“Stop overthinking. You can’t control everything, just let it be.”
There’s a lot to think about over the course of our lives. We have big life decisions to make, as well as day-to-day ones that really only affect us in the here and now.
Some of us can handle these mental demands with the dexterity of a ninja warrior, while the rest of us get overwhelmed because of how we process and internalize stimuli differently.
If you’re anything like I was (an overthinker), you know what it feels like to have racing thoughts! Every time you’ve allowed those thoughts to go unchecked, they have spiraled out of control, leaving you feeling exhausted and depleted.
There is a reason why we’re seeing a surge in the number of mental health issues related to anxiety, stress, and thinking too much – life has become complex and fast-paced. Today, there are a plethora of options that our minds need to chew over and consider.
But things were not always like this. If you visit ancient and historical sites and dwellings you’ll get a sense that people back then, had plenty of time and space for quiet contemplation and reflection. This seemed to be the case right until the Industrial Age.
Great writers and philosophers during this era, such as Henry David Thoreau, could pick up on the gradual shift in the tempo of living. Thoreau took drastic measures to protect his inner sanctuary by leaving urban life to settle in the woods where he pursued simplicity.
During his time there he affirmed that too many people’s lives are “frittered away by details” and that “all men need to simplify their lives”. His philosophy of simplicity colored all areas of his life including his eating habits – he limited himself to one meal a day after learning that a few plates are better than “a hundred dishes.” He said:
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”
Thoreau’s credo stands the test of time. We can all benefit from applying it. The mind is a magnificent biological apparatus adept at problem solving and creative thinking. It helps us do basic tasks but can also facilitate complex mental undertakings like solving equations, creating art, or writing code.
However, we do need to be careful of our natural tendency to overuse our cognitive functions and disrupt the balance needed for us to function normally. Thinking too much and going round-and-round over an issue will trap us in a worry cycle and elicit an anxious response. Helen Odessky, author of Stop Anxiety from Stopping You, says “So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving. But what ends up happening is we just sort of go in a loop. We’re not really solving a problem.”
Experts also say that overthinking is rooted in fears of uncertainty. David Carbonell, author of The Worry Trick, says “Because we feel vulnerable about the future, we keep trying to solve problems in our head.” For example, if your significant other forgets to call you on your birthday, your thoughts could go into a loop like this: What if he/she doesn’t love me anymore? Is our relationship doomed? How am I going to get back into the dating game?
Overthinking is not only an unpleasant state of mind, but it has severe consequences when it comes to our health. It causes mental tension, stress, insomnia and other typical symptoms of anxiety. The emotional distress may cause overthinkers to resort to unhealthy coping strategies such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and dependence on anti-anxiety drugs. Fortunately, there has been a new crop of healthy alternative modalities and techniques for coping with these symptoms, including holistic therapies, which aid in calming down a monkey mind.
Overthinking is, like other bad habits, something that we can manage if we’re self-aware and if we’re willing to take charge of our thought processes. Like a maestro in an orchestra, you can coordinate the flow of your thoughts. Train your mind and discipline it by adopting healthy thinking habits and be mindful of the triggers that cause you to overthink.
Of course, we can’t always be in total control of our minds, especially considering that unexpected events can happen at any time. All we can do is prepare ourselves with the right tools and techniques that will bring us back into balance and release us from the shackles of an unruly mind. Here are 6 simple ideas to get you started:
1. Breathe: The instant that you catch your thoughts going out of control, close your eyes (if you aren’t driving or handling delicate objects) and take long, slow, deep breaths. Conscious breathing has the power to slow things down and calm your nerves. There are a ton of videos and articles out there on how to practice breath work. I recommend that you check out those resources and choose some breathing techniques that you can practice on a regular basis.
2. Take a time out and relax: If your thoughts are getting too overwhelming for you to handle, it may be best to step away and take time out to unwind and get into a calmer state of being. You can do this by engaging in relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, nature walks, listening to soothing music, gardening, drinking calming herbal teas, lighting candles with aromatherapeutic properties, reading a novel, or anything else that brings your pulse down. Avoid being in noisy and crowded environments, or consuming stimulants such as caffeine.
3. Unload you thoughts: Once you’ve balanced your physiology, you can revisit the situation that is causing you to overthink. Instead of allowing your thoughts to marinate, I suggest unloading them by either writing them in a journal, or sharing them with a friend, or therapist. When you let go of emotionally laden thoughts, you’ll feel a lot lighter, more able to focus, and take a rational approach towards the situation that’s at hand.
4. Train your brain: If left to its own devices, the mind will try to control situations by overanalyzing. When this happens, we have to remind ourselves that overthinking only gives us the illusion of control. We can take back the reins by disciplining our thought process. You can replace mind-zapping negative thinking loops with positive and affirmative thought processes. Start by changing your body’s state, flooding it with feel-good endorphins by participating in physical activities and sports. In this energized state, you can engage your mind by learning new things like a new language, embark on a creative endeavor, or participate in problem-solving games.
5. Laugh more: Humor is a powerful antidote for overthinking because it instantly shifts your perspective from fear and lack to one of love and abundance. Through laughter, you’ll learn to appreciate the lighter and brighter side of life, and you’ll see that you don’t need to get worked up about the problems that you’re facing. You can resolve issues while being in a state of joy. In this post, you’ll learn how to create more opportunities for laughter.
6. Realize that you’re not alone: At the root of a fear-based overthinking is a deep sense of vulnerability when it comes to facing the world alone, and the responsibility of having to figure everything out ourselves. However, if you look around, you’ll find that there are plenty of supportive people who would be more than happy to help you out with the advice and resources that you need. Don’t allow your pride and ego to hold you back from reaching out for help. If you can’t find assistance in your immediate circle, you’ll find plenty of avenues such as support groups, professional counselors, and coaches.
When the storm of your thoughts clears, and the debris of your worries has settled, you’ll find peace at the center of your being. Like the sun, this peaceful center shines from within you. It’s always available to soothe you by shedding light into the dark crevices of your fears.
All my best on your journey,
Question: Do you have any other ideas and tools that you use to stop overthinking?