by Brenda Garfias-Guzman
Overthinking is not a pleasant experience. It is common for many to overthink the past and how things could have played out, the present and what currently lacks in it, or the uncertainty of the future and the many possibilities of both the good and the nerve-wracking.
I overthink the most when it comes to all the tasks that need to be completed by the end of the week. I may have 7 full days to get them done, but I can't help but stress myself out and want to get everything completed overnight. Or, when it comes to something new, the "perfectionist" and ego within me places the unrealistic expectation of needing to get the first attempt 100% right. If I don't, then I think about how the first attempt should have been done (silly mind!).
Here is the million dollar question we all think about: What exactly causes overthinking and how can we work to control it, rather than it controlling us?
In order to understand overthinking, it's important to also understand what components contribute to it. According to online counseling website, Hopequre.com, stress and anxiety are key to overthinking.
Anxiety is a fear-based instinct; our minds may work hard to create non-factual stories that are worst-case scenario and cause us to feel uneasy. Thus, creating this domino affect of experiencing negative emotions such as, stress, irritability, sadness, anger - you name it.
Stress stems from a variety of negative actions related to: worry, processing big changes, and times of uncertainty, according to mind.org.
So, how can we stop overthinking? By taking action.
There are two important types of action. The first is awareness of our mind and how our mental energy isn't being used positively. As German spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle explained about overthinking, “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”
Have you ever had the aha moment where you catch yourself overthinking? It's not an easy thing to do, because when we dwell on things that need to get done or things that could have been done, our mind is actively throwing mental obstacles.
A common example is the thought of working out. We have all had that feeling of dread or resistance when it comes to exercising. However, the action taking place is not necessarily as bad as we have perceived it in our head, and may actually cause us to feel better than before!
Awareness of how one feels mentally is the first step to overcome thinking intrusively.
The second action to prevent overthinking is physical. Instead of a list of different ways to combat overthinking, I have a common and simple suggestion that may help - but with a twist! Then, one that may help to begin doing consistently. Overthinking does not disappear overnight. The goal is to create a better habit to handle overthinking in a conscious manner:
Journal Down what you are Overthinking
Journaling about what is going on in our mind is a therapeutic method that can help provide mental clarity when we feel overwhelmed by our thoughts! I suggest to write down how you feel in three words, before journaling your thoughts, and then write down 3 more words about how you feel after your journal entry is complete as a way to track your progress with how you ease off overthinking.
Here is a simple example:
"Today I am feeling - anxious, sad, and confused.
[INSERT JOURNAL ENTRY/BRAIN DUMP]
How I feel after journaling - relieved, clearer head and calm."
Please note, this is an example, you may experience different emotions before and after journaling.
Ask yourself: "What will my next thought be?"
Eckhart Tolle wrote this question in his book "The Power of Now." I really like this question because it is a powerful way to get out of our head and ease us back in the present moment. It is a clever way to distract mental patterns of overthinking and also reminds me that living in my mind isn't helping me be aware of my surroundings, but blinding them. The present moment can be filled with so much beauty if we choose to see it.
Pause. Take a deep breath. Let go of those thoughts that no longer serve you.