Monday, May 6, 2013

Is Overthinking Driving You Crazy?

Analysis is Paralysis
Analysis is Paralysis (Poldavo (Alex))
by Barbara N Garrett

Overthink: to spend more time thinking about something than is necessary or productive

Right this very second, as I write, I am feeling anxious and scared.

I am stretching beyond my comfort zone - writing is new to me - and I am already stressing about it.

How am I ever going to think of enough things to write about? How am I going to keep it going?

I am fighting the impulse to worry, to ruminate, to cogitate. In other words, to overthink. It is what I do when I feel out of control or have too much on my mind or when I am stressed.

I am a worrier. I guess I always have been. I don't like surprises. I try to plan for every eventuality and possible outcome. It has served me well in my career as an executive assistant.

I can foresee road bumps, things that are going to impede a plan, and change course in an instant. Maybe worry is built into my job description.

But worry is a particularly nasty virus. It breeds and multiplies and weaves itself silently into your thoughts so that while you're going about your daily business under the illusion that everything is going fine, it's grinding away at you in the background working to convince you everything is not fine. Over time, like depression, it wears you down and out.

In 2003, Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a pioneer in the study of depression in women, wrote:

"Over the past four decades women have experienced unprecedented growth in independence and opportunities. We have many reasons to be happy and confident. Yet when there is any pause in our daily activities many of us are flooded with worries, thoughts and emotions that swirl out of control, sucking our emotions and energy down, down, down. We are suffering from an epidemic of overthinking."

Overthinking is a learned behavior and as such it can be UNlearned. While some overthinking can lead to action and problem solving, my particular brand of overthinking is inherently negative. But I'm on to its sneaky ways.

So how do you change this automatic, overthinking, worrying, fearful mindset? You have to first realize that you are doing it and then you have to stop yourself in the act. Like learning any new skill, it takes practice and dedication.

I take a three-pronged approach whenever I realize I'm driving myself crazy. Here's what's in my arsenal:

1. Read something inspirational

I believe that you become your thoughts. If I think "I'll never have enough money," or "My blog is never going to be anything," it's a sure thing those things will happen.

In the few months since my dog died, I really lost my footing and found myself thinking negatively about everything, so I pulled out a bunch of books that have kept me afloat throughout the years.

Reading something positive and encouraging and inspirational helps your brain switch gears.

In the months preceding my dog's death, I was referred to a book by David Richo called The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them.

The first of those five things is "Everything changes and ends." I highly recommend this book for just that chapter alone (especially if you are, like me, scared of endings). I found it enormously helpful.

I have also found strength by flipping through Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II. Inevitably, there is a message made especially for me every time I read a page.

2. Write in a gratitude journal

I started doing this again recently after a long hiatus and found it really helps. When you fill your head and heart with gratitude, there is no room for negative thinking.

It feels funny at first, and the first couple of days I was pretty repetitive. "I am grateful for my bed." "I am grateful for this cup of coffee."

But the point was that I could find things to be thankful for even if my heart wasn't really into being thankful for anything. And that felt good. Feeling good kills negative thinking faster than anything.

3. Do something

Anything. Take a walk. Do yoga. Meditate. Make something. Call a friend. Do something you enJOY. Doing something you find joyful is surely the best antidote to worrying that I can think of. Being joyful will drown out that scared voice in your head.

I did this about 9 months ago when I, on a whim, took up power yoga at a studio two minutes from my house. I haven't practiced yoga in some 20 years. And yet one day last July I woke up and announced to my family that I was going to a power yoga class and I got dressed and went.

I came home, soaking wet, energized, and prouder of myself than I had been in a long time. It has kept me going through the past couple of hard, sad months.

I have had to make myself go a couple of times by putting one foot in front of the other and somehow managing to put on my yoga clothes, drive to the studio, and find my place on my mat. I ALWAYS feel better after yoga and it has now become my sanity.

So while I may always have a tendency to go down the negative, overthinking path, I am not going to let overthinking stop me. I will recognize it and call it out for what it is and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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