“The biggest disease of the mind is over-thinking, especially too much thinking about others. Thinking too much is like eating too much. The heaviness makes it impossible to remain light and flexible.” ~Unknown
I’ve had several conversations recently about over-thinking with a friend who is a self-proclaimed over-thinker, so the topic has been on my mind. There’s something about watching the impact that over-thinking is having on my friend that is making me more aware of just how much of an impact this tendency has on me. It’s not pretty.
I’ve been working on my over-thinking problem for years. I’ve found Susan Nolen-Hoeksema’s book Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life very helpful in recognizing and addressing my tendency to do this. (Speaking of which, it’s probably about time I read that one again.) I’ve gotten better at stepping off that mental merry-go-round that I used to be, but I still spend more time on that time-wasting ride than I’d like to.
In fact, I can even manage to spend vast amounts of time analyzing my process of over-thinking. Yeah, that’s right … I even manage to over-think over-thinking. Talk about riding the mental merry-go-round to nowhere! Nothing productive ever comes out of this process. I just gradually make myself more and more dizzy from going in circles until I can’t even tell if I’m coming or going.
“It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.” ~ Rollo May
This is definitely what I do mentally when I lose my way! As my thoughts run faster and faster in circles, I become ever more lost in the winding mazes of my mind and usually wind up moving farther and farther from rational thought or emotion about the situation. I spend enormous amounts of energy on a process that only leaves me feeling more confused and hopeless.
What do I do such a crazy thing?
I think I engage in it because it makes me feel like I am doing something productive, while at the same time preventing me from actually taking any action that I might have to take responsibility for—whether that’s dealing with conflict, having the courage to express my true feelings to another, or making a decision that might be unpopular. At an even deeper level, I engage in it because I’m hoping to somehow discover the absolute truth of what is “right” in the situation so I can make sure I never make a wrong choice.
This is one of those patterns that I am choosing to place in the unhelpful pile.
I still don’t have all the answers for shifting this pattern into a more helpful ones, but I have learned a few things that help. Deep breaths really help bring me back into the present moment, back into my body, and out of the spiraling panic mode of the mental merry-go-round. A long, fast-paced walk can also short-circuit the process. Getting it out on paper and out of my head can help too.
The best cure I’ve found, however, has been to check in with my intuition by noticing what my body tells me is right for me and then take some action in that direction regardless of what I think anyone else will think about it.
I recently faced a situation that was triggering lots of over-thinking, including all of the attendant anxiety for me. My attempts to take action to fix the situation were not having any impact, and this was sending my over-thinking into overdrive. Every time I would encounter the trigger for this situation, my anxiety would soar and stay there for hours until the trigger was removed. This became a daily cycle. I finally decided that for my own piece of mind, I needed to take an extended vacation from the trigger until it lost its power over me. It’s helping greatly. My anxiety level has fallen, and I have stopped riding the mental merry-go-round on that topic.
Not every situation can be handled quite so easily, but it does remind me that I do have choices. They aren’t always easy ones. Choosing what is best for me is not always pleasant. But it’s so nice to have all of that energy freed up to do something productive with instead of racing in circles in my head. I need to learn to get off the ride sooner!
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