Whether you’re literally dreaming what you have written in the report just a few hours before, seeing that procedure manual in front of your eyes or playing an endless loop in you mind with what you’d say to your moody boss or lazy coworker, I know how you feel! And I admit, I am an over thinker!!
When is the last time you heard the expression: you’re so stressed you’re not thinking straight? Overthinking comes from stress and anxiety, fear of losing something, not doing something straight, of missing out. But overthinking makes you miss out on tons more than whatever risk you are facing at work. You are missing out on life! On how your children grow, on good moments with your spouse, on your health, on thousands of opportunities, even on the chance to improve the things at work that made you overthink in the first place!
The good overthinking
If your overthinking refers to the substance of your work, congratulations! It’s not overthinking, this is plain passion. Good for you for finding the work that hooks you up like that. Unless this causes a problem in your personal life, I do not believe you should do anything about it, except for guiding it towards a purpose so that it also turns lucrative. Write a book, go through with your little inventions, speak up at work and grab those opportunities. You should make the best use of your little “obsession”.
If it does cause a problem and your spouse is not happy with the amount of time you put in at work, then you need to find ways to balance your lives. More on how to do this without losing on both will follow in a different post.
And the bad one…
But more often than that, overthinking is about something that makes you uncomfortable, something you’ve said or done or that someone did to you at work. You are playing scenes in your head over and over again on how to respond, what you should have said or done or what would happen next. These endless loops consume any other thoughts and make you absent, irritable depressed, in short words not fun to have around. If so, it’s time to take action to stop the hamster wheel in your brain from tuning on and on.
I do not mean by this that you should not prepare or practice your difficult discussions. By all means, preparing them will certainly be of help but it should be strictly contained. Fix some time in your schedule when you will not be disturbed and write and practice your monologue to your boss/partner/coworker. And when you’re done with it, lock it in a drawer until the moment comes. You are allowed to review and practice it one or two more times, but do not go back to it every minute of the day! In the mean time, relax and do stuff that you like.
Why are you overthinking? Most of the times you overthink because of how it made you feel, which means basically that either you felt threatened in some sort or you feel guilty about a certain course of action, which is also a threat by the way, to your friendships or reputation.
How to stop yourself from overthinking
Now, let’s get more practical about what to do to stop your mind from overthinking.
First: solve it on the spot! If something just happened to you and you can do something about it (provided that you are in the right state of mind to take action!), then do it, and get it over with! Just solve it, then and there. And then control your mind from wandering off. If it cannot be solved in one go, make a plan on how you will get here, but whatever you do, do not react in a charged state, when you’re angry of too upset. To get the best results you have to be in a cool, relaxed state, in full control of what you’re doing and saying and fully aware of the consequences of your actions.
If you don’t know exactly what to do, do some research or ask you mentors what they would do.
For example, if you hurt someone: apologize, quickly and fully! If you want to get it off your chest and the person is not there anymore send it out by email, sms, anything you find appropriate and set up a face-to-face as soon as possible. If you’re not sure and you still want to think about it then put in an email that you send to yourself but you don’t go to your inbox to read it straight away, you will be surprised of the effect it will have on you.
If you come to the conclusion that there is nothing you can do to change the situation then why bother thinking about it?? If you cannot do anything to fix it, now or until later, then your thoughts on the subject should be in vacation too until then.
Then, if the inevitable happened and you start overthink, the following steps can be used whenever you want to stop your mind from going on an don incessantly about one thing, an unhealthy habit too often practiced than we’d care to admit.
1. Do something you know will absorb you fully. The best way to stop yourself from obsessing about something is by doing something else that interests you even more, there is nothing more efficient than this. Watch an exhilarating movie, do some craft work, get out with friends/family. Whatever you chose make sure it engages you fully otherwise you will only end up doing it half-heartedly while your head keeps weaving at whatever it’s eating your thoughts right now.
2. Sing out loud! Literally. Lock yourself in your car (preferably safely parked in your garage), put on your favorite tunes (the more happy, loud and engaging ones that it, I know you like that soppy, sad love song, I do too, but getting even more sad or depressed will not help), turn the dial to the max and go for it! The key word is loud, sing your lungs out if you have to. Do this for at least 20 Minutes for best results.
3. Exhaust yourself with sports. If you pair it with entertaining music even better. I don’t mean Pilates, that’s for the next category, I mean hard and fast sports, go running, spinning, fast swimming, boxing and so on. After 30 minutes you will feel like you have just finished a big accomplishment.
4. If it works better for you, do yoga or a relaxation class/session. For best results you should have a routine of relaxation sessions per day or week. You can easily find them on youtube, no need to spend a fortune on private classes or even step outside for this although the stepping outside on its own might make all the difference in the world.
After these 3 categories you need to make sure that you maintain the balance that you achieved by using them. For example, after a serious sport session take your shower, put on some relaxing clothes, turn on the nicest music you have, you know, the type that doesn’t incite any upsetting feelings and have some nice camomille tea while playing a game or whatching a movie with your family. You will feel much better afterwards.
5. Create your own motivational poster or watch a few motivation videos on YouTube. I’ll come back with more details on this one.
6. Talk. If you are the spiritual type going to church will probably help you a lot. If you can talk to your priest about it even better. For the rest of us, just talking to a friend/family member that you can trust will do. Be cautious if you choose to talk to a co-worker about it, especially since the problem is related to work. It is generally better to unburden yourself to a friend or family member than to a co-worker for the sake of keeping professional relationships, well, professional. You might have friends at work in whom you can confide but there is a fine line between confiding and office gossip. Having the reputation of a gossip girl/man will not do any good to your career in that place.
7. If you still find yourself wandering around in your thoughts, NLP might work for you. Your brain gives a little too much attention to the event that triggered your overthinking. Using NLP you can trick your brain into reducing this exaggerated importance it gives it. To do so, imagine the scene that started it and play with its colors and sounds. Make it fuzzy, reduce the number of pixels, play a circus tune with it, put it on mute, make it black and white, a wiped out old picture that doesn’t mean anything. Then take the best and brightest image of you and place it right in the middle of that old decrepit picture first just like a small bright point that will gradually get brighter and bigger until it will have consumed the entire grey negative image. Repeat this in your mind for a few times, until you feel better.
Once you have reached a good balance with one of these, do not allow your mind to go back to those thoughts anymore by using some of the other techniques presented here.
You need to prepare your positive memory a bit in advance. Chose you best moment, sometimes when you felt appreciated, loved, powerful and in control and then replay it in your mind while increasing it’s sounds, vibrance and colors. Every time you feel those good feelings make an anchor point: touch your ear or clench your fist, whatever works for you, but use the same gesture every time. Repeat imagining the scene and touching your anchor point until doing the latter becomes a reflex for those good feelings. If done correctly, touching your anchor point together with briefly remembering the moment will trigger those positive feelings in you, anytime you will need them. This works wonders for moments like speaking in public or defending cases in important meetings.
But if you did not have the time time to prepare it yet, try the exercise without this part, by only adjusting the image of your negative event until it fades enough to stop caring about it that much.
Once you have reached a good balance, prevent your mind to go back to those thoughts anymore by using some of the other techniques presented here.
Another technique, to be used with more caution however, is to imagine a picture where you have already made amends. Make that picture vivid, increase it’s vibrance, colors, sounds. Repeat a few times, take it in and breath deeply. Remember to actually do the thing that you imagined as soon as you get the chance, for example, apologize to the person as soon as you find her.
I will come back in another post with some reading suggestions in NLP. The best however is to find a practitioner and join a course for a few seances until you know what to do after which you can try to manage it on your own.
8. If nothing works it’s time to seriously consider getting professional help. There is no shame in it and it could turn out to be extremely useful, sometimes more than we’d like to admit.
The more I advance in life the more I am convinced that change is rarely a result of only our own determination. The people around us are essential to it and many times they are also the very thing that triggers change, be it good or bad. Find yourself a good therapist, that inspires you, that you can trust and follow and use him or her to the best of your advantage.
I hope this helped your wandering mind to take a break. Do let me know if it did or what other ways you found to stop overthinking in the comments section!