How can I stop over-thinking everything?

Your very best and most detailed worrying can’t change the past or the future no matter how hard you try. Instead, you can take control of the here and now; you deserve to live a less stressful life.

If you’re reading this you’re already working towards managing your over-thinking habits, and a habit is exactly what this is. We all fall into patterns in the way we think and respond to life. You’ve recognised over-thinking as an issue and this awareness is your key to change. You’re already half-way there.

To begin with it may help to ask yourself, how much of my day do I spend with my internal monologue and worries? And, how does this benefit me, if at all? You could keep a diary for a week and see what you notice – What do you spend most of your day thinking about? How much time and energy does this thinking take up? What does all the over-thinking achieve? 

If you have noticed that over-thinking and dwelling on past or future events takes up a lot of your mental energy, it may be time to practice focusing your attention outside of yourself.

What does that really mean? The image below is taken from Catherine Lepange’s book Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind and it represents the idea.

thinslicesofanxiety10

I’m not too keen on the ‘normal person’ tag in the image as there really is no such thing but a more outward focused mind may represent a more mentally healthy person, with a more balanced view of the world. Of course, some level of introspection isn’t a bad thing, it’s how we learn about what makes us tick and develop as people. It’s when that over-thinking persists that we see problems such as panic attacks, lack of sleep or avoidance of social situations.

The idea of looking outwards is about adjusting your focus; what might you be doing with friends or for your community, who might you be spending time with, what might you be feeling if you spent less time caught up in your own thoughts. The idea can be liberating, if you allow yourself to let go. Your very best and most detailed worrying can’t change the past or the future no matter how hard you try. Instead, you can take control over the here and now. You deserve to live a less stressful life.

So how do you let go of the worrying?

Kicking any sort of habit can be really hard and over-thinking is no exception. Often over-thinking can act as a safety net, for example, you may believe that if you think something through enough then you’ll be prepared for all eventualities, or you’ll actually feel less anxious.

Consider for a moment then, what the worry and stress is doing to your body. You may find you get frequent tummy upsets, tension in your neck or back or you always pick up the cold that’s going around. As we generate stress through worry, our physical health can suffer too.

Finding your motivation to let go is really important. You need to set your intention and be willing to  commit, whether that’s for your general health and wellbeing, your values as a person and who you want to be or simply to make life a little more bearable.

Write it down. What is your motivation to stop over-thinking?

post it motivation

Once you find your motivation the next step is to consider what you’re actually willing to do. You’ll need to take action; this won’t magically go away on its own. It’s all very well reading a nice blog but it’s very easy to discard and scroll on to the next thing you aren’t going to do! My challenge to you is to try to start one new habit today.

Re-focus your attention.

Imagine a volume dial in your mind. Next time the over-thinking kicks in, visualise the image of turning the volume down inside your mind, then pro-actively do something else to re-focus your attention – put the radio on, call a friend, do ten star jumps – whatever works for you. Focus your energy outwards instead of inwards.

Take time out to practice relaxation.

Yoga and meditation are often recommended for a busy mind and can be a huge challenge at first as they push you to slow down, focus on your breath and create stillness. For meditation try the Headspace app and for yoga try Yoga with Adriene – free videos you can do at home specifically designed to help you manage depression, anxiety, self-doubt, stress and more. Or, join a local class, push yourself to take one action today.

Visualise a day in the life of you, without excessive worry.

Take a piece of paper and draw yourself in the middle. From there put down everything that could be different if you let go of some of your over-thinking. It might be more time doing things you enjoy, more time for yourself, increased freedom to say ‘yes’ to things, better sleep, better connections with friends. How would you feel and what would you be doing differently? Stick this picture up on your fridge or somewhere you will see it every day. Being able to visualise a better future is another important step.

Do one thing this week that is just for you.

Who are you without worrying? You may have forgotten who you really are, what you care about, what you want to do with your time. Worrying has the ability to rob us of the here and now by keeping us in the past or in the future. Don’t miss out on living for the moment – watch the sunset, go and see a film on your own, go to a cafe and read a book for half an hour, get in touch with something that you enjoy.

Put yourself first.

But isn’t that selfish? No. No it isn’t. You matter and you need to allow yourself to come first sometimes. If you worry about other people’s expectations or judgements too much this can get in the way of your desired change. Carl Rogers called these restrictions our ‘conditions of worth’, the unwritten rules we learn growing up. For example, ‘I’m only successful if I am busy all the time’, I’m only loved if I take care of everyone’, ‘I’m only likeable if I’m outgoing’, ‘I’m only loved if I’m interesting and clever’, ‘I’m only okay if I always get things right’, ‘I’m only accepted when I’m life and soul of the party’.

Have a go at identifying your own conditions of worth and consider if you want these to hold you down any longer. Drop the perfectionism and begin to listen to your own needs.

This all sounds great but…

This sort of self-development can be daunting, painful, hard work. You’ll need to dig deep to break this habit. However, making changes can also be hugely rewarding as you begin to take back control of your time, energy and attention. You’ll relapse into old habits now and then and that’s okay. Notice it, give yourself a break, and then do something about it. You won’t be starting from scratch this time.

Having someone to support you with making changes can also help to provide the structure and commitment you need to bring about the change you desire. You might tell a friend or family member what you’re trying to do and ask for their support, get them to call you out when they notice you retreating into your own head, panicking or being quieter than usual.

Counselling can also provide a safe space to explore what’s behind your over-thinking and support you to make change. If you’re interested to find out more please get in touch.  Good luck!