Can’t get a problem out of your head? Are you thinking about the same old issue over and over again? Probably most of us have caught ourselves in the middle of overthinking at least occasionally. But what if that’s something you must face each day and sometimes you just feel completely overwhelmed?
I’ve always felt a bit jealous of people who can easily deal with their “mind stuff”. For me, overthinking has caused a lot of unnecessary waste of energy, nerves and time.
I realized my habit of massive overthinking 5 years ago when I had my first panic attack. After that, I started to pay attention to my thoughts and how they create my behavior patterns. It felt like I’d live my life unconsciously before and that I actually didn’t realize I have a separate mind. And I didn’t pay much thought to it.
It was my panic attack that made me realize how suppressive the thoughts can be. Anyone who’s had a panic attack knows that it’s a totally unpleasing experience, but for me, it was also a huge eye-opener. I realized how many unhealthy thought patterns and toxic beliefs I’ve developed over time. About the self-image, life goals, social status and so on. And it’s not that easy to demolish something you’ve built unconsciously for 10 or more years, but I’m taking small steps forward every day (that’s a story for other time).
Although I still struggle with overthinking and anxiety, I’ve found 5 effective techniques that have helped me to get better at turning my inner chatter’s volume down.
1. Don’t Engage With Your Thoughts
Let’s face it – all worry starts in the mind. If we wouldn’t have the terrifying thoughts about the reality we perceive, we’d be living in forever lasting peace. In case you’re a highly sensitive and visual person, you probably see all your thought-created scenarios right in front of you.
Either if they’re good or bad scenarios, you can feel them with your whole “gut”, like it’s happening in the real life. Imagine your mind as a TV – it can play romantic films, comedies or horror movies. Whatever the case, you’ll take over and feel the emotions that the movie represents. So what do you usually say to yourself after watching a scary movie? “It was just a movie, it won’t happen in real life”, right? It’s very similar when it comes to your thoughts.
There are around 50,000 thoughts passing your mind every day. Imagine what would happen if you’d engage with each of it. Your sanity probably wouldn’t last very long. That’s why we’re categorizing thoughts into unimportant and important ones. But the problem is that a lot of times we put the “important” tag on too many thoughts and the overthinking process begins.
There is a beautiful Buddhism saying: “If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.”
First, you have to realize that you’re not your thoughts. Second, understand that you’re the one attaching to the thoughts by adding a meaning to a specific thought. Third, realize that by adding negative feelings to too many thoughts will create no good for you in any way – like I said, it’s a waste of your energy, nerves and time. And fourth, stop engaging with your thoughts by adding negative meaning to them.
A lot of you probably will say: “Easier said than done”. Believe it or not – just by being aware of this process can help you a lot. When I learned about this, I automatically started realizing and catching myself in moments when I’m stressing about a thought just by adding all the “What if?” scenarios to it.
For example, I have a meeting at work tomorrow. Ok, having a meeting is nothing terrible, right? But what if something goes wrong? What if something unexpected happens? What if I’m not prepared? WHAT IF? When I feel the stress rushing through my body, I realize that I’m already completely into the thought and have forgotten the reality around me. Then I catch myself back to real life and stop “feeding” this thought by adding all the “What ifs”.
2. Let Go Of Control
As much as it hurts, we have to admit that sometimes we’re totally out of control of what’s happening in our lives. And the truth is – it’s totally ok.
I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. When things are getting out of my hands, I get quite stressed out. When I’m not in control of my life, I feel like I’m gonna vanish, fail or get seriously hurt.
Yes, we make choices and decisions. Yes, we take actions. But sometimes life does corrections and we have to accept them. Have you ever had an event that you’ve precisely planned in your head by imagining plan A, B, and C? And when the day comes, the plan D happens. Well, I’ve had that a lot of times. This made me realize that despite all my mental calculations and formulas, life sometimes makes corrections. As long as you’ll resist this, you’ll spend a lot of time making all the possible scenarios.
Letting go of control is a hard thing to do, but it feels SO GOOD. It takes off a massive baggage of your shoulders. Two books that have helped me to understand this better are “Daring Greatly” by Brene Bown and “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer.
3. Think Of All The Ways It Can Go right
If you’re still feeling caught up in your mind, try to think of all the ways that the situation can go right not wrong. A lot of times when we’re thinking about a problem, we imagine everything that could go wrong. And immediately after that we feel worried and stressed out.
If your mind can’t relax or let go, just think of all the possible positive scenarios of the problem. One odd thing that a lot of us do (including me) is expecting the worst so we “get emotionally ready” for it. This is a protection strategy. But, as you’ve probably noticed, most of the times the problem without “the worst case scenario” actually solves quite easily. The conclusion – we needlessly beat ourselves up.
So try to do the opposite next time – image the best possible scenario. Even if it doesn’t happen, you won’t waste a lot of mental energy imagining and rumbling about the worst case scenarios.
4. Be Aware Of Your Past Experience
Every time when something happens that makes you feel stressed, sad or hurt, your brain saves this information for the future. This is a very useful tool. Without it, we wouldn’t have survived.
Imagine if you visit a friend who happens to have a very angry dog and he bites you. Your brain saves this piece of information so that next time when you visit the same friend, you’ll be more careful and ask him to hold the dog so it doesn’t bite you. Without this past information, you’d go straight in again and probably got bitten again.
But what sometimes happens is we start to project this past experience on a wide range of future experiences. So, for example, in this case, you’d start to be afraid of all dogs, not just the one that bit you. Another example – your boyfriend cheats on you and you start to think of all men as evil cheaters forgetting that it was only this one specific man who did that to you. And this is when the overthinking steps in and tries to “protect” you from all the possible hurtful scenarios.
By being aware of your past experience, you can stop projecting it on the future. This will help you to have a fulfilling experience without any worry or fear.
5. Postpone The Worry
The last thing that’s worked for me is postponing the worry. When I’m supposed to have an unpleasant conversation with somebody or I know that a hard task is coming up which involves a lot of problem-solving skills, I make a deal with myself – I’ll start to worry about it only when it’s actually happening (not a week (or even longer) before!).
You can invent a short window of time when you allow yourself to worry as much as you want, for example, you’ll worry at 3 PM for 15 minutes and then you’re done. This method is especially good when you’re experiencing unwanted thoughts that you want to push out of your head (which doesn’t work 99% of the time).
To sum up, overthinking is not such a huge beast that we usually image it to be.
Try not to engage with your thoughts, let go of the want to control everything, think of all the possible positive scenarios (not the bad ones!), be aware of your past experience and, lastly, postpone the worry if it’s really stepping on your head.
I truly hope that you found these tips useful. If you’re a chronic worrier or overthinker and have found a method that helps you to overcome it, please share it in the comments below! We’re here to help each other out. 🙂
Cheers, beautiful people! <3