How to stop over-thinking
Written by Alison Ralph Date: 6th January 2023
Our mind is a complex place, one that is still an anomaly even to the top scientists. It causes us to do some unusual things in its quest for survival. One of these things is over-thinking, especially about things that worry us or have a negative impact. AND all too often at times when we don’t want them to. We have all got into bed at some point and PING! a worry or thought comes into our minds and it can feel hard to control this. So how do you stop over-thinking? In this blog I will share some of the best ways to gain control of your thoughts and stop over-thinking.
I will help you to understand:
- The reasons we over-think
- Relaxation and why it is important
- The worry chair
- Journaling to stop over-thinking
- Delaying your thinking
- How talking to a counsellor can help
Why do we over-think?
Do you get stressed, anxious or confused about the over-thinking that happens in your brain? Do you feel like nobody else is doing the same thing? I’m here to tell you that over-thinking is normal. However, some people can control it better than others. So why do we over-think? What is the brain trying to achieve?
The basic answer to this question is that the brain overthinks in order to survive. The brain’s primary goal is to keep us alive so this means that if we are faced with a problem of any kind, the brain kicks in and asks, ‘What is the best way to approach this in order to survive?’.
Now there may be a number of ways to approach something and so the brain run through the possible outcomes before choosing one.
Of course when looking at over thinking it can be worsened by traits in our personality, our childhood and the behaviours we have learned and whether we allow time to think about our worries or if we are pushing them to the back of the pile somewhere.
Research also suggests that overthinking can become a habit. Once our brain has gotten used to overthinking, it continues to do that because the process has become a habit.
The good news is, there are ways to get out of this habit and be more in control of your thinking.
When overthinking is going on in the brain it causes stress which in turn tenses the body.
If you’re experiencing stress in your life it creates tension in your body which then sends a message to the brain to say that you are stressed and you then start to worry about the stress.
Hopefully you can see how the thoughts and the tension in the body come hand in hand? It can become a vicious cycle if you don’t do anything about it.
This is where relaxation comes in. When we relax the body, it has many benefits; it tells the brain that we are calm so tension can be released, it can improve digestive health and lower blood pressure. Here are a couple of ways for you to practise relaxation.
1. Mental visualisation
This is a great way to relax and one of my favourites because it draws on a tranquil place where you may have been before.
Sit back and relax in your favourite chair or lay on your bed. Close your eyes and think of a calm relaxing place. A place where you could be and you would be without distractions or the stresses of life. Or just a space that is your ultimate tranquillity. There is no set rule for the place. It can be somewhere you have been before, such as a holiday destination, or a place you want to create in your mind.
When you have thought of a place you can build up all the details here. The colours you can see, any landscape, any sound that you can hear in that place, things you could touch, smell or taste. Using all of your senses helps to activate each part of the brain and brings all focus to that one place and the feelings of calm. If you have been there before you might like to bring in some happy memories from the time you were there. Once you are ready to finish your relaxation you can open your eyes again.
This is a great way to bring calm and relaxation to the body. The brain inks your place with relaxation and calm and so the next time you come to do it, it will feel easier to bring that calm feeling to the body. It also frees the mind from any over-thinking because focus is on the visualisation.
2. Progressive muscle relaxation
- While in a comfortable position, preferably with your eyes closed, move your focus from one body part to the next, personally I like to start at my feet. Tense the body part as tightly as possible and then release all tension before moving to the next body part.
- Include all muscles, even each muscle on your face.
- Contract the muscle for a count of 5 or 10 and let go suddenly.
- Finish with a few deep breaths and a stretch
- Some muscles can just be clenched but other need to be contracted in a different way. Shoulders need to be shrugged by raising them sharply towards your ears, your forehead can be wrinkled into a deep frown and your eyes closed tightly. To clench your jaw and facial muscles you need to smile as widely as you can, your stomach can be tensed by sucking it in as tightly as you can and your back should be arched and then released.
The worry chair
We have looked at how you can help the physical response in the body to over-thinking but what can you do to help keep those thoughts at bay? Some research suggests that over-thinking can actually be a habit and therefore once you have go into that habit, you will have to unlearn it. This is where the worry chair comes in. If you are a serial worrier, the worry chair could be helpful for you.
This is what you need to do:
- Choose a chair in your house that you personally don’t use for anything else. Somebody else in the house might use it and that’s fine.
- When you realise a worry is coming into your mind, you go and sit on the chair and you allow yourself to worry.
- Once you have done all the worrying for that moment, go back to what you were doing.
- Repeat the process once another worry comes into the mind.
- Or you might decide that between the times 1pm and 1:30pm you will sit on the chair and allow yourself time to worry, meaning that at any other time of the day you don’t worry
The idea of this technique is that you train your brain to worry at only certain times of the day, or for a certain amount of time. You become fed up of going to the chair and therefore go less and less and you become in control of your thoughts.
It might not seem feasible if you work out of the home or if you are a busy person but it really is affective and shouldn’t take long to train your brain if you stick with it!
Journaling to stop over-thinking
- The thought you are having
- How you are feeling in the body
- The possible outcomes
- Whether any stressful events have recently happened for you
- How stressed or anxious you are feeling on a scale of one-ten
- How your generally well-being is for example, are you tired
Journaling not only allows you to get the thoughts out of your head, but it can help you identify patterns in your thoughts and feelings. So get yourself a little book and a pen and start writing!
Delaying your thinking
Talking to a counsellor
Do all of these ideas feel impossible or are you unsure where to start or which one will work for you? Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed or just don’t think any of these will work for you? Seeing a counsellor may be the way forward for you. A counsellor can listen to you and your thoughts and help you identify what is happening in your brain or where these thoughts are coming from.
The counsellor may also be able to help you identify the best way forward in term of strategies you can use.
It may be that talking about the thoughts helps because it allows them to be out in the open and not deep within your imagination.
You may feel that your thoughts are too unusual or ‘out there’ to share with anyone but the truth is, counsellors have heard many different thought processes and are not there to judge!
They are there to facilitate you in over-coming a problem. They will be empathetic, show understanding and create a safe space for you to work through those thoughts.
If you would like to learn more about counselling and how it can help, I am happy to answer any questions.
If you are an over-thinker it can be an over-whelming feeling, often causing stress or anxiety.
These techniques are tried and tested ways to gain back control of that thinking and bring calm and relaxation to the body.
Of course each one will not work for every person and it may take some trial and error to find what works for you. It is important to stick to them and keep repeating the process to allow the brain to get into new habits.
If you feel that you need more help then talking to a counsellor might just be the correct route for you.
Remember though, it is your brain and your thoughts, you CAN gain control!