Staying positive is easier said than done. 9 times out of 10, the automatic response to a negative thought pattern is a quick ‘try not to worry’, which invariably doesn’t help. But there are times when over-thinking something, mulling over a past mistake or overanalysing an interaction, slips into the unhealthy realm. When it consumes you on a regular basis and you find yourself obsessing over things, robbing you of enjoying moments in the present.
My beautiful friend Em recently wrote a post which really got me thinking about how much over-thinking seems to consume my daily life. I know I’m not alone but I think it took reading someone else’s experience to realise that I’ve probably slipped over to the realm where I need to do something about it.
Over-thinking and analysing a situation doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re conscientious, creative, caring, loyal, loving and kind. But when it makes us feel anxious about things and plagues our minds, it’s re-assessing whether it’s doing more harm than good.
So what do I mean by over-thinking? Well I suppose it could be anything. Social media doesn’t help for one. It allows us to ‘stalk’ our other halves exes (never a good idea – there will always be slightly strange feelings around this), source ‘body inspiration’ (again, everyone’s bodies are different and although I think admiring other women is fab – sometimes if you’re not in the right mind frame it’s not always the best thing to do) and even catch up on what friends and family are getting up to around the world.
But it also means that we have a constant stream of other people’s lives, which inevitably means we compare ours to it.
We wonder whether we should be further in life at this stage, because we see the couple on Facebook getting married, buying a house and landing their dream jobs.
We wonder whether we should chuck in the towel and splash out on a round the world trip, because everyone and their dog seems to be jetting off to exotic places.
We wonder whether we should YOLO (cannot believe I’ve just typed that – sorry) and quit the job to fulfil the dream of becoming a novel writer.
We over-think whether our lives are heading in the right direction. Whether we’ve taken the right path.
Whether we’re going to be successful. Whether we shouldn’t fear failure and just do it anyway.
Whether we have the right mentality to be successful.
Whether we’re eating the right things to make sure our nails are growing at a steady rate.
We also over-think the little things, like whether our colleague is annoyed at you for taking the wrong mug. What she meant by being blunt in her email. Whether someone will think we’re strange because we’re on our period and it’s OH SO heavy and we need to go to the toilet twice more than normal. What if someone in the office is keeping tabs?!
Maybe by ‘we’, I just mean ‘me’. But I know we’re a generation of over-thinkers and I’m not alone.
For me, it’s jeopardised friendships, relationships and to be honest, I’ve had enough of it.
I’m pretty sure my hormones are a large contributor – and that if I wasn’t on the pill then I’d probably be slightly less of a worrier. But I also think I’ve always been that way and the issue has just increased as I’ve grown older. My mum recalls me worrying about my teacher not finishing the end of school-day story on time, bursting into tears as my prior knowledge informed me that there were 8 more pages of Biff + Chip’s adventures left, but only five minutes until 3pm. We couldn’t possibly have made it.
I remember in year 9 when I though my SATs results were going to be the indicator of whether I succeeded or failed in life. Partly responsible was the ridiculous amount of pressure schools put upon us.
But anyway, my point is – I haven’t just turned into an over-thinker overnight. It’s gradually increased until I’ve got to the point where I randomly burst into tears in front of my boyfriend because something trivial (in the grand scheme of things) has been plaguing my mind and worrying me. The poor guy.
Having supportive, wonderful people around you is half the battle and I’m lucky that I do have such a caring set of people behind me. But there’s also some other ways to stop over-thinking and negative thought patterns control your life. I won’t proclaim to be an expert, because I did spend a good portion of the day wondering whether an email should be construed in a certain way. But hey, no-one’s perfect!
Accept that worrying is totally normal.
I think worrying that you’re worrying too much can often cause some sort of vicious circle and be detrimental to getting back into the realm of positivity. ‘Don’t worry’ is part of our everyday vocabulary, so for many of us, it seems like worrying is wrong and should be discouraged. But it’s not. Worrying is normal and accepting this is the first step to making it something that doesn’t consume you everyday. Worrying means you’re caring, you’re hard-working and you’re diligent.
Learn to forgive yourself.
We all make mistakes, we all do things we probably would have done differently in hindsight. But over-thinking certain situations to the point you go through the stages of cringe, self-doubt, cringe, beating yourself up – just isn’t healthy. Learn to laugh about it. Find the funny side. Usually when stressors are triggered, you spiral into a pattern of negative thought which is difficult to escape from. A roller coaster of racing thoughts is induced. That’s because usually our memories and our thought patterns are interlinked within the brain. We can’t always differentiate between the two. Tell yourself it’s ‘a-okay’, have a chuckle, have a cry if you need to and forgive. Over-thinking won’t change anything. Forgiving yourself will.
Or find something to concentrate on that takes your mind off things. You’re not trying to suppress the negative thoughts (because if we go to tip 1 again, it’s not about discouraging the mind from having those thoughts) but merely taking yourself out of the middle of it and finding more stable ground to see clearly. Breathing can help with this. Count to 10, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Or if you (like me) find sometimes breathing isn’t enough, have a glass of water and take little sips in between breathing. Then take a notepad and jot all your thoughts down. Or type them up in a word document. Pouring them out on paper, releasing them – and taking yourself away from the situation can really help detach the worries becoming black holes of worry!
Don’t whatever you do, Google it!
I’m a complete idiot because usually, whenever an issue crops up, 9 times out of 10, I’ll type it into Google. It’s like I regard Google as some all-knowing, all-seeing oracle of information (which to some extent, it is – eurgh!) but it is just a load of algorithms really and it doesn’t have the knowledge, understanding or care to help with issues of a more complex nature. Usually the people that comment on forums only have negative things to say (because they’re venting their anger/worries too) so finding information you thought would be reassuring suddenly spirals you into a hole of ‘oh goodness am I doing the right thing’ or ‘is this normal’? No-one has the power to tell you how you feel and what you should do, other than you. If you’re struggling to comprehend how you’re feeling, you could confide in someone you trust or again, write it down. Sometimes (although it feels like revision – so maybe minus the coloured pens) a mind map can help you see things more clearly. Plus having it written clearly on paper can relieve it swirling viciously inside your head.
Sweat it out!
There’s a quote I found quite funny. It went along the lines of “those girls who go to the gym to get over period cramps are the ones surviving the apocalypse”. It’s totally true. I’m not a gym bunny. I won’t profess to love the gym or look forward to going. But it’s pretty good to clear the head. Especially if you pop in some HIIT moves which can be quite ferocious (the throwing of the ropes is one of my faves). Running on the treadmill can really help clear your head – and although it won’t stop your thoughts running away with themselves sometimes – it can assist you in regaining some focus and perspective. Plus, fresh air is amazing for working wonders with the mind. We’re all such indoor creatures (working in offices, travelling in tubes and cars) that we forget about the big wide world that’s out there!
Again, initially I thought this was something only those with a penchant for yoga and green juices were good at, but it’s been probably the best thing at helping me overcome negative thoughts. I use an app called Headspace, which has 10 minute sessions (the first 10 are free and you can listen to them as many times as you want) to take time away from a situation, re-assess and calm my thoughts down. It’s very different to meditating. You won’t need to sit with your legs crossed and hum gently, but you will need to take it seriously. Mindfulness is about acceptance of thoughts – but letting them pass you by like you would watching a busy road. If you were watching from the pavement, you accept all the cars are there. You watch them, but you don’t try and stop them. You don’t get worked up by them. You don’t run out and try and suppress them from moving freely as they wish. You simply watch from the sidelines and accept that you’ll always have happy thoughts, negative thoughts, sad thoughts, excited thoughts. Thoughts of all different kinds. I’m going to be undertaking a course of CBT soon and I’m really intrigued to see how this may help me.
Have courage and be kind
Disney films, whether you like them or not (err, I’m joking there is no latter option), do often have some fantastic life lessons and quotes hidden between the princess dresses and long flowing flower-filled hair. I watched the latest Cinderella film with my sister and the quote ‘have courage and be kind’ really spoke to me. Kindness is so underrated but yet it has the ability to transform someone’s day altogether. When someone is kind to me, especially if I’m having a bad day – it restores my faith in humanity. It makes me smile and it brings me back into the world. Into the present. Being kind yourself is also very rewarding. You never know what’s going through another person’s head, what they’ve seen or experienced that day or what they’re going through at that very moment. Kindness often extends far greater than we realise. And courage wise, often it takes courage to be kind – when you’ve been through some rather unkind things yourself, it’s so easy to be negative. It’s so easy to take the same path. It takes courage to see through the other side.
Fight or Flight
I’m sure we’ve all heard that anxiety is a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. There’s actually quite a bit of science behind this. Our nervous system has a parasympathetic and a sympathetic side to it. The parasympathetic is the one that is triggered when we detect danger or we’re over-stimulated by something. Sometimes this can even be excitement because we can’t always differentiate between fear and excitement. So this may be why we feel anxious or over-think going on holiday. The parasympathetic system triggers a faster heart rate, sweaty palms, it makes your tummy go a little rumbly, it makes your breathing speed up. Then when things calm down, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. It restores equilibrium in the body. I think often knowing that the reactions we’re having are normal can be quite reassuring. It means our bodies are working properly. We still have that primal, primitive instinct that makes us human. When you start feeling the tell-tale signs, breathe and it sounds odd, but smile. Sometimes projecting a different emotion to confuse the anxious symptoms can actually really help!
Okay, you probably think I’ve gone full hippy on you now (I wish), but grounding yourself can help immensely. Connecting your body back to the earth and back to the physical world can be so helpful in not letting the mind run away with itself. Whether this is something as simple as walking on carpet, or grass, or wood barefoot (for some reason this helps me massively), or whether it’s focusing on a sensation – so the chair pressing against your back, or the wind blowing your hair. Focusing on physical sensations can really help bring perspective to a situation and help you overcome the over-analysing stage. Smell what’s around you, use your senses and listen out for noises. Detect what they are. Bring yourself back into the physical world rather than focusing purely on mental things.
So I’ll stop with the waffling now, but hopefully some of the above has resonated with at least one person and the tips are somewhat helpful. Over-thinking isn’t something you have to get over instantly. Or even get over at all. But I think sometimes we could all do with being a little kinder on ourselves. No-one is perfect and no-one will ever be. It’s just about making sure you’re living in the present and not being held back by your negatives.
Hope to chat soon! x