I was inspired to write this post by the over-thinking induced insomnia that I experienced last night. I woke up randomly from a dream, a negative thought popped into my head, and the next thing I know I’m two hours into a horrible mental mess. The frustrating thing is that once you’re fixated on a thought, it can escalate into something way bigger than it originally was. I think we all struggle with over-thinking at times, but it can be even worse if you experience anxiety. As a chronic over-thinker, I’ve learnt many useful tips and techniques over the years (though I should really learn to take my own advice)… Just so you know – the first four tips are related to over-thinking ‘in the moment’, and the last four are more related to chronic over-thinking. I hope that some of them will be helpful to you!
1. Take control before the situation escalates
I rarely ever manage to do this, but it is the best thing to do if you can – prevention is better than cure after all. You need to be self aware in order to notice when the over-thinking starts. For me, it’s usually a thought that pops into my head that I react really badly to – something will shock me and trigger the stress response. If I realise, at that point, that “this is going to escalate!” then I have an opportunity to step in and calm myself down. Essentially, my body has responded to a thought by raising an alarm (anxiety, sadness, panic) – this makes my brain think that this thought is really bad and I need to fixate on it, analyse it and try to get rid of it. Try to notice how you feel in response to different thoughts. If a particular thought raises an alarm, remind yourself that it is JUST a thought – there is no need for panic yet. Breathe deeply, accept whatever thoughts and feelings come next, and see if it passes.
2. Give in to your mind
You might have already gone down the road of over-thinking; you might already have spent hours trying to think your way out of the thought or feeling. I can spend so much energy trying to “out-think” my own brain. I’ll come up with a hundred ways to “deal” with the negative thought, I’ll try to convince myself that it’s not something to worry about – that I’ve got it under control. But my brain will keep fighting back with more dramatic and frightening scenarios. In this situation, the best thing to do is just give in. When I couldn’t sleep last night, I eventually thought to myself “I’m just exhausted now, I give up, yes – this situation is really bad and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Oh well.”. I don’t remember anything after that, so I must have fallen asleep very quickly! I often find that, with any kind of anxiety, the best thing to do is just give in.
3. Get a second opinion
It can be frustrating or embarrassing to confide in others when we are worried, but it is often the best thing to do! Over-thinking can become very irrational, and getting a reality check from someone you love and trust can snap you out of it and bring you back down to earth. Usually, the worries that I get caught up in are either a) not particularly worth worrying about or b) something that can be easily solved. When your brain goes into over-drive, it can be really difficult to respond rationally to your thoughts. Let someone know what’s bothering you (even if you feel embarrassed!) and ask them what they think about it. If I have an inkling I’m being irrational then, while it can be uncomfortable, confiding in someone helps 99% of the time! I try to confide in close people like my mum or boyfriend, who already know I’m an over-thinker and won’t be too surprised…!
4. Write it out
If you don’t feel like you can confide in anyone about your thoughts, or you prefer to just work through them yourself, then writing them out can be so useful. Firstly, it gets the thoughts out of your head, and sometimes just the release is enough to allow you to let go of them. It also means you can work through the thoughts, like a puzzle. Writing them out (on paper or a screen) makes them less abstract – they become something you can work with. When I was younger and I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone, I used to write out all of my worries on a page in my diary, and on the next page I would imagine I was another person and respond with all of my advice. You’d be surprised how much you learn about yourself and the way you think by doing this, and you might end up giving yourself some brilliant tips! You’ll also strengthen your confidence and your ability to deal with things by yourself.
5. Check in with yourself
Take some time to check in on how you’ve been recently. Are you just having a panic about something today, or have you been over-thinking every day for the past few weeks? Does each worry turn into another one? If you feel like you’re chronically over-thinking, there could be something wrong. Perhaps something happened that caused you a lot of stress and now you can’t let go of it, or perhaps you’re struggling with a mental health disorder. Maybe there’s something going on in your life that is worrying you. Whatever it is, try to be aware of what is going on internally and externally that could be affecting your thoughts. There might be an issue that you need to address to help ease your over-thinking.
6. Take up yoga or meditation
I discovered that yoga is an incredible way to manage my over-active and worried brain. Yoga incorporates meditation, which – if you are not interested in yoga – is also a great thing to take up by itself. What I like particularly about yoga is that the physical aspect of it helps you to meditate and encourages you to become aware of the connection between your body and mind. It’s not something that is going to “heal” your mind after doing it a couple of times, but a long-term and regular yoga or meditation practice has so many benefits. Attending a regular yoga practice means that I have set times during the week when I don’t have to think about anything at all, which can be so relieving when I’ve had a stressful day. It also teaches you how to breathe properly, and how to stop ‘reacting’ to your thoughts. You can take the benefits with you through each day. If you are an over-thinker, I cannot recommend taking up yoga or meditation enough.
7. Make yourself busy
I have noticed, in myself and others, that we tend to over-think more when we are bored or dissatisfied. It is more difficult to over-think when your mind is preoccupied on work or hobbies or family and friends. If you feel like you have a bit too much time to think, work out what else you can bring into your life to keep your mind busy. Obviously, a given is to make sure you’re taking regular exercise – this really is so important for your mental and physical health. There are endless ways of taking exercise, so find something that works for you (if you don’t exercise already)! Aside from exercise, take up a new hobby, go on a course, or put more effort into your studies or work. Immerse yourself in the things that you’re doing. Surround yourself by friends and family. There have been periods where I have let my thoughts rule my life – but life is way too short to do this! Constant worrying is a waste of your time. Get out of your head and enjoy the world as much as you can 🙂
8. Seek help
There are times when over-thinking is a sign of something more. If over-thinking, worrying, or anxious thoughts have been significantly affecting your life for a while, it could be an idea to reach out to your doctor or mental health professional. For me, over-thinking has previously been a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and looking back I wish I had sought help sooner. If your thoughts are disrupting your daily life and/or your sleep, your relationships or your work, and are causing strong feelings of anxiety or low mood, I urge you to seek help. There is so much help out there for people of all ages, so please get in touch with a professional if you are at all worried.
I really hope that some of these tips were helpful – if you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment below! x