Health and wellness: Positive ways to counter overthinking Part 2

Candace Brown, registered psychologist
Northern Alberta Psychological Services

In the previous article, we discovered that overthinking is based on our analysis of the events that happen in our lives. It is a negative perception and reaction to the situations we face or try to avoid.

Overthinkers tend to see the events that they worry about as a problem that needs a solution but in reality, it is their interpretation of those events that keeps the overthinking alive and well.

The cause of overthinking is rooted in anxiety. Overthinking is a person’s attempt to control outcomes but this control is an illusion of control.

Nobody can predict or control the outcomes of the future with absolute certainty. This attempt at control causes stress, which taxes our mental and physical health. Overthinking can be habitual in some ways, in the sense that as long as individuals believe they are doing something productive, like trying to arrive at a solution for the thoughts that keep invading the brain, the next thought arrives ready to be replaced by the next thought, and so on.

The first step for the overthinker is to become aware of the thought process. This action can involve thinking about the content of the overthinking. Is the overthinking a negative or positive activity? For instance, does worrying about your adult children getting into a car accident leave you with a positive or negative feeling of wellbeing? Also ask yourself, can you really control whether they have an accident or not? Instead, send positive energy to them, trusting that they are good drivers and those positive thoughts will be appreciated by your children and yourself.

Once the overthinker recognizes the futility of worrying, or how their interpretation of a situation is negative, the next step is to engage in stress management. Part of the stress management is to identify the triggers that set the thinking process into overdrive. What mood are you in? What emotions are you feeling? What thoughts are you thinking (e.g., positive vs. negative)? What are your stress levels? De-stressing through mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, journalling, exercising, meditating, yoga, or various other positive activities will provide a calmer and more peaceful outlook on your circumstances.

Additionally, it is important to understand the difference between awareness, rumination, and anxiety.

Awareness is neutral and comfortable, rumination is circular, and anxiety is uncomfortable and filled with emotion. Likewise, when you have awareness of the situation, you are also calm enough to see the choices that are available to you.

When you are in anxiety mode, the choices all seem negative or not within your grasp.

Stress management is about gaining skills in time-management and organizational skills. You can ask for help from someone who possesses these skills or look to your role models and research how they seem to manage stressors. It is also about prioritizing your values, relaxation, and self-care.

If you are finding that you are not planning for leisure time, then life is not going to be rewarding. This lack of planning your life sets you up to overthink and stress out.

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