Thursday, July 12, 2018

When thoughts feel like quicksand

By Annabeth Leong

Sometimes I talk about my thoughts like they’re a field full of quicksand from an old movie. I step into certain thoughts and suddenly I’m sinking fast. While I’m capable of things like doing the dishes even while I’m rapidly drowning in my own brain, it’s very hard to do anything that requires clear thinking, such as writing.

I’ve been using the quicksand metaphor for a long time, but it just now occurred to me to look at the solution to quicksand to see if there’s anything that applies. What I found was actually quite calming.

With credit to WikiHow, there are a bunch of ways that I think the advice for quicksand can apply to dealing with the kinds of thoughts that mess up my life and stop my writing dead.

1. Drop everything

As in, don’t struggle with quicksand while carrying a giant backpack. My association here is trying to sort out complex psychological problems without making the space to do so. Sometimes I do have to cancel that hard thing I was going to do this evening. Conversely, sometimes I have to leave certain things undealt with so I can go do whatever it is that I need to do.

2. Move horizontally

This refers to taking a couple steps backward, maybe, instead of just struggling forward. Basically trying to see if there are other directions to go. And indeed, if I’m really stuck on one problem, sometimes it’s possible to find other places I can make progress.

3. Lay back

This is to get the pressure off your feet so you’re not just bearing down in one place and sinking deeper. To me, it also gives an image of relaxation and not fighting directly. Sometimes for me those quicksand thoughts are particular pain points, things that make me just grind away without getting anywhere in particular. I think the psychological metaphor here is to let go of trying to sort that particular thing out. Lay back inside my brain. Let it do its swirling without pressing down and going under.

4. Take your time

“Whatever you do, do it slowly,” says the article. And this is absolutely great advice for those psychological issues. I have found that if I am able to give myself enough time and space, I can get through my work even if my brain is attacking me. It’s not the time to add deadline pressure, though. Or to expect myself to operate at maximum efficiency.

5. Take frequent breaks

It’s tiring to extricate yourself from quicksand, and you don’t want to lose strength entirely. I’ve made no secret of how I’ve struggled for about the last year. Things are gradually getting better for me—gradually. But I’m working better now than I have in a long time, and one thing I do is set a timer so I stand up and take a break twice an hour. It keeps me from getting too stressed and miserable, and it saves me from sliding into the many types of quicksand offered by the Internet.


The article I found about quicksand doesn’t address the possibility of being helped by a friend, but I think that’s a thing, too. Sometimes what you really want is for someone to throw you a rope to hang onto, and sometimes what you really need is for someone to help pull you out.


  1. A very clever metaphor, used very well. Yes, our thoughts can make us feel like we're drowning sometimes. Mine feel like squirrels in a cage, mostly...or plate spinners. But learning how to deal with your own brain is always a good thing.

    1. Thanks, Fiona! I’ll let you know when I actually figure out how to deal with my own brain! XD

  2. Good post, Annabeth. The problem with quicksand in the brain, IMO, is that you need to get out of it to do something productive, but trying to control your stream of consciousness too much shuts down creativity.

  3. Just remember, you don't ever know the extent of quicksand, as it looks just like normal dirt. Your next step may land you on solid ground.


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