5 ways to stop overthinking

Guest post: Joni Banks Hess, MSW - Thewellbalancedmom.com

I tend to Overthink a whole lot throughout my day. It's an activity I'm so good at that I don't even realise when I'm doing it.

Simply put, overthinking is getting caught in a stream of thoughts that may or may not have anything to do with the event that triggered it. In fact, the popular therapy tactic, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (CBT) aims to help you stop overthinking and focus solely on the thoughts you can prove are true.

Overthinking can DESTROY conversation and a relationship's foundation.

Where Do Our Minds Go?

Say for instance your spouse is quiet for most of the evening. Naturally, you begin to think he's mad about something you said. Then you get mad at him for getting mad because what you said wasn't even all that bad. Why is he being so dramatic and sensitive? He's probably also quiet because the chicken you made was very dry and he doesn't know how to tell you. He must be quiet because he realises he wants a separation...

All this activity was created within 30 seconds only in your mind and your mood went from chill to stressed-out person. In reality, your spouse is only quiet because he's tired and Candy Crush is the only thing stopping him from full comatose status.

It's easy to see how overthinking a situation like this could lead to an unnecessary argument or just a bad mood for yourself. Many people tend to ruminate over minor events. One thing I've learned in therapy is that when overthinking, we tend to make assumptions. For instance, we assume how people will react. We assume there must be something wrong with us when things don't go our way. We assume there must be a double meaning behind what our spouses or friends say, etc.

In the words and tone of my therapist—STOP MAKING ASSUMPTIONS!

Overthinking often creates questions that lead to more questions. Megan is a woman in her late thirties whose bouts of overthinking tend to start with her job as a social worker. Yesterday she had a bad interaction with a client who said she was useless. ‘How could he say I'm useless? Does he know how much I've done on his behalf? I'm not paid enough for all this under-appreciation. Why didn't I try harder to prove him wrong?’

Then she starts to entertain the idea of being useless.

‘But maybe I am useless. My son calls his dad for everything these days. He doesn't need me anymore.’ And then her age and career goals. ‘My son is getting so big. Which means I'm getting so old. God, look at these wrinkles! My birthday is only 2 months away. Another year older and I still haven't started my business. I'm really running out of time.

This thought rant could easily go on and on taking all kinds of twists and turns. Granted there's a lot of questions that need answers as we grow in life: Who am I? What's my purpose? How badly do I really suck at this adulting thing? In a world where our attention spans are basically 2 seconds, and everything we want can be at our feet quick, fast, in a hurry; we don't enjoy the process of figuring things out over time.

So we draw conclusions, and worry when we don't immediately have the answers to perplexing questions.

Stopping The Toxic Habit Of Overthinking

DISTRACTION

Wearing a rubberband on your wrist is a common technique used to ‘snap out of’ distracting thoughts for students with attention deficit. It can definitely be used to sting you back to reality when your mind starts going and going.

Leave the room or situation. Call a friend. Anything you can do to interrupt the flow of your fast moving thoughts.

MINDFULNESS QUICKLY

Go somewhere quiet if possible for 5-10 minutes. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Feel the rise and fall of your chest. Let your hands fall limp at your side. Notice any smells, any faint sounds, your mood. Think of a peaceful place you may or may not have actually been to. It could be from a painting or movie. Just envision yourself there and feel the calm that follows.

WRITE IT DOWN

My mum loves to tell me how my grandmaw always told her to never write personal things down because anyone can find them. Welp. I'm writing a whole blog so all that is half-way out the window.

I strongly advise anyone with jumbled, all-over-the-place thoughts to make sense of them by writing them down. Not in the notes section on your Iphone, but actually pen to paper. Just looking at your own unique handwriting and the way you curve those letters can be empowering.

  • Write down the initial moment/event that awakened your anxious mind.

  • Make a list of the associated emotions you felt (anger, guilt, sadness, loneliness)

  • Only write down the thoughts that are related to the initial event. Anything irrelevant that popped up in your head can stay there and be forgotten for the moment.

TAKE ACTION

Are there any solutions that can solve or alleviate the problems that caused you to overthink? Is there anyone you can ask for advice? Maybe there is a solution that requires you to give more of yourself than you feel like giving. It's up to you to decide if this is worth your battle with anxiety and overthinking.

STAY WOKE (Emotionally)

Always be on top of whatever it is you need emotionally and make sure you can rely on yourself to get it. I'm not saying don't go to others for ego-stroking, validation, connection, etc. I'm simply saying ALWAYS be available to provide yourself with the compassion, empathy, and support you need to function as a human being.

This means learning how to separate thoughts from emotions and being present to feel those emotions. This is done by accepting situations, along with how we feel.  Self-validation is important because without it, we will constantly question ourselves and look to others for approval.

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