my time trying to shut the alarm off, I can finally turn it off.

I could knock it down with a broom, or I can take the batteries out, but my house is going to burn down around me. I haven’t solved the problem. I’ve just stopped the alarm system. And so there’s something about going out in the front yard while the alarm is going and trying to figure out what’s on fire. And what’s on fire in our current culture is we’re so lonely.

We spend so much time in our heads ruminating and spinning and spinning, and we’re cranking up our defense system and shutting it down and cranking it up, and it shuts down. And we have all these challenges that we’ve created to try to stop these alarms instead of doing the hard work of dealing with our lives.

Lisa: Yeah. Wow. So the real work here, how to stop ruminating is what you’re saying is what would happen if you listened to that? What is that alarm system trying to tell you over and over again? What maybe do you need to pay attention to? And that that could be the path forward here, that you’ll stop ruminating once you start listening to yourself.

John: And with rumination, I think it’s twofold. There’s the acute there’s, like, I need to stop this right now. And it’s when I recognized rumination and worry is a complete and utter waste of my time. When I learned it solves nothing. It does no good for me, only negative. Then it became a practice, okay, I want to stop doing that. Then it’s just not good for me.

Like, even eating a bunch of gummy candies, it’s mostly bad for you, but it’s kind of awesome right in the middle. Like, right when you’re right when you’re doing it, there’s no benefit to rumination. It’s not helpful. And so there will be times I’m walking through the living room, and I’ll just yell out, no. And my wife will just roll her eyes because she knows I’m stopping an imaginary conversation I’m having with my boss. I’m not having this conversation.

And I know that when I’m tired and when I’ve eaten a bunch of garbage and I haven’t exercised in a while and my marriage is kind of on thin ice, that’s when my brain starts spinning up stories. And so I think it’s a both in I think there’s a stopping it in the acute phase. I’m not going to feed it. I’m going to create a world where it’s less necessary. 

Lisa: Yeah, well, you know what I think we’re talking about here? I’m sure you’ve had this conversation with clients and people as well, but there’s a difference between anxiety and fear. And that’s what I hear you saying. That unhelpful piece, that anxiety, that rumination. But that is different than fear.

We need to listen to fear. Like, what is your emotional guidance system telling you about? I wonder if that could be part of where you go in your book, is how to tell the difference between what are these emotional signals that are noise, just me, machinations stuff that isn’t helpful, versus what are my feelings telling me that I need to listen to? Because that, I think, can be difficult and confusing sometimes in itself. Is this me or is this a, yeah?

John: I think clarifying, that’s a great call. There is actually a section on fear versus fear and stress and anxiety. What’s the difference? But I think the tiger that just popped in the front of your cave, that’s fear. You should be scared of that.

There’s a tiger in front laying in bed at night and thinking, okay, what happens if there’s a tiger? What if a tiger comes? Is tiger going to come? Tiger came last time I heard there’s one. That’s rumination. It does no good. It doesn’t help.

And so the tigers are going to show up in our life. They just are. Parents are going to pass away, loved ones are going to cheat. Kids are going to get sick. That’s life. And so spending a life trying to either pretend tigers don’t come or to try to kill all the tigers, so they don’t exist. And I’m just naming political parties now, trying to just stamp on it, that’s a waste of time.

They will show up out of nowhere if I do the hard work and I’m laying in bed and I say, okay, I’ve got a trap set at the front of the place, I’ve got a back door that’s got a great exit to it. All of us are trained on the tiger protocol. I’ve done the best I can with what I have. I’m going to go to sleep.

And so in my world, like, just doing the research for this book, I didn’t understand how close the relationship to clutter in your house is to anxiety, and your body will start to get your attention. I didn’t know that. I didn’t understand.

There’s a great Japanese proverb. The guy talks about every object in your home is having a conversation with you. You walk into your closet and your shirts are like, why aren’t you wearing me? Oh, you’ve gotten too fat. You can’t wear me anymore. Or are you getting too skinny now? Or what about your or I walk down in my basement and it’s like, wow, you’re just going to leave us trash like this great example for your kids.

And there’s books on my shelf. They’re like, oh, you’re going to stay stupid forever? You’re just going to be dumb. Is that good for you? And my guitars on the wall are like, oh, are you too cool to play music now? I guess you’re too old and grown up and boring. And so all of our junk is always talking to us.

All the dishes in the sink, the unmade bed things are always talking. So there’s a direct link to clutter and there’s a direct link to how much money you owe. Your frontal lobe can really know. You got a great deal. You got five years, no interest. It’s a great deal. Your amygdala knows if one thing happens at work, we lose our house, we lose our food, we lose our car, and it’s not going to let you sleep until it’s safe. It would be failing at its job if it let you have a good night’s sleep knowing that just one wrong thing you say at work and you’re homeless.

And so if you look at your calendars, all these things that we just take for granted in this wild world we’ve created for ourselves and our brains are just trying to be like, hey, not safe, not safe, not safe, not safe. And the alarms are getting so loud and then it comes out in back pain and knee pain and ruminations and all kind of weird things.

I think it’s just stepping back and saying, okay, where am I disconnected and where am I not safe? And where am I not in control of my own life? Man, you solve a lot of those problems and a lot of the other stuff begins too. your smoke alarm doesn’t go off if there’s not a fire, right, unless it’s defective and that’s an occasional thing, and then you deal with that.

Lisa: This is interesting and it’s reminding me of what you were saying before. How? Well, something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the power of different parts of our brains. We have the thinking part of our brain that we’re very fond of and pleased with that we are making conscious decisions that are entirely in our control and we have all these reasons why we do what we do.

But as you know, there’s this also giant and very powerful part of our brain that is incredibly aware. It is non conscious and it is just picking up all of the sensory information from every part and it’s creating tension, it’s creating feelings of danger.

It doesn’t let you forget that maybe you are unsafe if there’s too much debt in your life. That’s what was coming up for me as you were talking about that relationship with clutter, that there are all these other operating systems that are contributing to feeling safe or not in the world that may not always be conscious, but that we need to pay attention.

John: That’s right. I think a lot of them aren’t. It reminds me of that he got in a lot of trouble. John Stewart had a rant about COVID on the Stephen Colbert show. But what he said was, we should be really thankful that we have science solving a lot of these problems that were caused by science. And I started laughing, thinking. That’s very similar to our thinking.

Like, I’m always having to think my way out of problems that I created just by thinking about things too much. Right. And at some point, let’s change the way we’re living our lives. And I’m confident these alarm systems will begin to settle out on their own.

Lisa: And if this is okay, as we’ve been talking, I had been accumulating curiosity, questions, just about bring them on things that you said, and we’re going totally off the map. I had my list of things to talk to Dr. John about. Let’s just go in a totally different direction.

Destigmatizing Mental Health

So you said a few minutes ago your observation that more people are in counseling than ever before, more people are on antidepressants than ever before, and that more people are still struggling and suffering than ever before with this kind of mental health crisis. And you’re a parent. I don’t know how old your kids are, but I was interested to see a report that came out recently, particularly about teenage and preteen girls and just the mental health.

I mean, there’s no other word for it than crisis with, like, self harm. And it’s just so awful. So I’m curious to know, what do you make of that? So much more treatment, so much more accessibility, lowered stigma around getting help. But it’s like the problem has the need has become greater.

John: Yeah. I’ll make a quick comment on one of the things you mentioned, and then I’ll kind of give some insight. There the great Terry Real, Terrence Real. He’s a master therapist. He pulled the blanket back for me on male depression, in a way, years ago. I think that if we were to look at a more holistic picture of our kids, I think our boys are struggling too. It just looks different. And you’ve got more, I think girls are more maybe classic. They fall more classically into some of the diagnostic categories or some of the behaviors.

But I think our boys are melting, too. It just sometimes comes out in violence, or it comes out in aggression, or it comes out in dysregulated activity, whatever is going on. But I think depression, anxiety, I think all these kids are just melting. I think they’re just melting. I think if I back out of the whole system, it feels like the house is flooding and we keep yelling, we need more boats, we need more boats. We need more boats.

And nobody’s saying, hey, why don’t we just turn the water off. Like, let’s start there. Let’s find the leak in the house. And if I’m honest with myself, I think we’ve created lives that our bodies were not designed to live in. They just aren’t designed to have this much stimulation, this much communication from this many people all the time. And it wasn’t designed to work as long as we are forcing the human body to work. And it wasn’t designed to worry about everything all by itself completely and totally alone.

Was it one out of two? It wasn’t designed for some of these pressures we’re putting on. It wasn’t designed to do life without some sort of cosmic reality. We’ve just completely pulled the thread on any and all religious threads and just said it’s all stupid and dumb. And we’ve left a generation of human completely untethered to some story bigger than themselves.

Ao if I look back, we’ve just created a world that our bodies can’t exist in, and then we’re trying to still have great marriages and be good parents and have great sex into your 90s or whatever we’re expecting these days. So it’s just madness.

I think the path forward is somebody’s got to just turn the music off and turn the lights on to this dance and be like, what are we doing? And if you look back historically, cultures usually have to have a great crisis to stop the madness. My hope is we’re all getting it, and everyone’s like, okay, this isn’t working.

And we’re seeing our young people, they’re trying, right? They’re trying things like quiet quitting, and they’re trying things like, I’m just not going to do anything. Like, they’re trying something different. It may not be the most intelligent move, but they’re trying something. I think we’ve got to come up with a new way of saying, this is what a success, this is what relationship health looks like. This is what I actually want and need in my life.

And let’s go back, fill that. And I don’t need to put a bunch of money on a depreciating asset that sits in my driveway for 23 out of 24 hours a day. Like all these things that we’ve just taken for granted. I don’t need a 7500 square foot house.

What if we figured out how to have a well and whole life and then begin to wrap our heads around that? And I think that’s a much more challenging proposition. It’s simple, but it’s hard. But man, it’s freeing when you wake up and you don’t have any chains on you.

Lisa: You know, that’s a very powerful idea. And really, you’re going into, again that theme here, like, what is the true source of the discomfort and learning how to feel comfortable in paying attention to that, taking intentionality of it, and even going back to what you were saying about Terry Real, who I have also had the great pleasure of interviewing on this show. And his message is one really of this courageous conflict in almost fighting for intimacy that is meaningful, that is powerful, and it’s difficult to do.

And what you’re saying is that in the absence of these things that we need, there are almost fairly predictable feelings of distress, despair, anxiety, depression, loneliness, but that, instead of taking action on those and asking the harder questions around, so what do I really need to do to fix this? It is a pursuit of how do I stay in this unhealthy environment and try to figure out a way to be okay.

Making Your Own Choices

John: Well, I think on your second point, we had all of our choices taken from us, and we didn’t even realize it. Like Netflix has- ee don’t even have to pick up our hands and change, like, get the next show. It just tells you, I know you better than you do. You’re going to want to watch this next series. And it just starts it automatically.

I don’t have to do anything. I can ask Siri to send pizza and she will call and order it for me. And it just shows up at my house. And so I don’t even think that we are trying to stay in these bubbles. I think we are just saying, going to the next news source that’s going to tell us, hey, you know why you’re feeling terrible? It’s because of the Republicans. It’s because of the Democrats.

You know why you feel awful. Some other country is about to take over everything you’ve ever worked. And so our bodies are anxious and fried and cooked, and we’re just being handed scripts as to why we’re frustrated.

It’s your spouse. He doesn’t care about you. She doesn’t love you. Look how much weight he’s gained. And we just keep handing scripts and hand and scripts, and we just digest them without even thinking, just digest them, digest them.

And our bodies, at some point go, I’m out, I’m out. I can’t do this. And that’s when you see somebody at work that laughs at your jokes and you tell another joke, and it feels so good to have somebody finally make you feel a little bit more alive. Or somebody at work says, hey, we’re about to go in and invest in this thing, and, you know, it’s stupid, but then that guy always makes it work, and he starts to cut corners.

But you’re going to do it anyway, right? That’s when you find yourself doing things that you would never do, because you’re trying to come up with some real experience that backs up these narratives that are just being handed to you. Hand it to you, hand it to you, and it just creates and so really well, you mentioned it was just about taking your life back. And this sounds what we’re talking about sounds like it sounds like The Matrix, right? Like some big dream. It’s not-

Lisa: I was thinking about the Matrix, thanks for saying that out loud. It’s easy to just let it all happen.

John: My promise to you is if you don’t watch the news, you’re going to live. I promise you will. I promise if you don’t owe anybody any money and you drive a ten year old car, I promise your life will be better than if you have a $1,200 a month payment on some brand new something or other that nobody’s going to care about after the first time they go, ooh, that’s cool.

I promise if you don’t have a house payment, I promise I know that sounds insane for three fourths of the country. If you don’t have a house payment over time, I can’t tell you how great it is to sit in an office and your boss says, you’re going to do this, and you laugh and go, no, I’m not. I’m not going to do that because I can live to my values. 

I don’t have to, right? It’s not Toyota Motor Company deciding what I do tomorrow. It’s what I’m deciding what I want to do tomorrow. And this isn’t about prepping and digging bunkers. It’s not that.

It’s just saying I want to live a life of peace. I want to find a life where my brain and body aren’t screaming at me, 24/7, trying to get my attention all the time. I want to be able to look at my wife and say, hey, we got separated. Like, we are too far apart. Here is what happened.

And I want to tell you, I think I said some things that I didn’t mean. They came across, they came out wrong and I hurt you and I’m sorry. That’s on me. How can I love you better? Man, if you’re not buried by debt and expectation and fear and you’re scared and you’ve got newscasters telling you to hate, if you don’t have that, then you have space for emotional intimacy and dealing with shame and dealing with that frustration.

That’s a totally different proposition. That’s just a different way of living. Doc, we know these people. It’s the people that we walk in that we sit with and we talk to them and they leave and you’re like they leave a tracer trail behind them and you just want to follow them. You just want to keep talking to them. You just want to stay in their presence because they just are peace, right?

They just have a different way of moving through the world. And I just want people to know that’s not a mystic. It’s just being intentional and making some different choices.

Lisa: Yeah, it’s like almost seeing being able to see all these different attachments or even like weights on you and then taking active steps towards your own freedom, taking the weights off, cutting the strings. And that’s really the path out of this. And I want to pivot into, if it’s okay, some ideas and strategies that you talk about in your book, but I can’t let go of this.

One other curiosity question. At the very beginning, when we first started talking, you said something about how you could live without anxiety or depression, but then you said, but that idea is controversial. What did you mean by anxiety or depression? Almost questioning the reality. Not the reality, but like the need for those as being controversial, or is that what you meant?

John: Yeah, I think we’ve in an effort to destigmatize mental health issues and frustratingly to get churches to accept them. And to get insurance companies to accept them, we’ve increasingly had to discuss them in medicalized language.

These are broken bodies that need to be healed by people who heal broken bodies. And the church was saying, you just need to believe harder and you won’t be depressed. And then somebody said, hey, it’s actually a disease. And the church went, okay, cool, they’re welcome here.

And then insurance companies said, hey, if they’re just being lazy, I ain’t helping. And then we said, well, actually it’s a brain disorder. And they go, okay, we’ll pay for that. So I think that in an effort, I think everybody had great intentions, there’s no question about that.

But I think we’ve cast a narrative that anxiety is like the flu. It’s a thing you catch that will be with you and you can’t do anything about it. I think depression is spoken about like cancer. It just shows up in you. You caught it, and it sucks to be you. And you are always going to be depressed.

And every insurance form you fill out from here on out, you’re going to have to disclose. Certain jobs you want to get, you’re going to have to disclose. I have this thing, and that’s what I think is controversial because I reject that. I think there are seasons when my body wants to get my attention in a major way, so much so in my personal life, I ignore the alarms for so long through accomplishment and achievement and getting a promotion and getting another doing another dissertation, writing another article, whatever.

The thing I was doing to numb, eventually it says, all right, cool, you’re not hearing me. I’m shutting this thing down. I’m shutting the system off because you’re going to get us killed. And I’d rather lay here than get attacked by this tiger and maybe the tiger will pass us over and it’s a last resort, right?

And so I just reject the fact that for most of us now, some people have brain lesions, they’ve got brain disorders, they’ve got neurochemistry issues that are going to be with them forever. And what an amazing moment in history that we’ve got the resources and support and medication to help in those situations.

Languages of Victimhood and Empowerment

But I think for the vast majority of folks looking at mental health challenges as your body’s way of trying to get your attention, not as some kind of existential curse or some kind of physical curse that’s going to bury you forever. One is a language of victimhood and one is language of empowerment.

And so let me be the first to say, I have been buried with anxiety, like, to where I couldn’t move. And I think anxiety and depression are on the same trendline. I have been deeply, deeply depressed. Like, it’s hard to move. And I think my body was trying to do the best it could to take care of me because I was making stupid choices across the board and I wasn’t dealing with abuse and all this other stuff is going on and that’s what I think is controversial. That’s where I get some pushback.

Lisa: This is a safe space. Dr. John I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think that this is actually a very important point, though, for our listeners to be hearing it and considering in their own lives, because you’re totally right that there has been a medicalization of our emotions in some ways for the purpose of having things taken seriously. It’s like we need to be sick to have it taken seriously by the church or certainly for insurance submissions.

And you’re also right that there are psychiatric disorders that need treatment. They require and deserve treatment and that those are real and valid. But what you’re saying, that’s one of the biggest reasons why I went into coaching as a profession which is also somewhat controversial.

My background of a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, but then pursued coaching and I had so many professional colleagues be like, why are you doing that? And it was because of what you’re saying that in the therapy world, it’s diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.

And so if you feel sad or if you’re worried about something that means there’s something wrong with you and we need to make those feelings go away. So that’s like the whole premise versus with a coaching model, I think, is in alignment with what you’re saying around what is that trying to tell you about your life experience and maybe the fact that you’re feeling these things is indicative of your health rather than psychopathology, but it can be very difficult to discern it.

And I don’t think that there’s the language or the ideas almost in the zeitgeist of our culture to help people do that sort of reflection so that if they feel anxious, there’s something wrong with me and I need to fix this, rather than what you’re saying in your book. Like, what happens if you lean in to that?

John: When I’m anxious, I want it to be something other than choices I’m making with all of my heart. And let me clarify choices. I don’t choose abuse, I don’t choose to have a boss that yells at and screams at me, but I do choose to live in a particular city or a particular state. I do choose to have an ex lifestyle or not. I do choose to not leave this job because I’m so terrified about what comes next. I am terrified to leave this relationship because I saw my mom do it, right?

So these stories are cast inside of us, and I don’t want to make light of it, but what I do want to do is to change the narrative a little bit and give people some light at the end of the tunnel. Because if we’re all just broken and dysfunctional and we’re all just this big giant black cloud that’s sitting over us, why? What are we doing? We just hanging around for another, like another great Netflix series. Like, really, what are we doing? Let’s create lives worth living.

And for millions of people, that means leaving that marriage. And I hate to say that, it just does, or it means for the first time, looking at your partner across the table and saying, this is what I need, and this is what I’m asking you to be a part of.

And millions of people need to leave that abusive boss. That boss needs to have no employees because nobody deserves to be treated like that, even if it means a pay cut for a season. I just saw a stat before we got on the air together, and it was 80% of people are willing to take a pay cut if it meant better mental health at work. Take it. Take it. Right?

So when I say there’s hard choices to be made, there’s hard choices, and there are trap people everywhere. It’s the worst people stuck on the margins. I get it. Totally get it. Totally get it. Totally get it. But I think there’s a whole bunch of us that can say, you know what? I can make big changes. I can make little changes, and they’re going to be terrifying, and I’m worth it.

Lisa: Well, and I’m also glad you’re saying out loud that it can be difficult to do. It requires a lot of intention to take stock of your life, your career, your relationship in that way, and an enormous amount of courage to be able to do that, and just transparently so I have not yet had the benefit of reading your book, which I very much want to do because it’s not out yet. At the time that we’re recording this, when does it come out again?

John: In fact, we just moved it to the fall. So it’s going to come out in the fall? In September? Yes. I’ll make you wait. I will send you a draft right when it gets back from the editor, and I’ll send you a copy. I’d love to get your feedback on it.

Lisa: But not having had the benefit of reading it and, of course, I don’t want to give away too many of the things, but I am curious to know where you go in the book, because I know you’re such a generous writer and you spent so much time and energy researching this. You’ve worked with people on it, and I know, you have an enormous amount of empathy for this experience from your own life experience as I can relate as well.

Where would you advise one of our listeners who’s listening to this and like, you know what? I think they’re right. I need to start thinking about what changes I need to be at least considering, right? Like, what is creating the rumination, the heaviness, the attachments? Where do people even start?

John: I think the first I give people three small steps to take, and I say small facetiously. They’re the worst. The worst. Doc, none of this will be fun. I think people have to. The book is based on seven choices that we get to make or not make. And the first choice is I’ve got to choose reality. And that’s never a fun place, but here’s all that means.

That means I’ve got to sit down with a notebook by myself, maybe with a trusted friend, and just write down, here’s where I am. I thought my marriage would look like this, and here’s what it actually looks like. I was a college swimmer. I was a college athlete. I didn’t mean to gain 100 pounds, and I did.

Here is what I- here is the state of my career. Here is the state of my finances. I’m going to choose reality, and I’m going to be very clear about when you’re getting out of debt, you got to list your debts in order. Right? I got to write down who I owe money to. That’s where I start. Very similar thought here. Where am I? Struggling. That’s number one. Choose reality.

Number two, I don’t know anybody who can do any of this stuff alone. And so you’ve got to get people to walk with you. Like I said earlier, we have the loneliest generation in human history and even those that we love and we’re connected to, we’ve outsourced to just long streams of memes from old friends. Right.

We’re just completely disconnected from one another. You got to get a coach or a therapist or a group of two or three people that will sit down and go through this list with you and will say, no, that’s not right. You have not gotten unattractive and dumb. That’s not true.

Or they might say, hey, you missed one. You’re also kind of a jerk. Right. And I’ve got buddies who will do that for me. But I think getting other people to provide new perspective, and then the third choice is I’m going to start. I’m going to choose freedom. And what I mean by that not like an eagle flying across the thing and I’m wearing, like, American flag underoos. That’s not what I mean when I say choose freedom.

It goes back to what you were talking about with the hooks and the tethers and the chains. Who do I owe money to? What is my calendar? How is it running my life? Where am I completely swallowed up in just stuff and clothes and clutter and books in a trashed car or where am I overly reliant on perfectionism and everything being exactly perfect or otherwise I can’t function right? These are places where we just get trapped.

When it comes to where to have no boundaries. How many grown ups do you know, Doc, whose in laws are still deciding what they’re going to do for Thanksgiving and Christmas, for God’s sake? It’s your life. So where do we not have boundaries? And so choosing reality, choosing connection, choosing to willingly enter into relationship with other people, rekindle old friendships, start new friendships, call a professional.

And the third one is, I got to choose freedom. I got to look and be honest about where is somebody else deciding what I’m doing with my own life? And that’s a great place to start.

Lisa: That’s so fantastic and very actionable. And I love it because, like, circling back around to the ideas that we started talking about that it is actually starting to listen to the ruminations, listen to the bad feelings that you would prefer not to have. That is actually where this process begins, of journaling or talking to a friend or counselor around, what am I thinking about over and over? What am I feeling?

And that is how we begin the process of sorting through it. And that once you have that clarity around your reality, as you say, then you can begin to run this past people, get feedback and think about what would change for you if you were to pursue freedom by releasing some of these attachments or old ways of being. Once you understand that they’re not serving your wellness.

John: And getting to the bottom of a story. Just track a rumination one day. Just track it. So my boss, her name is Suzanne, and let’s just pretend that I’m sitting at home and I start thinking about Suzanne and she said this and then she did this thing, and then I’m getting so mad.

You know what the story is trying to do. It’s found one person who’s got power over me, and I’m a guy. I don’t like that. I don’t like that one person decides what time I got to be at work and what I need to wear. But that’s what I signed up for. I chose this. I walked into this willingly. And so I can either have this conversation in person or I could make peace with myself and deal with my problem with authority. I have an authority problem.

And sometimes the rumination is about, I’m just going to tell him if he hits me one more time. Your body’s trying to tell you, get out. You’re not safe. Right?

Lisa: Yeah. That’s the fear that we sometimes your body’s telling you, you got an authority issue, man. If you’re going to be an adult, you need to get over that. My budget is always having I’m always having a fight with my budget. And it’s always reminding me, you’re not nine. You need to learn how to hold off on pleasure all of the time and save money. Right. Those are all just a toggle between this is a real threat and you need to grow up. But it’s just tracking that rumination all the way to the end.

John: Yeah. So that clarity and that movement towards freedom, those are three steps. I think you mentioned that there are actually seven steps. What are the advanced levels of this work? Where does it go next?

Lisa: Now, you put me on the spot here. Let me see if I can. The fourth one is choosing Mindfulness. And I know that sounds like an old guy on a cloud floating around.

John: It’s so true. I mean, people wouldn’t keep saying that if it wasn’t real.

Lisa: Right. And meditation is important, all that, and I do that. But most folks that I run into, they would not spend a day of their life meditating. So when I mean to say mindfulness, what I’m saying is just creating some space between what your body’s impulse, what it feels, and what you do next. How can you practice lengthening the gap between stimulus and response? Right.

The fifth one is always choose the hard path. The things that we do now that are hard result in an easier time of it later. If I save more money now, my retirement is going to look a lot different and my ability to help other people down the road is going to look different. If I exercise now, I’m going to be able to roll around on the floor when I’m 80 with my grandkids.

Right. So if I take the stairs instead of the elevator every time, I’m going to have to address some of my fitness goals and some of the way I eat. All those things are wrapped up into choose the hard path.

Another one is the psychology of anxiety and belief. And we talked about it a little bit. If we look back at every single psychological construct from all of them result in self actualization. If you get all of this stuff, then the self can finally be the shining star at the top of the hill. And my quiet conversations with psychiatrists across the country are very quiet and very, hey, the self is not hold. It can’t hold at all.

And we have found ourselves uber actualized in our culture, and we’re imploding. And so you have to believe in something bigger than yourself. I’m a Christian guy, so that frames the way I view the world. I’ve got friends who I love deeply and that are atheists that believe and understand the greater purpose of death, life and rebirth, and a part of the earth and the soil and air.

You have to believe in something bigger than yourself, otherwise the self can’t hold. It wasn’t designed to hold up the universe. And then there’s one more, and it’s probably the most important one. Oh, health and healing. To create a non anxious life, to create a life worth living. You have to deal with your traumas, you got to deal with your past. You got to spend some time with a counselor, you got to spend some time with the pastor, you got to get a group of friends together.

You got to deal with your physical ailments, you got to deal with the fact that dad left, mom got sick, lost a child. You got to deal with those things or your body’s going to be trying to get your attention for the rest of your life until it knows that you’re back in the driver’s seat. So that’s the seven.

John: That’s fantastic and thank you too, and I love even the order that you presented them in because you’re really talking about that health and healing last and that has absolutely been my experience in a lot of ways. Like it’s difficult to do really deep, meaningful work around family of origin of stuff.

The shame, if there are aspects of your life just day to day that are not good for you, you really need to be in a safe, solid, foundational place in order to be able to really go into that deep old stuff. And I think that sometimes people think that they have to get all these big, deep, dark things figured out first and then they will have a nice life and it is actually not the way it works a lot of times.

Lisa: I remember my graduate counseling students, my favorite part was when we would send them to the lab for the first time to start seeing, quote unquote, real clients when they were just their classmates and they would always launch into this like trying to do CBT or trying to do choice there or whatever.

And I would always stop and say, what if they’re just really hungry and they haven’t eaten in four days? Are they going to be anxious? And they’re like, yeah, let’s start there with are they safe and are they okay and how’s their light? Right? So I think again, going back to taking this conversation full circle, we just dump everything into the mental health bucket and then we say we need more therapists to go fix them.

Man. I think we got to look at the air and the water that we’re breathing and drinking and that’s where we’re going to find a lot of the solutions to what people are struggling with.

John: And what a hopeful message, too, because that is accessible to all of us. And that I think everybody listening to this can be hearing your words and kind of going through those steps that you outline in your book and experience benefit from that introspection and just from finding even small ways to create freedom in their life that begins just releasing some of those attachments and developing a different kind of relationship with their anxiety that’s more being informed by it as opposed to experiencing it.

Like as the enemy that must be eradicated. I love it. I love it. This has been such an interesting conversation as I knew it would be, as I knew it would be. Because I still have people get in touch with me about the last time that you were on the show because we were talking about those old experiences around mindset, mental perspective and just the different ways of being that can create so much just distress and anxiety. And here’s like a new iteration of it. So it’s kind of layered on top. But I love where this is going.

Lisa: Well, thank you so much for having me again. I appreciate it. Usually I’m a one and done friend. People will have me over and they’re like, that’s enough of that guy. So thank you for having me back. I really appreciate it.

John: Well, it’s always a pleasure. And tell our listeners if they would like to learn more about your work and your books and your podcast, where would they go?

Lisa: You can follow me on Instagram. I seem to get myself in trouble there @johndelony. And only after you listen to this podcast, you can find me at the Dr. John Delony Show wherever you listen to podcasts.

John: Wonderful. And your book again is called, let’s see, Building a Non Anxious Life. Okay. And it’ll be out in the fall.

Lisa: In the fall. Yes, ma’am. Thank you so, so much for having me over.

John: It’s always a pleasure.

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