Rescue Yourself from Overthinking
“The more you overthink the less you will understand.” ― Habeeb Akande
Throughout life, much of our energy is taken up in the pursuit of feeling safe.
Each of us has our own unique model of the world. It is the individual lens through which we see life and it is wholly influenced by our childhood experiences, life lessons and genetic make-up.
From this information, we develop a set of core beliefs about the world and the Self. Don Miguel Ruiz and Heatherash Amara refer to these as agreements.
Our model of the world first begins to develop in childhood, where we must gain acceptance and approval in order to survive. To a defenceless child, total abandonment amounts to death, so we develop and concentrate on characteristics that appear to please the people that surround us. We do this, ultimately, to stay safe.
Our need for approval and acceptance closely relates to our fear of abandonment. In fact, all our needs are strongly connected to our fears. The need for something relates to the fear that we may lose it. For example, a need for companionship relates to a fear of isolation and a need for reassurance relates to a fear of not gaining approval.
These fears follow us into adulthood, shaping our beliefs, emotions, and behaviours.
We develop our own unique strategies for meeting needs and allaying fears. These are tried and tested collections of behaviour which we employ because we know that they work.
When we find ourselves unconsciously behaving in a way that is unhelpful or no longer serves us, we can ask ourselves “what strategy am I employing?” and “what is it the I need I am trying to meet?”
One very common behavioural strategy regularly reported to us is that of overthinking.
Many of our patients report that they do not feel able to stop this behaviour or, in fact, control what they are thinking about.
What need then are we aiming to meet when we overthink? The reasons we may be driven towards this behaviour are many.
Are we catastrophising about the future in order to prepare ourselves for the worst?
Are we over planning a future event to reduce the anxiety that is caused by knowing that it is coming up?
Are we remembering the past in a distorted way to punish ourselves by making ourselves the enemy?
Are we gathering information that confirms our victim status and shows us that we have no control over a certain situation?
Are we seeking information to affirm our core beliefs about lack of worth thereby helping us to make sense of them?
This kind of repetitive and often negative thinking is not useful. In fact, it is torture. It results in our bodies producing similar stress hormones to those that we might experience if the imagined catastrophe was actually happening. For most of us, modern life is a constant source of stress and fear, and overthinking has become habit. We simply do not know how to switch it off.
Thinking is useful a tool of the mind. It is extremely helpful in solving problems and approaching new or current situations, but when we are at rest, we are wise if we do not indulge in the habit of overthinking.
Believe it or not this is a choice.
In his book ‘The Power of Now,’ Eckhart Tolle counsels against this type of behaviour. He advocates practising the art of awareness without thought. This means that we can be aware of everything around us; the sounds in the room, the furnishings, the wall, the ceiling without thinking about them – or anything else for that matter. This is commonly known as mindfulness.
In the following articles we show you how to achieve this:
When you next find yourself engaging in the habit of overthinking press pause.
You can silently congratulate yourself for stepping into the shoes of your observer and noticing your behaviour.
You can also offer a message of gratitude to the Universe for the opportunity to learn about the Self in this way. This will help you to cultivate the positive mindset required for improving your resilience.
Now that you have pressed pause, you can choose what to do next.
1. Will you acknowledge your behaviour but choose to continue to follow the thoughts through to their conclusion? (This may result in uncomfortable body chemistry and emotion, and even lead to negative behaviour or more overthinking.)
2. Will you take an alternative action to take your awareness out of your head and into your body?
Either way, the most important thing is that you make a conscious choice. If you continue to overthink, you are choosing to do so.
If you choose the second option, you are aiming to shift your awareness from the imagined to the physical.
How do you do this?
After pressing pause, begin by taking your awareness to a physical sensation within your body.
It may be the tidal quality of your breathing, the feeling of your heartbeat somewhere or the sensation of clothing or soft furnishings against the skin.
It could be a sound such as music playing or the feel of an object you have to hand.
Immerse yourself in that sensation without giving words to it.
Feel it but resist the temptation to describe it to yourself.
This exercise helps to immediately break the cycle of overthinking. Once you have learned to rescue yourself in this way, you can develop your skills further. With practise you will find yourself catching the impulse to indulge in the behaviour even before it starts, and you will be able to take action.
You can then begin to invent your own strategies to combat your habit. You can arrange a collection of ‘go to’ activities that take your awareness into the physical world which you can practise mindfully focussing all your senses entirely on the task in hand.
This might be physical exercise, baking, painting, playing music, dancing or playing a game.
Most people know that there are certain times of the day that are more difficult than others. With this in mind, you can plan ahead so that the materials needed for mindful activity are accessible to you should you find yourself needing to press pause.
Of course, as you travel the path towards enlightenment you can explore your needs and agreements and reframe your core beliefs and fearful thoughts. This is all part of your journey and can be done at your own pace, but in the meantime, you can use the above tool to rescue yourself from overthinking.