Author: Lynda Benigno
Overthinking creates a lot of misery. If you are an over thinker, you find yourself unable to silence the continuous stream of thoughts. You over analyze interactions and events with a narrative that is primarily negative and may include "what if?", " what would I do differently?" and "what I should have said was.". All the while the problem in your head becomes bigger and bigger.
Overthinking is different from introspection. Introspection is like having a meeting with yourself, a chance to check in and gauge where you stand emotionally and spiritually. You take inventory and gain an understanding of your true self, the things about yourself you would like to change and set goals that lead to personal growth. Introspection leads to productive action, overthinking leaves you paralyzed in the thought process.
Studies find overthinking takes a toll on your overall well being. People who overthink are more likely to experience headaches, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, irritability, restlessness, sweating, anxiety, and a distorted view of problems. While stuck in rumination, problem-solving becomes more difficult because instead of looking for a solution, you dwell on mistakes. As you ruminate the risk of mental health problems increase, this leads to more overthinking. You become trapped in a vicious cycle.
Most overthinking comes from our fear of the unknown. We also focus on past and future events heavily. Overall these are things we have little to no control over. As a former control addict, I can say with some certainty relinquishing the grip on everything around us can be incredibly liberating. It frees up your time, head space and makes room for positivity and gratitude. We have no way of changing past events, and the future comes to you in the present moment.
Here are a few things you can try to reduce overthinking :
-Throughout your day take time to notice your thoughts. Realize what is true and what is a made up scenario in your head. If what you are thinking is true, acknowledge its presence. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise and honor them. If it is something you can change make a plan and take action. It may be you must confront someone who hurt you or apologizing if you were in the wrong. If your thoughts are a made up scenario gently remind yourself that your thought pattern is not based on truth and is something you have no control over. Release it into the universe or to God. Journaling can be helpful in the release process; writing down thoughts and feelings helps to clear out the junk that is cluttered up in your head. You can also pinpoint negative thinking patterns and gain a better understanding of yourself.
-Try doing something you love. If you think about the last time you were engaged in an activity that brought you immense joy you may realize that you zoned in on the task and your concentration remained relatively unbroken. You zone in because at that moment you are fully invested in what you are doing. Occasionally an intrusive thought may occur, but you are quick to dismiss it as an annoyance because you are fully present in the moment.
- Find the humor in the ridiculous. If you think about it, so much of what we think about is quite absurd. A few days ago in the car, I observed countless people with leaf blowers and rakes, working tirelessly to make sure there wasn't a single leaf touching their grass. I questioned society's obsession with having a perfectly manicured lawn. Sure, there are practical reasons to cut your grass, but I wondered what was so offensive about leaves in the grass. Nature is full of disorder, why do we insist on trying to control it? I stepped back for a moment, and then I laughed at myself; I spent 15 minutes asking countless "whys?" about something I have no control over. Does someone raking leaves in their yard have a direct impact on my well being? Nope. Do I care? Nope. Is it life altering? Nope. If my spouse asked how my day was, I wouldn't tell him I spent 15 minutes talking to myself about leaves and lawn care because it sounds ridiculous. We humans are funny and fickle creatures. It's not necessary to take ourselves seriously all of the time.
The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your health care provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Foundation at 330-577-6656.