Over-Thinking Got You Stressed?

Let’s talk about a little something that’s been on my mind lately: over-thinking.

(Yep, pun intended).

But oh, how many of us have the pesky little habit of analyzing, dissecting, and then over-analyzing every little thing that crosses our path.

(And I’m including myself… though I’ve gotten much better at catching it).

When we fall prey to this incessant barrage of “What if this? What if that?  Does this mean this?  Should I not have said that? Should I do this? Does this mean that?”…. well, it can wreak havoc on our serenity and relationships faster than you can say “existential crisis.”

Here’s the deal: we high-achieving women have a boatload of thoughts zipping through our brains every single day. Seriously, it’s estimated that we have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts each 24 hours. Now, most of these thoughts are harmless background noise, like what to have for lunch or whether our sleek black jeans are actually in the laundry basket.

But then there are those sneaky little buggers that start spinning tales, adding interpretations and meanings to events that aren’t necessarily true, and throwing us into future-tripping… which often leave us in the anxious, depleted, and one-down position.

And that’s where the trouble begins. And then escalates.  Because all of this thinking takes us out of the present moment (which is where the magic is – more later), and messes with how we respond to the events of life.  Pretty soon minor setbacks begin to snowball into full-blown catastrophes, and before we know it we’re knee-deep in stress, fear, and a whole lot of unnecessary drama.

So what’s the antidote?  It starts with awareness.

The moment you notice you are over-thinking, you are panicking, you are creating scenarios in your mind that are not borne out by facts, you’ve already begun the solution.

This is a form of meta-cognition. You are now the “You” who is recognizing the thinking.  And the great news is that, by becoming the observer, you’ve already separated from the thinking.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy suggests we actually say “I notice I’m having the thought that…”

I like to add an idea to this, which is to say “I notice a part of me is having the thought that ______,” because we have many parts of self, it’s just a matter of who’s in the driver’s seat.  And it’s reassuring that the part doing the loudest thinking is not the only one in there.

For example, with a recent client who is waiting to hear whether she’ll be moved to the next round regarding a job interview, several days without a phone call or email put her into an awareness that we stated as this:

“I notice a part of me is worrying that this means I’m not moving on.  If they were excited about me they would have called.”

It’s critical to say “a part of me.”  Because that means it is not the “ALL of her” believing that.  There are other parts that can be called upon.

When we ask, “What would love and trust say?” she is able to call upon a different part of self (whom we’ve cultivated, called her Wise Elder) that gives her very different messages, like:

“We don’t know anything yet, so we’re going to stay present and embrace the joys of today”

“Whatever happens, let’s trust that it will be in the highest good for your miraculous future.”

“You can be so proud you really nailed that interview; you’ve done great with what’s been on your side of the street.”

“All of your income needs have always been met, and will continue to be met in amazing ways.”

We choose what thoughts to allow.  It’s very human that certain thoughts – that over-thinking we’ve been discussing – can pop in by default; it’s our task to “catch and release” in favor of stepping back into Observer Mode, noticing, and calling forth that wise, loving, inner voice to anchor into a trust-based, abundance orientation.

And let’s get back to the concept of becoming present, as I mentioned above.

A huge majority of the time things are OK in the present moment.  We are safe. We are OK. Catastrophe is not striking.

In this very moment… no matter what “issues” might be going on in our lives… in this very moment much of the time we can rest into knowing that all is well right. now. this. second.

Eckhart Tolle’s work about The Power Of Now has been seminal in teaching millions that life is truly happening only in the present.  Our worries and anxieties and What If’s are all future based.  Or, our distraction can be with the past and what happened or didn’t happen or “should have” happened.

Mindfulness is a type of practice where you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.

You just be… if even for a few moments.

And I like to add holding the awareness that in this moment, everything is OK (for the 99.9% of times there is not an acute crisis happening).

Mindfulness is a definite antidote to over-thinking.  Taking 3 deep and restorative cleansing breaths. Noting your body sensations… what sounds you hear… the temperature on your skin.

It’s a re-set you can do every hour of your work day… or at home anytime things feel frenetic… or even as a beautiful morning practice during which you can set your intentions, or evening practice where you can add some gentle self-acknowledgement.

Mindfulness practices – just a few minutes a day – have been measured to lower blood pressure, minimize anxiety, lower depression, improve attention, increase sleep, and decrease job burnout.

We just have to build the muscle.

Are you willing to catch-and-release when you find yourself overthinking or future-tripping?  Are you game to incorporate even a little bit of mindfulness practice in those moments to bring you back to “the power of now” (as Eckhart says)?

And/or, is this something you’ve had experience with?

I’d love to hear what you’d like to share on the subject!