When a negative thought or feeling escalates into something more than just that, it’s because we are giving it attention. I’m sure that the main reason my thoughts and feelings can cause me so many problems is because I become so absorbed in them. I’m always dwelling on them, analysing them, questioning them, or focusing on them in one way or another. One of the best antidotes for worrying and over-thinking is taking action! This could mean doing something that will specifically resolve or alleviate the thought/feeling, or it could mean just getting up and doing something that is completely unrelated to whatever’s on your mind.
It can be helpful to try to notice the difference between useful (though perhaps uncomfortable) thoughts which are serving as reminders and prompts, and chronic worrying. There are times when a worry keeps popping up because you really do need to do something about it, but at other times your brain can go into overdrive and fall into an unhealthy state. This might also be a problem for those suffering with certain disorders, such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Below I’ve written about action you can take to help in both scenarios (of course, just from my own experience).
- DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM
There are many unpleasant things in life that we just have to do. It often feels easier to avoid problems than to face them but, as much as you hope they will, they rarely ever go away. When I put things off, my brain will constantly bother me about them, eventually distorting them into something 100 times worse than they originally were. I can end up feeling overwhelmed and debilitated.
Sometimes, the only way of removing uncomfortable thoughts is to deal with the root cause and take action. You need to stop dwelling over that thing that you need to do, stop wasting your energy thinking about it, and just do what needs to be done. Obviously, the range of things that you could be putting off is infinite – you could be avoiding making an appointment at the GP for a worrying lump you’ve found on your body, or you could be putting off taking the bin out…! Therefore, what is required to actually get that thing done might either be relatively difficult (if you need to find courage and strength, support from family, time off work for the appointment, time to mentally prepare for the appointment, etc) or relatively simple (if you need to prepare for some very mild discomfort and 5 minutes of action).
Whatever you are struggling to do, it could be helpful to come up with a list of all the things that are required (from you, or others, or physical resources) to get it done. It can help you to see the action as a list of its components, rather than just as a scary or unsettling concept in your mind. For me, the resolution is pretty much never as big or bad as I thought it would be – even when it is a frightening medical appointment. And it’s not because difficult and painful things don’t happen, it’s just that you are SO much better at coping with them than you think you are. Taking action frees your mind from the burden of worry and from the guilt of not taking action.
2. GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD
Sometimes, unhelpful worries keep popping up because my brain has gone into overdrive. I might take action to resolve a worry, but then there’s another and another and another… This can happen if I’m experiencing general anxiety, or intrusive thoughts, or if I’ve been very stressed and my mind is in a permanent state of panic. What often happens for me is that I’ll get anxious about something, and even if that particular trigger passes, I’m then left in a state of anxiety and will begin to worry about all sorts of things.
If you’re struggling with this, it’s a good time to actively do something that requires your full attention and, importantly, that is unrelated to your worries. Some activities you could try are: working out, singing, dancing, running, cleaning, drawing, playing games (video games, board games, online quizzes). Reading could help, though for me it’s too ‘passive’ and I find it difficult to focus if I’m worrying. I wouldn’t recommend watching TV because, again, it is very passive and you aren’t actively doing anything.
The point is not to actively try and stop thinking, but just to actively do something else. Let your thoughts and worries be there, but don’t waste your energy on giving them attention. Use your energy to do something useful or fun. Fully immerse yourself in something you enjoy – or even something a bit boring. Doing an activity for half an hour could give your mind a much needed break from worrying (which is an incredibly tiring activity), and this could make all the difference. It might give your mind time to re-set, and being proactive will make you feel good about yourself.
The other point of this is that it reminds you that you can choose what you want to give your energy to. Perhaps you can’t control your thoughts, but you don’t need to! If your thoughts are unhelpful, there’s no need to react to them or spend your energy analysing them or trying to get rid of them. When you actively do something else, your mind and body will realise that those annoying worries aren’t actually very important, and they will eventually pass.
Being a ‘thinker’ can be beautiful and rewarding – if this is you, then it’s part of who you are. But too much of it (like too much of anything) can be extremely unhealthy. I do need my thinking time, but being active (and not just in terms of exercise, but just generally DOING things) is so crucial for keeping myself mentally healthy. Become a thinker AND a doer – it’s all about the balance!
I hope that this was helpful! Thank you for reading x
I have made reference to mental health issues above, but I am not a professional. I can only offer advice based on my own experiences. If you are – or think you might be – struggling with your mental health, then please make an appointment with your doctor.