Help control overthinking

Full disclosure here: my name is Jenny and I’m an overthinker. Do you find these thoughts constantly running through your head? Am I doing this right? Should I be doing it? What do they think of me doing it? Was there another way of doing this? Exhausting, isn’t it?! 

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Every one of us overthinks at times but, for some, it feels like we do it more than others. Why is this? It can be due to clinical anxiety but that certainly isn’t the case for everyone. 

It can often be confused with problem-solving - after all, you’re going through an issue and coming up with potential resolutions. But if you stop and think about it, you might see that you’ve just been playing the issue around and around in a loop in your head and you’re not getting anywhere!

It can also easily change into catastrophising – thinking that the worst-case scenario is actually very likely. Everyone will find out I did this. They’ll all hate me. No one will speak to me again. I’ll get fired. They’ll leave me… Phew!

The trouble is, by going over and over something in your head, your brain can decide that there really is something to fear. This is where a part of the brain called the amygdala gets involved. The amygdala is the lizard or downstairs part of your brain that gets those feelings of anxiety and fear going; heart pounding, feeling tense, a bit sweaty and not so great. And, like a great big vicious circle, the more you worry about something, the more you tell your brain there really is something to worry about, which could lead to anxiety disorders in the future.

A pink elephant 

Unfortunately, simply telling yourself not to think about the issue is not going to work. If I tell you not to think of a pink elephant what are you thinking of now?

Yep.

You need to replace the thought, so if you don’t want to think about a pink elephant, think about a blue monkey holding a banana.

See?

So how does this translate to real life?

Self-awareness is key here; get used to paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. When you notice that your thoughts are going round and round:

  • Stop and say to yourself "Ok I can feel that I'm a bit anxious and on edge right now."
  • Give your brain a bit of a break - just for a minute or so.

You could do this by taking some deep breaths or you might even go for a walk around the block. Anything to get yourself out of your head, and into the real world, in real-time.

We are living in stressful times right now and there are definitely a lot of worries out there, but do you have the power to resolve all of them yourself? No. Do you have the power to stop your thoughts from going into overdrive? Yes, you do.

Overthinking is like procrastination. Neither one actually gets anything done.

Replace the pink elephant with the blue monkey

Remember you need to replace the pink elephant with the blue monkey – swap overthinking for bringing your attention back to the present, to now.

  • Notice when you’re overthinking, ruminating or worrying excessively.
  • Replace this by bringing yourself back to the present moment – bring yourself back into the room.
  • Take some big, deep belly breaths.
  • Release yourself from past mistakes (your own and others').
  • You could try whispering to yourself ‘I choose to let go’.
  • Show yourself some compassion.

You won't ditch your overthinking pattern overnight; you’ve more than likely been doing it for many years, so it’ll take a bit of time to manage it, but you can do it – you just need to keep practising.

Work on your tendency to overthink and live more in the here and now. You’ll feel calmer, happier and you can really be present for the people around you.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Peacehaven, East Sussex, BN10
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Written by Jennifer Warwick, BACP Registered Counsellor (Postgrad Dip Counselling)
Peacehaven, East Sussex, BN10

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for a free initial chat by phone.

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