Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, a bunch of my upcoming posts will be dedicated to mental well-being.
Today’s topic: overthinking.
Holy moly.. If there was a contest for overthinking, I would be a damn leprechaun for how much gold I’ve acquired. If overthinking caused illness, I’d “what-if” myself to death.
But wait a minute… does overthinking cause illness?
I used to think worrying simply prepared me for the worst that could happen. And sometimes it is beneficial to ponder the “what-if’s”, for example: it’s cloudy today, what if it rains? Let me grab an umbrella. Or if you have a test later in the week, worrying would be helpful in the sense that it would push you to study a little more to prepare.
But when the worrying is excessive, that’s when it can cause you to get physically ill.
In very simple terms- when you worry, you’re triggering the “stress response” in your body and it releases stress hormones such as cortisol.
Therefore, when you’re constantly worrying, your body is constantly sending these hormones out.
Excessive release of these hormones can cause:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Development of ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Panic Disorders
- Digestive disorders
- Increased Heart-Rate, Strokes, Heart Disease, Hypertension
- Weight gain and obesity
- Short-term memory loss
- Chronic fatigue
- (can lead to) Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Depression, and even suicide
[via: The National Institute of Mental Health]
Did you know?
- Stress is the #1 proxy killer disease today
- According to the American Medical Association, stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illnesses
- 60% to 80% of primary care doctor visits are related to stress, yet only 3% of patients receive stress management help
- 42% of Americans report lying awake at night due to stress
This is why it is so so important to take your over-thinking/worrying seriously. You’re literally harming your body.
So, let’s see if you’re an over-thinker.
Take the time to truthfully evaluate yourself with this list.
- Second guess everything
- Analyze things to death (hello, it me)
- Have insomnia (lay awake thinking about things, unable to fall asleep in a timely manner)
- Hate making decisions/would rather someone decide for you
- Regret often (You feel regret when you realize that something you did (or didn’t do) earlier didn’t turn out the way you expected. You “kick” yourself for having done that and wish you could turn back time to do it differently)
- Can’t let things go
- Take things personally when they aren’t
- Are a perfectionist
- Criticize yourself a lot
- Never feel 100% certain
- Feel tense
- Feel like you can’t turn your brain off (hellooooo, it me again)
- Feel tense/a sense of dread often/very irritable
- Constantly feeling “on edge”
If you answered yes to any of these, chances are you’re an over-thinker. And since my blog was made to help people, I rounded up some of my best techniques to stop over-thinking.
5 Ways to Stop Over-thinking
#1: Write it down
Set a timer for 10 minutes to write everything about the situation that’s concerning you down.
After writing the negatives, write down the positives of the situation.
By using a timer, you’re setting a time limit for those thoughts to live in your head (& kick em out when it’s time). By writing down the positives, you’re not only combatting those negative feelings, but you’re also practicing gratitude.
You had a presentation at work and you’re iffy about how it went. You write everything out that you could’ve done better, and then sprinkled the positives over it to give you a boost of confidence, and then you’re done.
Don’t linger on “what if I did this differently”. Take note of what you can do better next time, put that list somewhere where you can access it for future meetings, and move on.
#2: Worry “After”
I had a friend who would receive bad news and then drench herself in worry before she did anything about it.
She got news that her parents had to move out of the place they were renting because the landlord was selling the house.
After hearing the news, she automatically said (this is all in one thought, by the way. She said all of this when she called me):
“Oh my God, great! That house was so perfect for my mom! It was close to her work! She’s been living there for forever! It’s gonna take her forever to find a new place! She’s gonna be so stressed! Who’s gonna help her move if I’m not there?! How is she gonna move in a few weeks? Oh my God. Am I gonna keep my old room even though I’m not there? Where is the dog gonna sleep if she gets a house that doesn’t allow dogs? I know those rental apps are gonna be so annoying! And not to mention costly! How will she afford this? That’s just another thing to add to all these bills and this stress!”
One of my favorite quotes is:
“If you stress about something before it happens, you basically put yourself through it twice.”
After asking her to breathe (lol), I reminded her of this quote. My technique to cancel out the “pre-worry” is this:
Wait until you have exhausted all your options before you worry about what is going to happen.
Before you worry about all the negative possibilities do this:
- Rate your problem. This is a photo used by elementary schools for the same reason.
Nowadays, if my problem doesn’t rank a 4 or a 5, I don’t have a stressful emotional reaction to it. Whereas before, I would react to all rankings 0-5.
Whew chile, talk about growth!
2. Figure out how to solve the problem (make a list if you need to)
3. Take action
If you’ve exhausted ALL the options to solve this problem and the problem is still there, then you can give yourself permission to worry.
In one of my favorite books [Emotional Intelligence], the author explains this technique with a story of a surfer who was stuck in open sea with a shark close by. The surfer ended up getting bit because when she saw the shark, she was so distracted by her negative thoughts “omg I’m gonna die” “omg what if no one hears me when I scream for help” “my parents are gonna be so sad” “this is really how I’m gonna die”, that she neglected to use problem-solving immediately to get her out of her situation.
Of course, we’re not regularly presented with life-or-death situations such as these, but it just shows you that turning your thoughts productive can literally save your life. We always have a choice.
Worrying is a literal waste of time. Use your thoughts productively: develop a plan and then execute.
“Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure everything all at once. Breathe. Take it day by day.”
Meditating releases anxiety stress and detaches the mind from overthinking.
If you’re new at meditating, here’s a simple guide (Please feel free to save this pic if you need it!):
If you’re like me and need a more detailed, step-by-step guide, they have an app for beginners called [HeadSpace]. It’s free and has 4.9 stars from half a million user ratings.
“The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.”
#4- Create Different Identities
A technique I really love is the idea of creating different identities (written by Justin Brown via IdeaPod).
In his article he talks about creating different identities in our minds, and then fully embracing them. The idea may seem silly, but I (and other bloggers) have found it to reduce the impact of overthinking.
Assigning yourself as “Anxious Katie” or “Angry Katie” (with your name)
Doing this will help you separate yourself from those identities and will kindly remind you that we are not our thoughts.
Example: Just because you were angry that your car got towed, does not make you an angry person.
In addition to assigning these identities, we also have to hear them out.
Ask yourself why “Anxious Katie” is being so anxious right now. Or ask “Angry Katie” why she’s so upset. Using these identities will not only help you identify what emotion you’re going through (this skill is valuable in all aspects of life), but it also helps you get to the root of the issue at hand.
True power is sitting back and observing things with logic.
It is not weird to talk to yourself.
“We are creatures of our thinking. We can talk ourselves into defeat or we can talk ourselves into victory”Gordon B. Hinckley
#5- Distract Yourself
If you get lost in your thoughts often, distracting yourself is a good way to not get buried in worries.
Here are productive ways to distract yourself:
- Read a book (or if you’re like me and don’t like physical books, listen to them via [Audible]; I listen to books while I’m driving and cleaning. Also, your first book is free!)
- Exercise. Walk, run, play tennis, anything to get those endorphins goin!
- Get organized (sort your closet out, purge your garage, sort out your bills, clean your inbox)
- Watch something funny (Like a movie or even a short clip online. When I’m stressed I love to Youtube Ellen “Inspiring Story” videos to get me out of my funk!)
- Pamper yourself (take a bath, do your nails, give yourself a reviving hair-mask or a facial)
I love this list because every item on it forces you to “live in the present”.
“Living in the present means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously… aware that each moment you live in is a gift.”
Those are the five techniques I personally use.
Things to remember when trying any of these out:
- Be patient with yourself. Training your mind to react the way you want it to takes time and practice!
- Our minds are very powerful. We can invent, create, experience, and destroy things just with our thoughts.
- There are people who would love your bad days.
- Most of your stress comes from the way you respond, not the way life is.
- You got this!
If you enjoyed reading this, you’d love my [Ways to Improve Self-Esteem: How I Learned to Love my Body post]