Updated: Feb 16
Overthinking can be like an out-of-control train. When left to their own devices over thinkers ruminate about the intricacies of certain events in minute detail. This leads to chronically repeating conversations in their heads, trying to find answers to the unknown, and second guessing who they are and their roles in triggering events. When I say triggering, I mean these events spark off trauma reactions from our past, and our embedded fears of the future.
Trauma and its relation to over thinking - The 'why' we over think
Trauma does not have to be as a result of major events, we all have traumas in our lives like being left out of a groups, bullying, being gossiped about as well as deep traumas embedded in childhood. What may be traumatic for one person may not be traumatic to another, but these traumas leave scars that trigger when certain events take place. For example a certain event may lead to trauma - e.g. isolation as a result of being defriended by a group of peers - this in turn will be a trigger point when that person sees another event as similar to that experience - e.g. not being invited to a party. Then the over thinking train starts - 'They don't like me' 'I'm all alone' 'Why cant I just be liked' etc. etc. etc. you get the gist. The later event takes us back to the feelings we had in the original event - isolation, scared, alone and confused. Phew its complicated but worth knowing. The take away message is that: No event in itself is negative; it is how we perceive the event (or the thoughts we have about the event) that lead to our emotions and our subsequent over thinking.
The 'problem' with overthinking
I am an overthinker and have been all my life. The problem with overthinking is it is never positive – in my experience it serves as a form of self-bullying – ‘What did I do wrong’ ‘What is it about me that is the problem’ ‘why don’t they like me’ etc. The biggest problem with this self-bullying is most of the time it is a made-up story. We don’t have all the facts and, in our striving, to make sense of the unknown we simply make up things that fit. Those things we make up are generally how we feel about ourselves. These thought processes are usually imbedded in future thinking – ‘this means I will never have friends’ ‘I will never be good enough’ ‘no one will like me’ and the list goes on and on and on. These are called destructive thought patterns.
So 'how' do we start to change this pattern
Good news is that we can change our overthinking ways. It is like exercising it will take a concerted effort and it will take time to train our minds. Practice makes perfect – well perhaps not perfect as I still can overthink but I am good at nipping it in the bud.
1. Notice when you are overthinking and ask yourself:
DO I HAVE ALL THE FACTS? This is important because I believe this is the reason why we are over thinking in the first place. We are making up facts that fit into our perceived notion of ourselves. So, first step is asking that question. Look for evidence and if its not there then you do not have all the facts.
IS THIS IN MY CONTROL? Now this is a good question to ask yourself because remember we are only ever in control of how we deal or react with any situation. Trying to control things that we cannot control is a waste of our time and energy. If there are solutions such as
calling the person or asking someone about the event and asking for clarification, then go for it. If it is out of your control, then perhaps understand that you can only control how you deal and cope with that situation; the rest is clouding your life and allowing negativity to reign.
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS? what is the essence of your thinking? Gather up this valuable information as it gives you clear constructs of why you are overthinking this event or situation. See the next step as journaling is a helpful tool.
I love journaling and with my overthinking I found it helpful to get those thoughts onto paper. Sometimes it was like magic because you can start to see patterns. Thought patterns such as ‘I am not good enough’ etc. Remember knowledge is power. I had a client recently that used her phone to record her thoughts so she could do it in real time. I think that is such a wonderful way of doing it. No delay so its all raw and real. These thoughts are the key to your overthinking.
3. Be kind to yourself
Yes, I keep going on about being kind to yourself, because it is very necessary. If you need give yourself a bit of time each day to overthink then do it. Give yourself 30 minutes a day- just let your thoughts go. Knowing that thinking is a strategy we use to feel safe, so really you are just trying to find safety. You are trying to step away from the scary unknown – only trouble as we have just said overthinking is a maladaptive way of doing so. It is most important to understand that we cant think our way out of emotion; but emotion and thoughts can beautifully work together.
4. MINDFULNESS, GROUNDING AND MEDITATION
These are the things that helped me. Centering yourself and bringing yourself into the moment is a powerful tool in the restructuring of your overthinking habits. It is nearly impossible to overthink when we are in the moment. I use grounding such as focusing on an object and really looking at all the elements of that object. I also use walking as a powerful tool when I am stuck in my thoughts and am overthinking. Walking gives you opportunities to look at the trees, the path, the road, the houses etc. Be curious and find what works for you – it is an exciting journey.
Some other grounding examples:
· Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can feel and 1 thing you can smell
· Put on music
· Deep breathes – in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 and out for 5 (this you can do anywhere)
· Have a crystal, stone, or shell (perhaps from a place you love) and when you feel yourself going into the old pattern of overthinking, touch that stone and bring yourself back into the moment.
So many resources out there so go for it and find what works for you.