Overthinking anxiety seems like the newest chronic disease. Your brain just doesn’t stop racing, you keep ruminating over the same issue, and you can’t find a way out of it.
You might be repeating past events in your head, over and over again, while you know very well you can’t change what has already happened.
You might be thinking about everything you still need to get done, and even when you try to relax, you just can’t stop feeling guilty for not doing anything useful, and your brain is telling you: “You still need to finish this! Use your time well! Don’t just sit there doing nothing!”
You might be worrying about the future, because you don’t feel prepared for that project, or you don’t know how you’ll reach that goal, or you feel like time is passing you by and you still haven’t gotten anywhere. (Even though you DO make progress at your own rhythm.)
Or listen to the podcast version on your way to work!
Before we dive into HOW to stop overthinking, I want you to understand where this is coming from. What causes overthinking?
When you look at the bigger picture, you’ll see that more and more people struggle with overthinking anxiety in our society. Why is that?
Our society today encourages you to constantly use your left brain.
You want to THINK your way out of everything, you want to see the proof before believing something, you like analyzing your situation, you love facts and science.
Let’s admit it, most of us are neglecting our right brain: following your inspiration, listening to your intuition, trusting your emotional intelligence, just having a ‘feel’ for something, and doing it, without overthinking.
Art, imagination, music, emotion, intuition, creativity … It all sounds like something ‘fun’ to do in your ‘free time', but we don’t give it enough importance, or not as much as our left-brain logic, planning, facts, and figures anyway.
You got used to having that constant stream of INPUT into your brain.
To be brutally honest: you trained your brain to overthink and over-analyze.
It’s not your fault, information has never been this accessible to us, communication has never been this fast, we’ve never had this abundance of online courses, podcasts, books, online activities, … You could be putting information into your brain 24 hours a day if you want!
Your brain just has too much to process in too little time.
Your brain got used to always being active, and frankly, it has become addicted to having that constant stream of input.
It’s like taking a vacation after working really hard and that first week you just feel restless and you keep thinking about work and you need a week to get into the ‘vacation mindset’. That’s what’s happening when you try to relax and unwind: you haven’t trained that switch and your brain stays wired all the time.
The good news is: you can train your brain to unwind, to stop that thought train, to tune into your body, to just let it go and relax.
Ok, here’s what I want you to do today:
Training your brain to disconnect takes time and practice. I want you to start practicing getting OUT of your head and INTO your body.
You have been giving your mind the power to lead your life for a long time now. Start by feeling gratitude for having the capacity to analyze, to pause and think, to solve problems, … And let it go.
Remember I told you about all the INPUT we put into our brains?
Start focusing on OUTPUT instead of input. Instead of overloading your system with more and more (very interesting, I’m sure) information, what activities can you do that come OUT of you?
Here’s a list of ideas:
In summary: focus on anything that comes OUT of you and that assists you in connecting to your body.
The moment you notice you’re overthinking and you can’t get out of it, you feel frustrated and stressed.
What would it feel like if you gave yourself permission to rant while putting a timer on it?
This is a 2-step exercise that I want you to try out next time you’re ruminating, overthinking, or worrying:
After doing this, you have 2 options:
You might want to do both, but you choose the order. You even might feel like leaving it at that, if the rant has left you feeling more calm and satisfied.
Have you ever been racking your brain over something for hours, then decided to go out, start cooking, do something else, and all of the sudden the answer comes to you?
That’s because when you’re in a state of stress, your brain has a very narrow focus and it just can’t see the big picture. High cortisol (aka stress) levels activate different areas in the brain that won’t allow you to get creative in problem-solving and find the best solution.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to find something that completely distracts you and relaxes your mind.
Go outside (nature has been proven to lower cortisol levels), chat with a friend, have a laugh over funny dog videos, … Whatever it is, do something that has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.
The right solution might hit you like a flash of inspiration at the right moment.
Or you might feel new creative energy to brainstorm around the issue and come up with new ways to solve it.
This is a golden trick my psychotherapist taught me when I was 15 and I always apply this one whenever I can’t see the way out, or I’m taking things personally. (I have never shared this one before, and it seems like the perfect place to do so!)
Literally, put a chair in front of you, and imagine putting the problem on that chair.
Now, look at it from all sides. You’re externalizing the issue and you’re looking at it from another person’s perspective. Imagine this was the problem of someone else and you’re just both looking at it from all sides.
Step around the chair and play the best detective in the world:
You don’t have to play detective, you don’t have to walk around, but you get what I’m saying here.
When you imagine taking the problem out of your head and putting it onto a chair, you’re making it easier for your brain to come up with the right solutions.
Have you ever felt like you’re the best advice giver for someone else, but you don’t know what the *** to do with your own life? Yup, this is why!
How I love this one!
I used to think in black and white because I was a super perfectionist.
I didn’t like unresolved issues, I want to find the answer right away.
I hated feeling like I don’t have control over something.
I felt allergic to uncertainty or unclarity.
It wasn’t until I moved to Peru that I had to learn to get comfortable with the grey zone.
There is no efficiency addiction here, there’s no full clarity over anything, there are lots and lots of blurred lines.
Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
Well, newsflash: grey zones are everywhere and you have to learn to get comfortable with the not-knowing.
You can’t always predict or plan everything. You never know how life will go. Unexpected events will show up all the time, things will get in your way or they won’t turn out as expected or wanted.
It’s not the solution that’s most important. It’s not the strategy or the knowing HOW you will pull it off.
What’s most important is asking the question, having the goal, putting the destination into your mental GPS.
Once you know where you’d like to get (of course, always staying flexible because goals can change), your brain will start scanning and filtering to find the best way to get there, and this can take a while.
Your brain works literally like a GPS: even when one way doesn’t work and you bump into a roadblock, your brain will recalculate the best possible road and try a different way. But you will get there.
I feel like this is a topic for a completely different blog post, but I hope the seed is planted for this new way of thinking of embracing the grey zone, and it will get easier over time.
What do you really need to remember from this blog post?
And last but not least: celebrate your brain’s capacities, just don’t overuse them!