Of all the negative personality traits that I posses, one stands high above the rest as being the most destructive.
I’m a thinker. If something bothers me, particularly in a situation where I feel unfairly treated, I’ll think about it… and then I’ll think some more. I’ll even think about the way that I’m thinking about something and by the time I have finished thinking I will have inevitably blown the initial annoyance out of all proportion in my mind. I think about what I could or should have said or done, what I wish I hadn’t said or done, what I will say and do in the future. I think about what has been said and done to me, and what should have been said to me instead.
It’s a lot of thinking… and it’s exhausting.
Despite the fact that I’m fully aware that this is not a healthy thing to do, I have found it difficult to control at times and the end result is always the same – I will have wound myself up and become agitated, the problem still remains unresolved and the only person left feeling angry, anxious or hurt is me. There’s a number of triggers that will set my brain into thinking overdrive – lack of control or fear of the potential in a situation, the feeling of something being unfair, the urge to ‘win’ – all of which I know are part learned thought patterns, part attempt to gain validation from others and part caused by my own stubbornness.
It’s a more regular occurrence in my life than I would like, to the point where The Bloke now usually ends a conversation with “just make sure that you don’t start overthinking it” when I discuss things that have been bothering me. In fact, it has made this year pretty awful at times and has affected personal relationships, my view on the world and my perception of exciting things that will happen in the future.
I think that it’s about time for me to stop thinking.
Want to change your mindset and avoid overthinking things? Here’s some ideas.
Take back control of your thoughts. It’s a difficult thing to do, but consciously making a decision not to get sucked into the cycle of negative overthinking and dealing with bad thoughts one step-at-a-time will eventually become a habit.
Distract, distract, distract and do things that make you happy when the negative thoughts creep in. My WORST time for overthinking is when I have seemingly nothing to do, so I have adopted distraction techniques that are filled with things that I enjoy. Yesterday, The Bloke and I went to a little festival in the park near our house and watched a film when we got home, which was a great day. I’ve distracted myself with the blog and social media, music, making arrangements with friends to meet up and have created a whole list of craft-based things that need doing for the wedding for times when I can feel my overthinking brain starting to kick in.
Exercise. My running shoes are looking sadly neglected and I have a wedding dress to buy. I have created a fitness plan for the next few weeks, which I am going to force myself to stick to.
Breathe. It’s something that I use to control moments of anxiety, but not something that I regularly use to control times where I get lost in thought.
Stop making assumptions about how others think and feel. We’re all different and to my knowledge nobody actually has proven mind-reading capabilities. Remember and accept that just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean that others will.
Shut. Up. Accompanying my overthinking is the urge to talk repeatedly in a desperate attempt to share how I feel. Trust me, this doesn’t help. Yes, talk about something once should you see fit, but then leave it and don’t bring it up again.
Write. Write your thoughts down in a journal until it is out of your system, then out it down and walk away.
Avoid focusing on fairness and the idea of winning. Life isn’t fair. People aren’t fair. Accept that others will have a differing opinion and never try and point score, even if you find things being thrown back at you.
Get rid of the assumption that you’re entitled to have support and someone on your side. You aren’t. Removing the need for validation from others may stop the overthinking process after moments of confrontation or sadness.
Put things into perspective. Is the issue really that important? Will it matter in a week’s time? Or in a month? What about in a year?
Stop thinking about the potential, or dwell on the past, particularly if it is negative. Try and remain in the present – what are you doing at this moment in time?
Try and remain rational and avoid an all-or-nothing approach. This is my BIGGEST issue when it comes to overthinking – instead of taking a singular situation for what it is, I am often inclined to look at it in terms of either/or or black and white. Someone said something seemingly derogatory on a night out? The whole evening was ruined. Someone told me that I had hurt their feelings during a particular situation? They hate me. Take a step back, take ownership of your behaviour, apologise and move on.
What about you guys? Do you overthink things?
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Wonderful post – I relate, too much I think! I’d add just one thing: with the exercise, choose an event here and there to mix it up. A 5k fun run, or a walk-a-thon, can make the running more enjoyable because it gives you a mini-goal. 🙂
Here’s to (hopefully) less over-thinking!
That’s such a good idea! I love colour runs in particular!
Some good advice for overthinkers ..I don’t.. I do a for and against list in my head and act….One of my sons is like me…the other does what you do and overthinks…I will show him your list 🙂
I wish I could be more like you – it can be really stressful sometimes!
I have learnt with age Suzie..I was probaly like you when I was younger..now I want a stress free life ( will message you re Pinterest ) maybe next week 🙂
It’s something that I need to get my brain around more, although is is getting better!
It will Suzie, it will 🙂
Feel free to PM me on Facebook
I am also an overthinker and it drives me mad. I too am trying to distract myself (blogging, reading, puzzles, walking) from all my thoughts and it is key. The worst is when I wake up in the night and my brain is on overdrive; everything always seems 10 times worse. I’ll take on board some of your other tips too – thank you for sharing.
Oh my gosh that’s the WORST… I have to listen to music if that happens otherwise I would never get back to sleep
Very good practical points here Suzie. I am always amazed at how emotionally and even physically tiring over thinking is. So any strategies to avoid it will always be energizing.
It’s exhausting isn’t it!
In defense of overthinking–or at least thorough thinking–this post offers so many good points around strategies to stop the overthinking train.
I was just saying to my husband that I absolutely need outdoor activities that challenge me so that I can get out of my dumb head sometimes. It’s smart to upend perspective. In all the cognitive bias reading I’ve done this is called “framing.” Reframing the situation from another angle is a way to invite our brains down a new path.
This is a great post,
You phrased that so much better than I could!
So interesting that I came across this particular post this morning. Just Friday, I gave a presentation on Mindfulness to the educators in my school district (AND wrote a blog post about MF this week). In my talk, I go over the very thing you speak about – thinking too much! I love all of your suggestions (in fact, some of them are components of a MF practice), and I would add that a consistent MF program has been shown to work wonders at being able to observe our thoughts and develop kindness towards ourselves and others (possibly eliminating the obsessive thoughts in the first place!). A good place to start, for anyone interested is palousemindfulness.com – a free, online 8-week research-based MF program.
A perfect post for me today, coincidence is everything, thank you
I’m glad it was useful – thanks Steph!