Last month I attended a conference and one of the speakers asked the audience to raise their hands if they were overthinkers. Most people – around 90% of the room, including me – raised their hands. I was amazed by this and didn’t realise that overthinking was such a common problem.
Spend some time thinking about positive things
We can get lost in endless reruns of conversations or situations – overthinking is generally negative in its focus. And if we constantly dwell on negative thinking, surely this impacts our wellbeing?
An article on Healthline.com says that “the process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called rumination. A habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions. It may also cause you to feel isolated and can, in reality, push people away.”
If we consider the coronavirus pandemic, the 24/7 news cycle can add to this negativity. It is important to be informed but not, I think, to overly dwell on all the coulds, mights or maybes.
About 10 years ago, I made an active decision to lessen my news intake, whether through newspapers or television reports. I found them to be draining, negative and fear mongering; and rather than being news of events that had happened, the media often shared opinions of what could happen. Reports seemed to be more speculative than factual.
So, here are some practical things that have helped me manage my overthinking:
Be kinder to yourself
Stop criticising yourself and others so much. We can often be kind to others but so cruel to ourselves. Give yourself space and time to learn, to develop and grow.
Distract yourself and change from a thinking activity to a physical activity
I have been told that this is one of the reasons that so many people go running: they find it helpful to keep their minds healthy as well as their bodies. For many years we have taught juggling techniques to people and teams as a way of helping distract them from overthinking. Due to the mechanical process of jugging three balls, it actually seems to give your brain a ‘thinking holiday’ as you are so focussed on the mechanics and motor skills. Scientists at Oxford University have even proved that juggling can increase your brain power.
Change your focus
Spend some time thinking about positive things; things that bless you. For me this could be family, creative ideas, food, friends, God. In fact, there is a really encouraging verse in the Bible that has helped me. It can be found in Philippians, chapter 4 verse 8: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…..and the God of peace will be with you.”
Have a notepad by your bed
Good ideas often come at night and if you have a notepad handy, you can quickly jot them down and then return to sleep.
Change behaviours or situations
Do this if you can or need to but recognise that there are some things you don’t have control over. Stop worrying about these things.
Stop watching as many news reports
Lower your expectations
So much tension comes from having unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. I was involved in a new task recently that, for us, was a first. I spent most of the time ruminating afterwards on what hadn’t gone well, rather than revelling in what had gone really well – the vast majority of the session. Of course, we can and should want to develop and grow, but we also need to celebrate our achievements much more. Another friend, after having helped out a family member, was disappointed that they couldn’t have done more (which would have been impossible in the particular situation) rather than thinking positively about all the good that they had done and the help that they had given.
Talk to people
Instead of mentally obsessing over things, talk your situations and thinking out with other people that you trust. Often this can give us a fresh perspective.
Ask yourself: “Will this be important in a week, a month, 6 months?”
This is something I do regularly. If the answer is no, then I try and let it go and move on to other things.
If you are guilty of overthinking – or even think that you are (!) – it is definitely worth trying out some of these techniques. I would love to know how you get on and, equally, if you have some top tips on this, please let me know! I’m always looking for new ideas.