The Art of (Not) Overthinking

If you are at all like me, then overthinking is a common visitor to your head. Perhaps it goes something like this. You get triggered and feel certain emotions. Rather than accepting the emotions and letting them go, you begin to psychoanalyze yourself and your feelings, trying to get at the root cause and how to fix them and why they are happening. Before you know it, you have embarked on an overthinking deep dive that may last several hours or days and your original feelings and anxieties have multiplied! Here are a few ideas to begin practicing the subtle art of not overthinking.

1) Accept your feelings/anxieties/triggers at face value. Often in the beginning of the overthinking process, we are trying to find meaning. Anxieties, triggers, and emotions can be uncomfortable, so we are trying to process and find out why they are there so we can get rid of them – naturally.  But if in doing so we have gone down a Freudian analysis path going back to when we were in the womb, that is probably too much. With that said, your overthinking tendencies probably have an epigenetic source, so be kind to yourself in this process. Next time an uncomfortable emotion comes up, try just breathing and sitting with it. Accepting its presence and not trying to judge or label or dissect. Just allowing it to be. That is mindfulness and is the first step in being able to let go of that difficult emotion. The trick here is your motive cannot be to get rid of it or that will ruin the process. Try more of a gentle acceptance and then maybe letting the feeling know that whenever it is ready, it is welcome to move on. As the Rumi poem the Guesthouse goes, welcome all the guests. And then when they are done visiting, eventually they will leave. But try to force them out and things could get ugly.

2) Breathe deeply. Chances are when you are overthinking, your breathing is short and shallow, feeding into the anxious overthinking cycle. If you can slow down and take several deep diaphragmatic breaths perhaps inhaling to a count of 4, exhaling to a count of 6 and just focusing on the breath, you will help your system calm down and get out of the overthinking rut. Physiologically speaking, it will be much harder, if not downright impossible, to be in an anxious overthinking state when you are breathing deeply. Just be patient with it and keep bringing your mind back to the deep breathing if it  tries to tug at the leash and go back to overthinking. It may take time (at least 5 minutes and maybe up to 20) for the deep breathing to work its magic, but with practice you will be able to come back faster and stronger.

3) Offer yourself some compassion. Difficult emotions, triggers and anxieties are uncomfortable and that is okay. Offer yourself some compassion when they come up, maybe putting a hand on your heart space and imagining you are breathing in and out compassion for yourself, simply holding space for your experience as you would when holding space for a dear friend. And if you do spiral down that overthinking journey, gently pull yourself back to the present and again offer yourself some compassion for that overthinking tendency. Overthinking probably just means you have an active mind that is also capable of lots of other awesome things. Offer compassion to your brain for doing the best it can and accepting it and yourself imperfections and all.

4) Get out the overthinking funk. Often when in a bad overthinking cycle, simply sitting with it is not enough to break the habit and you need to be more proactive in shifting your energy. Try going out in nature, gentle exercising, or even cleaning your house. Whatever you choose to do, practice doing so mindfully brining all your senses to the task or activity at hand and anytime it wonders back to overthinking, gently bringing yourself back to the present moment.

5) Review the serenity prayer. It is one of my all-time favorites and is all about controlling the things you can, letting go of the rest, and, most importantly, having the wisdom to know the difference. Oftentimes, overthinking happens because we are anxious and trying to figure out things we simply cannot control. Practicing controlling the things you can (like how you respond to bouts of overthinking and anxieties) and letting go of the rest (usually the outcomes – we can only do our best in any circumstance and everything else including how other respond is really out of our control) can help big time with overthinking struggles.

“God (or however you identify with your higher power), grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” -Serenity prayer

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