- in Self-Care
“Don't get too deep, it leads to over thinking, and over thinking leads to problems that doesn't even exist in the first place.”
- Jayson Engay
In this column, you will learn simple but powerful tips on how to overcome overthinking from a wide range of experts.
Clicking on the expert names below will take you to their individual blurb on how to overcome overthinking.
One of the most powerful realizations I have ever experienced is that I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings, but that I am the observer of my thoughts and my feelings.
For the longest time, I was living in complete reactivity to my thoughts. The thought was there so of course it must be true! I believed my truest self was speaking through my thoughts and my feelings until I realized, that if that was true, my truest self must be a raving lunatic. On some days, she felt great, and the world was a beautiful abundant place. On other days, everything and everyone was out to get her. Listening and attaching to my thoughts was an emotional roller coaster.
I was slowly waking up to the fact that I couldn’t rely on my thoughts to separate fact from fiction, truth from fairytale. Living in my thoughts and following them to their winding and often dark emotional destinations was leaving me stressed, distracted, burnt out and feeling the urge to numb or quiet the thoughts with food, technology, and booze.
So, how do we stop over-thinking?
The truth is we can’t stop overthinking any more than we can stop our bodies from digesting food. Our brain is an organ just like our stomach is and its whole job is to think, to ask “why” something is happening, to engage in constant commentary of the present moment, to forecast what is going to happen next, to spew judgments about ourselves and others, to compare us to others. That is its very nature.
And our emotional bodies react to those thoughts. As we attach to each new thought being true, we will notice our body emotionally expanding or contracting.
The mind’s job, at the very root of it all is to keep us emotionally and physically safe and because of that, it is negativity bias. It is always looking for what is not working or what could go wrong and it uses our past experiences as a road map for avoiding potential physical or emotional land mines. It is constantly trying to figure out how to avoid painful or uncomfortable situations by projecting them onto the future.
It’s not possible to shut our minds off, or telling our thoughts to shut up and sit down. They are just doing their job. The more you think about how your thoughts are wrong or try to resist them, the more entrapped you are in the realm of thoughts. It is rather about understanding their role and inquiring into their actual truth.
Thoughts can be incredible tools to build a house or to tear down a house. We just have to choose them consciously.
In the moments we notice our thoughts spinning, we need to practice feeding the observer more and more; the meta-computer that recognizes the software. This breaks the chain of thoughts.
There are many words people use for the observer from a spiritual perspective; soul, source energy, spirit, awakened presence, but even if those words or ideas don’t resonate, we can still recognize this presence within us. We can most easily recognize it when time stops are we are pure experience. Some people feel it on the top of a mountain or in a yoga class. Others feel it onstage. Others experience it when they are playing sports. Others yet experience while performing surgery or in church. The common denominator? We are relying on deep personal knowing rather than thoughts.
So, how can we connect and feed this part of ourselves, so that our thoughts don’t have as much power.
When you are experiencing stressful thought, one of the most powerful hacks you can use in the moment to shift awareness from your mind to your body is to breathe consciously. Take 10 sleep and slow breaths, focusing only on the inflow and outflow of your breath. Count them in and out to amplify focus. Put your hand on your chest and allow yourself to feel whatever is going on fully until it starts to diminish.
2. Notice your common offender stressful thought patterns/ and behaviors.
After allowing yourself to breath and feel, you can analyze what is going on. Feeling stressed or burnt out is a really good sign that you are trapped in a cycle of over-thinking. Your body is reacting to each thing that could go wrong, each self-judgment as if it is truth, and having a crazy internal experience when everything in the present moment is actually the same. Start tracking the common offender thoughts and you will start to see some patterns. Your stress typically leads you down the path to your deeper fears.
What behaviors tend to spark these stressful thoughts?
It could be something like checking social media or weighing ourselves every day. If it is fuel for your obsessive thinking and stressful, it may be best to create boundaries around them.
3. Reality check your stressful thoughts.
Ask yourself if the thought is unequivocally true. Do you have enough data to freak out? Is it absolutely true that “x, y, z” is going to happen? How do you interact with the world when I think that is going to happen? Are there examples where the opposite is true? Is the thought helping you or hurting you? It can help to journal this out and get the obsessive thoughts out of your mind and on paper.
4. Notice the activities in your life where you consistently experience pure presence.
Undoubtedly, we all have activities in our lives where we are free from cluttering and obsessive thinking. For some, this is yoga, others meditation. For some it is listening to music or taking soul strolls in the mountains, swimming or dancing. Start to pay attention and track the activities that feed you in this way.
5. Create daily self-care rituals around these activities.
Choose 1-2 activities that you can start to create ritual and habitual practices around in your daily life. It could look like 20 minutes of meditation a day and a couple of hikes a week. Plus, there tend to be added bonuses to these practices for your body and mind (fitness, lower stress levels, more efficient problem solving). Start small and then add practices on.
In order to stop over-thinking, we must first have the awareness that we are not our thoughts, they aren’t necessarily true, they are often springing from trying to avoid past pain and that they are just doing their job. Our job is then to feed “the beast” of the observer, of present moment consciousness more and more.
Beth Clayton, Lifestyle Coach - www.soulbodylife.com
How many times have you laid down in bed after a long day, totally exhausted, yet unable to fall asleep because your mind was racing?
Perhaps you started to replay and agonize over the day’s events or wish you could decide what to do about this or that. You’re not alone. In this fast-paced world we live in, there is little time to reflect throughout the day or to slow down and think before acting. As a result, our bodies are exhausted and our minds are trying to play catch up.
When you put your head on the pillow at night, this is probably the first opportunity your mind has to review the day’s events and think more deeply about the decisions you need to make. That’s a lot of work for our poor minds to do in a short period of time.
Throughout our day, most of us experience a significant amount of stimulation and sensory input whether that be social interaction, screen time or the constant barrage of sounds and images we encounter.
Our nervous systems become overstimulated and our brains exhausted from processing all the information it constantly takes in. As a result, we end up feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Being in this state depletes our cognitive functioning and ability to think clearly. When we’re chronically occupied and distracted, there’s not much opportunity to deeply process our experiences or reflect upon decisions, so we end up overthinking.
How do we reduce our tendency to overthink?
One solution is simple and effective, yet difficult. Slowing down and creating space for quiet reflection! Integrating quiet time into your routine gives your body and mind something they desperately need. Not only could you feel more relaxed and less anxious, you’ll have more brain power and time to reflect before making decisions.
Below are a few ideas to incorporate more downtime into your day:
- Go to bed 30 minutes before you need to fall asleep.
- In between work tasks, close your eyes and just breathe for a few moments.
- Carve out time to make big decisions.
- Say “no” to a social obligation you don’t have enough energy to attend.
- Delegate household chores or work tasks, if possible.
- Journal at least once per week.
Our brains want to reflect, process and make decisions, but often struggle to think clearly because of the flood of input throughout the day.
By reducing the workload our brains carry, we can free up energy to think clearly and feel confident in our decisions. Giving ourselves permission to slow down has the potential for tremendous benefits such as quieting our active minds and calming our anxious bodies.
April Snow, MA - www.expansiveheart.com
Have you ever been told that you are “so in your head.?”
Do you find yourself lost in thought or so preoccupied with your own thinking that it’s difficult to be present to the people or situation around you? This is from overthinking.
This used to happen to me.
I used to dwell on the past or re-play situations that I couldn’t change. I would get lost in thought and engage in a lot of “what if” thinking like “what if I just said this” or “what if I didn’t do that” When we overthink, we create anxiety about the past or future. We mistakenly believe that re-playing the negative scenario will somehow make it better. It doesn’t. Instead, it creates overthinking which keeps us trapped in the past or future, and never available to the present moment.
Overthinking can cause anxiety, depression, and a lack of connection in our relationships. We unknowingly isolate from people when we are not present. We miss important information, and we can misperceive situations.
One of the best ways to eliminate overthinking is to practice daily meditation.
You can do this in really simple ways. For example, when you wash the dishes be fully present in the experience. Feel the temperature of the water, smell the sound of the soap as you clean the dishes, watch the water fall on the dishes. Engage all of your five senses.
The practice of meditation gets you out of your head and fully into your experience.
It eliminates overthinking because you are now present and connected to the experience. When we are fully present, we are creating our experience from the present moment without making assumptions. Our minds begin to open and we feel free of negative emotions or thoughts. Our minds begin to relax and we have less pressure in our head.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce brain fog, lower stress, eliminate overthinking, and reduce negative thoughts and emotions because we are more aware of our behavior.
Meditation allows us to connect with our body and feel more grounded, a balanced and connected to ourselves and others. We can tap into our body wisdom and intuition when we meditate which increases our ability to make better decisions and find solutions to enhance our life.
If you are new to meditation then I recommend that you start small.
Find a simple practice that you can do on a daily basis. Earlier I gave the example of washing the dishes. Another one could be sitting quietly in a chair for 5-10 minutes.
Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Imagine that all of your awareness and attention is going from your head to your heart. Breathe into your heart. If it feels tight, then continue to breath until your heart opens and the pressures releases. Do a body scan and open up every area of your body. With your eyes closed activate your five senses. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you taste? Really engage your five senses.
This quick and powerful meditation develops your awareness muscle.
You will begin to notice the difference between when you are in your head, and when you are present and connected to your experience. Stress and anxiety starts to melt away, and you begin to feel more light. Positive feelings and thoughts begin to enter your mind, and you will notice that you are less preoccupied with the past or the future. The overthinking has stopped. You respond instead of react. You begin to create a life by design instead of default.
It is at this point that you can then implement the seven secrets to eliminating overthinking and live your best life.
1. Clear out negative thinking patterns-let go of negative expectations.
Clear out old thoughts and beliefs that no longer benefit you or keep you trapped in negative thoughts and emotions.
2. Build an optimistic mindset.
Learn to look for the good in every situation. Find ways to re-frame challenging situations, and learn to bounce back from setbacks. There are many ways to do this. I have an entire chapter on his in my book “Making Happiness Last.’
3. Align your conscious desires with your subconscious beliefs.
Make sure that your beliefs match what you consciously say you want. For example, if you want to be happy but believe that you don’t deserve to be happy or that it’s not safe to be happy, then your conscious desires do not match your subconscious beliefs.
4. Know yourself.
Decide on the person you are going to be. Who do YOU want to be? Write it out. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What motivates you? What is your WHY?
5. Develop strong boundaries.
Have a clear “yes” and a clear “no.” Don’t tell people yes when you really mean no. Set boundaries on your time, and what you will commit to. Identify the type of boundary you need to set. Is it physical? Emotional? Financial?
6. Identify and live your values.
What qualities are most important to you? Is it freedom? Integrity? Honesty? Adventure? Kindness? Write out your top 5 values, and make sure that your daily activities reflects those values.
7. Invest in yourself.
Spend time with yourself. If you need help, be willing to financially and emotionally invest in yourself. Work on your own personal development every day. This increases your feelings of self-worth.
Dr. Shannon Tran – www.shannontranphd.com
“If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.” – Ernest Hemingway
Remember when someone you cared about commented on your insecurities and you couldn’t stop criticizing yourself, dwelling on several insignificant words that weren’t even true?
Or when you were paralyzed by perfectionism, not able to move forward, thinking that nothing you do will ever be good enough?
If you tend to worry too often and second guess everything, you're overthinking.
The truth is that overthinking can destroy you. It can ruin a situation and make everything worse than it actually is. And it will make you create problems that weren't even there.
Worrying can be tiresome because it drains your energy and stresses you out. So, it is crucial to make a distinction between a real problem and an imagined scenario that never happened.
Just think how wonderful it would be to use all that energy wasted on overthinking on creating a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Here are 5 simple but powerful steps to help you stop overthinking.
1. Limit the time you spend overthinking.
Plan when to think about it. It is important to start noticing when you begin to worry and give yourself permission to become aware of such thoughts. On the other hand, when negative thoughts come to mind and it is not the dedicated time, just stop and redirect. Say to yourself firmly that you are not going to talk about it at this moment. Every time you do this, you are turning this powerful action into a habit.
2. Write it down.
One of the most powerful habits that has helped me greatly in my healing journey is writing. Keeping a journal and writing about what you are experiencing will help you confront the feelings connected to the thoughts that won’t leave your mind. Seeing your thoughts written down in front of you helps you become aware of them, empowering you to take control of the situation.
3. Stay focused and limit your choices.
Fewer choices undoubtedly make decision making easier. I you have a hard time making a decision, restrict your daily choices. Taking too much time to make a decision can keep you busy doing nothing, making it incredibly hard for you to take any action.
4. Stay active.
Working out can help you let go of your worries and anxiety. No matter what form of exercise you choose, be it running, body building or even dancing, make sure you do it regularly. Push yourself further each day and see how far you can go. Focus on becoming a healthier, stronger and better version of yourself with every step you take.
5. Face your fears.
Fears are nothing more than a product of your thoughts. When you don’t face them they become your limits. So, whenever you feel that you’re lacking courage to move forward or deal with your darkest thoughts, stop and ask yourself, “How realistic are your fears and how possible is it for them to become reality?”
Be patient with yourself. Healing wounds from your past takes time, it takes time and courage to learn how to worry less. But it is possible and taking small daily steps will help you get there.
Remember to keep it simple. Remind yourself daily that you are in charge of your own happiness, not allowing anything or anyone to control you. Quit doing whatever is not contributing to your wellbeing and contentment. When you stop giving your attention to anything that makes you worry, you take over your life.
Tee Sebastién, Life Coach - www.growbrilliant.org
“I’ve got 99 problems and 86 of them are completely made up scenarios in my head that I’m stressing about for absolutely no logical reason” – Unknown
The wondering mind, it happens to the best of us.
We have a fight with our friend, spouse, co-worker, or kid and suddenly everything is on replay in our minds for the rest of the day. We go over what was said, what body language was used, what we wished we would have said. Or maybe we have a trip coming up, it’s exciting and we can’t wait to be on vacation. We are thinking about what we want to do, what we have to pack, how we are getting there, the list is endless. Even though these are examples of very different thoughts, the result is the same. We are missing out on the moment that is right here in front of us!
It’s so easy to get trapped in this cycle of overthinking.
Somehow we have convinced ourselves that if we worry enough, if we think about it enough, that everything will work out ok. But I promise you, if you never again think of the past, it will still have happened. If you never again worry about the future, it will still come to pass, even if it passes in a different way than you would have imagined.
The fact of the matter is the past is in the past and no amount of replaying it in your mind can change that.
The future has yet to happen and no amount of worrying is going to change that. Now I am not saying never learn from your past and aim for a better future. You just have to draw the line at how much of today you are willing to give up by living somewhere else in your head.
One of the best things about our brain is that we train it how to function.
If you have spent years training it to worry it will seem a little difficult at first to train it to stop. One of my favorite approaches when I am overthinking is to picture a stop sign. I count the eight sides, I look at the color in my mind, and I see the big bold letters. This is just to remind me that I am in control of what I think about.
Once I have stopped the cycle of thoughts I make a conscious decision to focus on something happening right now in this very moment.
I may be my breathing, the sound of the key board as I type, or the song of the birds. Whatever it is I focus solely on that one thing. This is very grounding and brings me back to the only moment that matters, the present. Somedays I do this once, and somedays it feels like I have done it 50 times, but no matter what, peace always seems to come back to me when I am able to be in the present moment.
Finally, setting aside a set “worry” time is helpful too.
Pick a time each day that you can sit and worry for no more than 30 minutes (15 is ideal). If you are just starting out or dealing with something overly stressful you can do this two to three times a day while retraining your brain. The idea is not to stop worrying or overthinking all together, but more to have the worrying and overthinking be at a set time and place so that you are free to enjoy the rest of the day and really live life. This way when thoughts come up you can just thank your brain for bringing it to your attention, and let your brain know that you will think about this later today at your set worry time.
We are only guaranteed this one life and this one moment, so live in the here and now. Enjoy what you have in front of you at this very moment, for if you don’t, it will be just one more thing for you to overthink down the road!
Kimberly Speer, CLC, ELIMP - www.destinybydesignlifecoaching.com
You have goals and dreams. You have ideas and things you want to do. And then, overthinking comes in and stop you before you ever get started. Overthinking has the power to keep you stuck.
Here are some tips to help you stop overthinking and get back to being the amazing you!
Place one hand on your chest, one hand on your stomach. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on the breath filling your lungs and exiting your body. As you breath in count to 4, hold, on the exhale count 4 and hold. Do a few repetitions of this breathing. This helps to realign your body and mind, as well as, has a relaxing effect.
2. Be in the now.
Pull yourself into the moment. Right now. This very moment. The now. To do this, what are 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste? Playing with pets and children can be a wonderful way to pull you into the now, as well as being in nature.
Laughter is a great stress reliever. It also pulls you into the moment and relaxes the body and mind. It can also be a distraction if you are searching the web for something funny.
4. Think positive.
Years ago I read in a Sonia Choquette book, the phrase, “Positive expectancy and trust.” These are great works to say to yourself when you start to feel anxious or overthinking a situation. It pulls you back into the moment. It aligns you with your highest good. It aids you in attracting what you want to attract.
5. Make a list.
Sometimes, we get caught up in overthinking and everything we have to get done for the day and before we know it snowballs. Make a list of the million things you want to do. Just keep going, let it all out. Then go back and prioritize. Things you can do today (pick 3-anything more overwhelms the mind). Things you can do this week, this month and so on.
6. Argue with yourself.
Overthinking can take over and before you know it, you’ve created a hundred different scenarios in which you are trying to problem solve the outcome for each. Next thing you know it you are anxious and overwhelmed. Challenge your thinking. Ask yourself, is that really going to happen? How do you know it’s going to happen?
7. Distract yourself.
Do something different that takes your mind away from overthinking. Go for a walk. Read a book. Listen to music. Dance. Call and talk to someone.
I hope these help you next time you are stuck overthinking something. Give yourself permission be in the moment. Overthinking doesn’t have to keep you stuck, you have the power to move through it!
Margaret Bell, MA, NCC – www.forwardkindheart.com
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