We can all relate to overthinking. Knowing that your thoughts are spiralling and feeling so out of control and helpless. It's something that we all experience, it's how our brain likes to solve problems. Unfortunately what it hasn't learnt is that sometimes it can result in distress rather than resolution. Here are the strategies that I use with my clients and in my own personal practice.
Detach from the process
Within Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), overthinking is often treated as a process, as a behaviour. It's something that we engage in and spend our time and energy on. I like to differentiate between three types of overthinking:
Worry: thinking about something that could happen in the future. Contemplating present problems or situations and how they may turn out in the future. Often predicting how things could go wrong.
Rumination: dwelling on a problem or situation that is ongoing or happened in the past. Turning it over in our minds and picking it apart. Often focusing on the negatives of what happened.
Unhelpful thinking habits: can be in relation to a particular situation or much more general. Often ties in with worry and rumination. Read more about those here.
Labelling what type of thinking we are experiencing, can help us to create distance between us and our thoughts. I know it can feel like your thoughts are true. It feels so natural to accept them without any questioning. There are other ways to respond to these thoughts, but first of all we have to accept that they are just thoughts, not fact.
Evaluate the process
When we make a choice in life, we often weigh up the pros and cons of the choice we're making. Why should this process be any different?
Take some time to reflect - is this process actually helping me at all? Is this way of thinking serving me? Sit down and consider:
The benefits of continuing to think in this way
The costs of continuing to think in this way
The benefits of changing the way that you think
The costs of changing the way that you think
Once you have reached your decision, commit to it. Get clear on your reasons for changing. What will it impact if you're able to manage this? I'd like to highlight that we will never be able to remove, suppress or avoid overthinking. The goal is awareness, acceptance and management.
When you start to recognise overthinking, remind yourself of the commitment you have made. Remind yourself that it is natural to think in this way, but you're now deciding to choose again. Choose something that you would like to spend your time and energy on. That may be going back to what you were doing in that moment before you started overthinking. It might be doing an activity you know is able to engage your mind. Become curious about what works for you.
Discover what lies behind the process
Often, there will be a reason behind your overthinking. This is completely personal to you and only you will know the answer. It may be self-doubt or a need for certainty and control. Whatever it is, the most helpful thing you can do is shine a light on it and start to move through it. It may be uncomfortable and difficult. Scratch that, it definitely will be uncomfortable! But if you ignore or suppress it, it doesn't go away.
Sit with yourself and ask - why am I worrying about this? Are there any common themes behind my overthinking? Is there a bigger problem that I'm trying to ignore?
Once you know what the root of this is, then you can start to address it. This may be by talking to a trusted friend about it, researching the topic or hiring a coach to support you through it.
I hope you found these suggestions for dealing with overthinking helpful. Coaching can support you to deal with deep-rooted limiting beliefs that are often behind overthinking. If you'd like to have a free Discovery Call to explore how my coaching can help you, you can book this in here.