How to stop overthinking and what makes us overthink

overthinking
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Many of us are plagued by overthinking, that hamster wheel of thoughts running around in our heads. Some call this “the committee”, that cacophony of voices steering them in different directions.

Perhaps you ruminate over something you said or should have said. Wake up in a cold sweat over some cringe-worthy episode back in elementary school. Or is that just me?

Often, overthinking negatively affects quality of life and prevents us from getting what we want. It creates anxiety and depresses our mood, taking away the levity and playfulness that help us experience joy.

So, how do we overcome overthinking? Here are six ways.

1. Observe your thoughts.

Rather than letting your overthinking take control, observe when it occurs without judgment. This will help you detach from the ruminating thoughts rather than feeling ruled by them.

2. Practice mindfulness to combat overthinking.

Learning to meditate for ten or more minutes per day will help slow ruminating thoughts. Daily meditation can rewire your brain to work more efficiently and effectively.

If you are diligent with your practice you should notice a difference in your thought patterns over time. They’ll become less oppressive and frantic and more slowed down and organized.

3. Do shadow work.

This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a response to the common self-help advice to challenge our thoughts. Because that advice has never worked for me.

I’ve learned to do the opposite and go deep into the worst-case scenario. What is the worst that could happen? Then entertain that thought and how you would feel, without rationalizing.

For example, don’t say you would get over it and move on. That may be true, but the idea is to feel the disappointment and pain. Acknowledging your worst fears helps you move through them more effectively than avoiding them.

4. Do a brain dump to overcome overthinking.

overthinking

This is a journaling exercise in which you pour out everything you’re thinking onto a blank page. The act of getting things out of your brain and onto paper has a cathartic effect and helps organize those thoughts into something coherent.

If writing is not your thing, you can record a voice memo of your brain dump instead.

5. Take time to sit and think.

Many successful entrepreneurs schedule time in their schedules to simply sit and think. They get their best ideas from these sessions as their thoughts have space to flow without pressure.

Most overthinking comes when we feel constrained and stressed. Relieve some of that pressure by giving yourself a few minutes every day to let your thoughts meander.

6. Do something different.

Get out of the prison of overthinking by distracting yourself with another activity. Getting into your body and indulging the senses serves you best here.

Go for a walk, especially in nature, or move your body in some other way. Listen to some soothing or energetic music and take a dance break.

What causes overthinking?

Stress and anxiety can easily lead to overthinking. And you may be prone to ruminating thoughts when you feel unsupported and don’t take enough time for yourself.

Past trauma also leads to rumination. If you were raised without proper attention to your emotional or physical needs, you become hypervigilant.

That means you feel the need to consider all the outcomes (especially the worst ones) to keep yourself safe. If you let your guard down, your brain reasons, you put yourself at risk.

This is another way self-sabotage stems from a misguided sense of self-protection. For more on that topic, read here.

How to stop using self-sabotage to protect yourself

self-sabotage
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Did you know that self-sabotage is a misguided form of self-protection? Yes, self-sabotage is your inner child’s way of keeping you safe.

You may have wondered why you get in your own way so often. Especially if you’ve gone through any type of childhood trauma, you’ve become an expert in stopping yourself from getting what you want in life.

Those self-defeating behaviors may have worked at some point. But they no longer make sense and are holding you back from moving forward.

You may wonder how self-sabotage could ever be seen as a form of self-protection. Here are 4 ways.

1. Self-sabotage helps you avoid disappointment.

When we go after what we want, there’s always a chance we won’t get it. Rather than cope with the possible disappointment of falling short, self-sabotage “helps” us by compelling us to give up before we have the chance to fail.

2. It helps you avoid fear.

Almost anything worth doing that propels you forward in life requires overcoming fear. But life is so much easier inside the comfort zone.

Some of us were never taught the value and rewards of facing fears. We weren’t celebrated for our efforts, so the fear of putting ourselves out there feels insurmountable.

Self-sabotage helps us avoid this fear that feels like death to someone who never learned to navigate it.

3. It helps you avoid risk.

self-sabotage

Like fear, risk is another requirement on the road to an enhanced life. Self-development and relationships require risks like vulnerability and visibility.

As a child you may have been rewarded for being invisible, hiding your needs and feelings, and catering to others. Now that you’re called to show up as yourself, you may not know who that is.

Self-sabotage helps you avoid the risk of rejection for who you are. A risk that’s all too real because you experienced it as a child growing up in a system that negated your inner reality.

4. Self-sabotage helps you get your needs met.

When you grow up with unmet needs, it’s difficult to meet those needs yourself as an adult. Basic self care may elude you and you’re susceptible to burnout from not knowing when to stop on your way to a goal.

When self-sabotage presents you with the next distraction or compels you to give up before the finish line, it may be answering your need for rest.

Perhaps you need to ask for help or support or you’re moving in a direction that’s misaligned with your true heart desires.

How to stop self-sabotage

The reason these sabotaging tendencies are so hard to change (and why most self-help advice doesn’t work in the long run) is that they are subconscious.

What if instead of chastising ourselves for self-sabotage, we thanked our inner child for keeping us safe? Next time you go to berate your self-saboteur, treat her with kindness instead.

And become more conscious of her appearance in the following ways:

Perfectionism

Procrastination

Expecting the worst

Imposter syndrome

Excuses

Separate yourself from your inner saboteur and view her as a part of you that has good intentions. Then give her a hug, offer her a comfortable chair, and continue on your journey toward wholeness and personal integrity.

How to know if you’re getting too much solitude

solitude
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We all know a certain amount of solitude is good for you. But how much is too much?

Rather than measure in hours or days, it helps to look at the reasons behind your desire for time alone.

As long as I can remember I’ve valued time on my own. Social events were obligations to cross off my list and proclaim my status as a well-rounded human being.

Most times, these interactions felt like drudgery. I couldn’t wait to leave them and be on my own again.

However, a few years ago I attended a retreat that made me rethink my need for solitude. The leader suggested excessive amounts of time alone could indicate something deeper that needs addressing.

I heeded her advice and began to question why I only felt truly comfortable on my own. People exhausted me, a fact I’d attributed to my natural introversion.

As I dove into the research around complex PTSD, however, I learned that survivors like me often feel triggered by people – any people.

Because we feel compelled to wear a social mask, avoid conflict, and have poor boundaries, social interactions leave us feeling empty, unseen, and even violated.

Because we feel compelled to wear a social mask, avoid conflict, and have poor boundaries, social interactions leave us feeling empty, unseen, and even violated. Click To Tweet

Doing the work around solitude

solitude

Too much solitude comes as a result of fear of rejection if we show up as our authentic selves. Instead, we hide the parts that feel unlovable because we were punished for showing them to our former caregivers.

Rather than do the work of asserting ourselves, we let others control the conversation. Rather than face the discomfort of posing a conflicting opinion, we remain silent.

When you grow up with rejection for your very essence, it’s hard to show up as yourself in social interactions. You refuse yourself permission to disagree or do what you want instead of what someone else wants.

Your hypervigilance puts you on high alert to other peoples’ needs and wants. Those scream much louder than your own desires, which get drowned out and pushed down.

After years of trying to be social because you know you’re supposed to, you give up and decide it’s easier to be alone.

In fact, you feel more alone with people than you do on your own. So why not save yourself the trouble of going out?

When we hear the truth that we need other people, that should come with a disclaimer. It only works if you’re meeting each other as your true selves.

When one of you is hiding and pleasing and agreeing, that's no better than solitude. In fact, it's much worse. Click To Tweet

When one of you is hiding and pleasing and agreeing, that’s no better than solitude. In fact, it’s much worse.

So, ask yourself if your need for solitude comes from a true heart desire. Or is it coming from a place of fear and avoidance?

Do you have work to do in your dealings with other people so you can show up as your authentic self, get your needs met, and feel seen and known for who you are?

Fear and excitement and how to reframe them for success

fear and excitement
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Life coach Mel Robbins teaches that fear and excitement feel the same in our bodies. The only difference between the two is what happens in our brains.

She advises to resist pushing down the fear you feel before giving a speech or going on a first date. When your body is in a state of heightened agitation, the worst thing to do is force it to calm down.

When you attempt to ignore your fears, it can actually make them worse. Lying to ourselves this way never works and only creates cognitive dissonance.

The way you feel when boarding a roller coaster feels similar to the experience of getting ready to deliver a big speech. But our mental chatter tells us it’s something different and that’s where excitement turns into fear.

Lean into fear and excitement

So, instead of forcing your body to calm down or lying to yourself that this is not a big deal, lean in. Mel says to tell yourself you’re excited, because this is true.

The fear you feel when doing something positive for your personal growth is different than the fear that warns you of danger. It’s this good fear we want to get past, not by denying its existence, but by changing the story we tell about it.

Instead of ruminating over how nervous you are to give a speech or go on a date, tell the truth that you’re excited.

Instead of ruminating over how nervous you are to give a speech or go on a date, tell the truth that you're excited. Click To Tweet

Speak out loud to yourself, “I’m so excited to be meeting X. Or I’m excited to be giving this talk that will impact people in a positive way.”

Acknowledge the past

fear and excitement

Past experience influences our present feelings, whether those happened in adulthood or childhood. For example, a bad dating experience will make you more nervous about an upcoming rendezvous.

If you grew up without emotional support, you might find such nervous feelings overwhelming. You protect yourself with these feelings by anticipating pain and disappointment rather than being ambushed by it.

But now as an adult, you have resources to draw on, both internal and external. You can consult with a coach or therapist, or share your feelings with a friend. Or do some research on how to handle these feelings in a positive way.

It’s essential that we face healthy fears so we can have the lives we want. We must face and overcome uncomfortable situations to move to the next level in work and relationships.

It's essential that we face healthy fears so we can have the lives we want. Click To Tweet

If you want to meet your life partner, you have to go on dates. If you want to level up in your career, you must ask for the promotion, give the speech, etc.

Life-giving opportunities can be scary. But when we re-frame them as excitement, our potential to succeed at them increases.

Practice self-compassion

Give yourself compassion when you experience fear and excitement. Never criticize yourself for feeling this way. Or “should on yourself” that your feelings are wrong.

Mama Gena says to always tell yourself that whatever you’re feeling is right. We have a tendency to frame our feelings as good or bad, but they are neither.

Feelings send us messages and we have the power to reframe those messages to serve us in the most beneficial way. The worst thing you can do is minimize or ignore your feelings.

That could lead to unpreparedness that will, in fact, reduce your effectiveness and bring the result you dread. Instead, embrace fear and excitement as two sides of the same coin and create a new reality for yourself.

How to achieve self-approval above and beyond self-acceptance

self-approval
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We hear a lot about self-acceptance these days, but what about self-approval? Wouldn’t you rather go beyond mere acceptance to lavishing wholehearted approval on yourself?

Acceptance suggests tolerating. Do you choose to set such a low bar for your self-image? Self-approval instead means celebrating yourself and all the things that make you you.

Here are 7 tips for achieving the self-approval you seek and deserve to enjoy.

1. Look within for self-approval.

The obvious path to self-approval is looking within for validation rather than seeking approval outside yourself. You give away your power when you let others tell you if you’re good enough.

Self-approval is looking within for validation rather than seeking approval outside yourself. Click To Tweet

2. Speak self-approval.

Say out loud the things you like about yourself. Go outside your comfort zone with your self-approval affirmations.

Say things like, “I am powerful, magical, magnificent, etc.” These will make you feel different than repeating mantras that tell you you’re merely okay.

3. Focus on what you want.

When you put the focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want, you have a fighting chance of getting it.

When you move toward your goals and heart’s desires and they begin to come true, you unveil your power. Knowing you’re potent enough to make your dreams come true enhances self-approval.

4. Do more of what you love.

self-approval

We are usually better at the things we enjoy doing. If you spend more time on activities that enhance your joy and work to your strengths, self-approval increases.

Frustration and feelings of inadequacy follow slogging away at things you don’t enjoy. So outsource your weak areas as much as possible and build up your self-approval muscle by focusing on things you love.

Outsource your weak areas as much as possible and build up your self-approval muscle by focusing on things you love. Click To Tweet

5. Self care leads to self-approval.

When you take time to care for yourself, you tell yourself you’re worth it. Self-approval skyrockets when you ask yourself what you need and deliver it.

You may not have had your needs met in the past, but you’re no longer dependent on others to take care of you. Reparenting yourself means giving you the care and attention you never received as a child.

6. Set healthy boundaries.

When you stop abandoning your own needs and putting others first, your self-worth increases. What’s terrifying and hard at first becomes easier with practice.

Each time you say no to someone, you tell yourself you are worth protecting. Your time and energy are yours and not for everyone else to use up.

Read The Giving Tree as a warning of what will be left of you if you don’t stop over giving. (Hint: not much)

7. Never criticize yourself.

A lot of self-help literature aims to teach you how to deal with your inner critic. But, in the classic book You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay says simply: Never ever criticize yourself.

She teaches unconditional self-love and that means never speaking a critical word to yourself. Shame won’t create change, so focus on who you want to be in the future instead of dwelling on past actions.