We have all been there. When our minds are in overdrive, our thoughts jump from one subject to the next and we start fortune-telling and catastrophising about events that haven’t even happened yet. This overthinking can occur at any time but can be particularly disturbing at nighttime when we are trying to go to sleep, or when we have a big decision to make. We can often worry about our ability to control a situation and worry about how we will cope with the outcomes we are predicting. This in turn can cause additional anxiety and full-on panic attacks as our bodies go into the fight and flight response.
Hours and hours can pass by and we are no nearer to finding the answers we were looking for, instead, we have often managed to come up with a worst-case scenario that fills us with even more dread and anxiety than we started with. On top of this, we may get frustrated with ourselves for wasting valuable time, for ruminating over and over the same things, and questioning ourselves about what we “should have” and “could have” done differently. This constant loop of anxiety and overthinking can have a negative impact on our family and work life too.
So, if this sounds like you, then here are six ways to calm your mind and stop overthinking:
Identify what you are telling yourself
We all tell ourselves stories about who we think we are, and it is important to recognise if these stories are empowering us or holding us back. We may have been told that we are a “worrier” or we give ourselves labels. We take these beliefs onboard and they become part of our identities. Once we have identified our limiting beliefs, we can replace them with more positive thoughts every time should we revert to our old negative ways. Once we recognise that we are in control of how we feel, we can start making the changes to improve our lives and focus on solutions instead.
Know that the past is already past
When we overthink, we often dwell on the past, focusing on “should haves”, “if onlys” and “what ifs.” Accept that the past is already the past and it can not be changed, however, we can change how we relate to our past and forgive others that have upset us, or learn from mistakes to avoid them being repeated.
Put aside perfectionism
Perfectionism is often seen as a positive trait whereby someone needs to appear to be perfect, however, the reality is that perfectionism is not attainable. Perfectionism can even lead us to believe that if we don’t make the “right” choice then we are a failure. Likewise, it can encourage us to think we need to know or anticipate everything before it has occurred, but trying to predict and plan for every possible future outcome is both exhausting and paralysing.
Ultimately, perfectionism can lead to self-defeating thoughts or behaviours, making it even harder to achieve goals, while increasing stress and anxiety.
It is much easier to take action towards a single small next step rather than trying to foresee months or years into the future. Therefore, to overcome perfectionism, we can ask ourselves questions like:
- What is one thing I could do today that would bring me closer to achieving my goals?
- What decision can I make today that will have the biggest positive impact on my top priorities?
- Based on what I currently know at this moment, what’s the best next step?
Just to be clear, perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and personal growth, and is, therefore, is not the same as the positive strategy of striving to be our best.
Revalue the thought or decision
While some decisions need us to weigh up the pros and cons and think them over, many decisions and distractions are just not that important. How does your current decision impact your goals, your priorities or the important people in your life? Ask yourself how important this decision will be in 10 weeks, 10 months and 10 years from now?
Most likely, the decision will be inconsequential in the scheme of things and you will look back on the worry you are feeling right now and realise the decision or outcome was just not that important. This strategy helps us to put things into perspective and see the bigger picture.
Limit brain drain
We all make hundreds of decisions every day, such as what we have for breakfast and what we choose to wear each day. Each decision depletes both our mental and emotional resources and we are more likely to overthink things when we are feeling tired and drained. Try creating routines for mundane or minor tasks.
Morning routines can help us to start our day energised and focused, and meal planning healthy dinners once a week can save time and brain power each day. We could even turn a chore into a relaxing activity when we have the time and energy to enjoy it. Perhaps you could delegate menial tasks or limit the number of meetings you attend, or maybe they can be crossed off your to do list all together?
Set yourself boundaries
Parkinson’s Law states “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Most of us are familiar with the concept, if we were given one month to write an essay or create a presentation, we would complete the task in the given month. However, if we were only given a week to achieve the exact same task, we would still be able to complete the task in only one week.
Overthinking follows this same principle, it will occupy the amount of time you allow it to. So, if you have a big decision to make, then setting aside some worry time to be able to problem solve may still be helpful, however, it is important to set yourself a deadline and a time frame, and stick to it, and set an alarm on your phone when it is time to stop worrying and make a decision.
If anxiety is something you or your loved ones struggle with regularly, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help you. You can book a FREE 45 minute discovery call here