Are you like me, who overthinks what to wear every day because you have too many factors influencing your decision?
Do you overthink your illness before deciding to visit a doctor?
I think we all pass through similar situations where excessive thinking prevents us from acting. Overthinking is a black hole. We don’t know when and how we’re getting sucked into it.
But, most of the time, overthinking takes the form of either beating ourselves for a mistake or fretting about life’s problems.
Overthinking is just rumination that entraps us in a vicious cycle that becomes hard to break either consciously or unconsciously.
My relationship with overthinking was like Winnie-the-Pooh and honey. Inseparable. It was more like a habit than a mental disorder.
My thinking would become uncontrolled for no reason. Whenever I write something, I get caught up in overthinking, like, “What if my writing has flaws? What if no one reads? I think I should not publish it…” Then, I would often find myself entangled in that never-ending loop.
I noticed the gravity of my problem when my overthinking intensified over inconsequential matters. If I saw someone drop litter on the streets, my mind would start again. “Don’t they know how to keep clean? Why would people throw trash wherever they like. Why don't we have stricter laws?…”
In a nutshell, I was overthinking 24/7. I did not need any external stimuli to expedite my thinking. My irrational thinking was overpowering my rational reasoning prowess all the time.
I guess most of us tend to overthink in trivial life situations like:
When our best friend chooses another friend over us.
When we notice a pimple on the face.
When we can’t sleep at night, etc.
Many similar situations like these expedite our thinking speed. And most of the time, we think negatively. The mind runs in auto-mode. And it’s detrimental because it makes us feel low emotionally, mentally, physically, and psychologically.
Even a 38 degree Celcius body temperature would make us feel like 40 degrees because of overthinking.
Here’s what I did to keep a check on my overthinking. I present here three different strategies to deal with overthinking.
Erasing the false notion that “Overthinking is normal.”
“An effortless pausing technique” that is backed by scientific research.
“A personal experiment of self-awareness” that gave miraculous results.
All three techniques are intertwined as none of them can work individually. First, we need to check and change our belief systems, trust scientific research, and finally introspect.
I. Overthinking Is Not a Normal Way Of Living
Whenever we are caught up in any troublesome situation, we justify our overthinking by, “It’s normal to overthink in this situation. How can I keep calm when my life sucks? Stress is normal these days; everyone has it.”
I was one of them. I held onto these belief systems for a long time.
When I wasn’t able to get a job for two years after graduating, I almost lost self-control over my thoughts. Night and day, 24/7, I thought that “I am a failure. What will I do with my life? I should not have chosen this profession…”
Owing to this overthinking, I was stressed. I realized that:
Overthinking is not the byproduct of anxiety or depression; it’s the cause.
Whoever, I met added fuel to the fire. Everyone validated my overthinking. They used to support me by saying, “It’s normal to think like that, but you’ll be fine.”
But no one told me, “How was I going to feel better if I couldn’t stop overthinking?”
One day, I overate and suffered from food poisoning. I had to see a doctor. When I asked him if it was a normal case of food poisoning, he gave me a stern look and asked, “Is overeating normal?”
I paused for like a minute or so and answered, “I guess, no.”
He replied, “Then, how can anything be normal if you don’t do anything normal!”
I didn’t find his answer rude because he opened my eyes.
I realized that my belief system was wrong that “overthinking was normal.” If overthinking doesn’t make me feel normal — happy, peaceful, and energetic, then it isn't a normal thing.
Just because everyone overthinks doesn’t mean it’s normal.
Some time ago, peace, happiness, love, and harmony were called normal. Everyone used to live by those virtues. Then times changed. We started accumulating too much on our plates to fulfill our wants. To justify our lifestyle changes, we began to call stress, chaos, violence, crime, etc., normal.
Consequently, from time to time, we have been changing the definition of “normal” to suit our needs and preferences. But that wasn't serving the purpose either. Even if we could have lived in harmony by changing the normal definition, it would have been acceptable and justifiable.
But, we became more prone to mental illnesses and disorders like overthinking and hypertension.
According to online statistics, 73% of 25–35 year-olds overthink compared to 52% of 45–55 year-olds and just 20% of 65–75-year-olds. This is enough to declare this disorder an epidemic in America.
Instead of doing something about our wrong beliefs, we started to live with them and blamed external situations for our mental ease.
So, if something good happened, we remained happy, and if something happened against our wish, we stressed out.
However, the sad reality is that we live in turbulent times, and because of our weak belief system to think/act according to situations, our mental health has deteriorated.
We need something that can help us choose what to think irrespective of the external stimuli. And this brings us to my next technique, called “intentional pauses.”
II. Intentional Pauses Helps
Why do we greet each other “Hi, Hello, How are you?”
To make sure they’re okay, perhaps. If not, we can offer any help.
I do the same with myself. Here’s how.
I ask myself every hour or two, “Hi Darshak, how are you? Is there anything troubling you?”
I then take a five-ten-minute break from my work. I sit down and relax in my chair, closing my eyes. I take deep breathes and talk to myself in thoughts. If anything is bothering me, I offer suggestions.
I let go of all the waste thoughts by addressing them. I accept my thoughts. I understand that it’s okay to have waste thoughts. So by acknowledging, I find the source of that overthinking to replace them with a positive thought.
It’s like convincing a child not to have extra candy. You can’t deny a child’s wish, but you can always acknowledge and distract them by tricking.
I do the same. I give plenty of reasons to myself to think something else. I counter every waste thought with a positive thought.
Sometimes, I club it with one-minute meditation offered by an “Insight Timer” app on my iPhone.
A research study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology validates this technique:
“Such meditative practices help you experience positive emotions by decreasing the depressive illness symptoms. With regular practice, one can remain mentally, and emotionally stable despite the change in external circumstances. (This effect is called the hedonic treadmill.)”
Initially, it might sound weird and impractical to you until but once you try it, you’ll see miraculous results.
Intentional pauses have helped me address the overthinking issue. This activity hardly takes ten minutes, but it saves the day from overthinking and stress.
Then, I aimed to be proactive rather than preventive because overthinking means negative thinking. Besides, I lost a significant chunk of my mental energy by not choosing the proper thought spontaneously.
So, I started introspecting about my behavior every night.
Let me explain how I did it.
III. Introspection Introspection Introspection
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”
— Frank Zappa
I have taken this quote very seriously in my life. I believe in this quote. Not superficially but deeply.
Our mind often gets clogged by prejudices, arrogance, false mindsets, superiority complexes, and many other dust particles of false notions. They don't allow our minds to accept better thoughts.
I realized this when I experienced it.
Some time ago, I had creative differences with my colleague at work. Holding onto that ego made me overthink. I wasn’t able to accept that the committee sidelined my “better idea.” Though I pacified myself through intentional pauses (described above), I wasted a lot of mental energy and time before that.
So, I began another experiment.
Every night I ponder upon my day and reflect upon my weaknesses. Not being able to cooperate by holding onto some prejudices is also a weakness. I had to get rid of it. I can not afford to waste my thinking power by overthinking a trivial thing. My mental peace is more valuable than my idea getting approved.
So, I ask myself only three questions every night:
What went well, what went bad throughout the day?
Why didn’t it go well; Was there anything I could have done right?
How can I make a better tomorrow by reducing overthinking?
The answer to the first question makes everything crystal clear. It opens every layer of my mind. I release everything.
When I work on the second question, I keep aside my ego. Answering this question with a detached perspective makes me aware of my weaknesses and wrongdoings (at thought and action level).
Then, I reflect on what right could I have done to avert that mental damage. “Should I have kept quiet? Should I have accepted everything with a pinch of salt?” etc.
I also try to weigh “what if” scenarios. “What if I had thought differently? What if I had acted differently? If I had chosen a different response, what would have been the outcome?”
Then coming to the last question, I offer suggestions. I advise myself, “If any similar situation arises tomorrow (which was likely), I will not lose my mental peace. For that, I will keep calm. I will cooperate and accept what the committee decides. I will remain light-hearted.”
This suggestion isn’t toxic-positivity but new programming of the mind.
You might be thinking I am tricking my mind. Indeed I am. But, I have experienced that whenever I suggest “an action plan for my mind,” I have “clear thinking” in an upcoming situation.
We overthink when we can’t hold onto one thought. So, through this mental programming, I was able to achieve that. I was able to choose a “better-thought response” that would not trigger overthinking.
An extension of the self-awareness experiment
Later, I tried this programming technique with insults, road rages, tailgating incidents, etc., and it worked.
I programmed my mind that if someone insults, they only present their perspective, nothing to do with me. If someone tailgates, they have an emergency (catch a flight or go to a hospital); nothing personal.
I know that my reasonings might not be accurate, but they have worked each time. I think it’s because of psychology. Scientists have proved that our brain doesn't identify between a real and an imaginary.
Programming the mind in advance always gave me an upper edge to have the correct thought response in any unfavorable situations. I have prevented my mind from going rogue.
Karma Ragye has mentioned in his book, “Open awareness open mind”:
To become masters in any field, we need to analyze our strengths and weaknesses consistently, in addition to practice.
As I said before, overthinking was my habit, but it’s no more.
Though I still overthink, the intensity has come down to a treatable stage where I can intervene.
Your Mind Is Your True Savior; Save It First
For a healthy body, we go to a gym or eat a healthy diet.
To keep our teeth clean, we brush twice a day. To keep germs at bay, we bathe daily; to keep our eyes sharp, we get them checked periodically.
But what do we do for a healthy mind that governs the entire body?
I think it’s high time we give equal weightage to mental, or emotional, health as physical health.
All the illnesses start with overthinking. So let’s address the big elephant in the room before it creates a stir in our lives.
That’s all from my side. If you found my insights useful, please share them with your friends and family. Your small gesture can help someone improve their mental health.
If you have any more suggestions to combat overthinking, share them without overthinking.
See you next time. Till then, stay happy, stay blessed and stay healthy and don’t forget to put a period to overthinking.