In Zimbabwe, local tribes have an expression that perfectly sums up most modern psychological problems. It’s kufungisisa, which could be translated literally as ‘thinking too much’, either about our present-day problems or about traumatic events from the past.
Among the Shona, one of the tribes of this region, the tendency to overthink things is seen as something that isn’t good for our health. This behavior can cause both physical and psychological problems. For example, the natives not only believe that thinking too much can cause depression or anxiety, but that it can also cause other physical conditions such as fatigue or headaches.
But is there any truth behind the concept of kufungisisa? Can thinking too much really harm us? Read on to find out more!
Kufungisisa, when thinking too much hurts us
Throughout history, humans have been proud of their ability to reflect on things. Unlike other animals, who’re guided by their instinct, we can actually think and reason about the things that happen to us. However, this ability we have is actually a double-edged sword.
Other species don’t have the capacity to feel bad like we do. And, however counterintuitive it may seem, it’s precisely our ability to reflect on things that can also bring us all kinds of problems.
The Shona tribe isn’t the only group that has highlighted this problem with its concept of kufungisisa. On the contrary, modern day psychology is based on this very idea. Since the emergence of cognitive science, the study of the mind has revealed that what makes us feel bad isn’t what happens to us, but rather what we think about it and how we react.
Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, was very emphatic about this. What affects us isn’t what happens to us, but what our minds tell us about what happened to us. How is it possible, then, that our mind makes us feel bad?
Understanding the role of our brain
Humans develop in a tremendously hostile environment. Even though right now we are living in abundance, our brains still behave as if we were still living in the Paleolithic Age. That is why many of our mental functions have become obsolete today.
One of them is the way we process information. Because our ancestors were surrounded by dangers, it was essential that they noticed all the negative and dangerous aspects and situations in their lives. This is the only way they could defend themselves against wild animals, solve food shortage problems, or seek refuge in times of need.
Because of the way evolution works, our brain continues to function in the same way. The Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS) is responsible for focusing our attention on everything that can go wrong. Because of this, we tend to focus on the negative.
The Shona knew, when creating the idea of kufungisisa, that seeing the world as something hostile makes us feel bad. However, nowadays, giving too much thought to things only leads us to worry excessively, waste time, and fill ourselves with anxiety.
How to stop thinking too much
The role of thought in our well-being is so important that almost all psychological therapies focus on changing our way of seeing the world. Basically, there are two ways of doing this:
- Changing what we say about the things that happen to us.
- Living in the present.
Let’s look at both of them:
1- Changing our thoughts
The first response to the anxiety caused by thinking too much is simply changing what we say to ourselves. According to ideas such as Stoicism, what happens to us is hardly ever important. Modern cognitive psychology uses this idea to teach us to consider things in perspective.
According to these ideas, hardly anything that happens to us is really terrible. If we keep this idea in mind, a lot of our anxiety will simply disappear. Worrying would simply not make sense. We’ll be fine, no matter what happens to us.
2- Living in the present
Ancestral philosophies such as Buddhism and modern trends such as mindfulness are based on the same idea: the basis of suffering is thought. This is the same concept brought together in kufungisisa. Those who follow this way of thinking seek to silence their minds.
Of course, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. It can, however, be achieved with practices such as meditation or yoga. Science has shown that silencing our mind has very beneficial effects on our physical and mental health.
The idea that kufungisisa or thinking too much can harm us has been shared by nearly every culture throughout history. With a little effort, we can all learn to avoid this problem. However, if you think you need help, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. With their guidance, the path to your mental freedom will be much easier to navigate.