Tips for Managing Overthinking
Did you know:
- We have around 50,000 thoughts per day
- Most of them are the same ones we had yesterday
- Almost half our waking hours are lost in thought
- The brain uses 25% of your body’s energy
No wonder thinking can be so exhausting!
Excessive Thinking (aka Rumination or Monkey Mind)
Negative and repetitive thoughts, excessive thinking and rumination, are habits that can lead people down a path of anxiety and depression, especially thinking about the past or worrying about the future. However, it’s only when we become attached to a thought and constantly repeat it, consciously or unconsciously, that it can become harmful and it’s okay to reflect, plan and reminisce, as long as you feel good about whatever you are planning or reflecting or reminiscing about. The good news is – you don’t need to fear your thoughts!
By practising mindfulness, we can become more aware of the thoughts that we are thinking, as well as the physical sensations we are experiencing as a result of them, e.g:
- Sweaty palms
- Racing heart
- Butterflies in your stomach
- Tightness in the chest
- Scratchy throat
- Nervous tic
One of the biggest myths I have heard about meditation is that it’s about not thinking and one of the most common things people tell me is they can’t meditate because they think too much. Rather than trying to avoid thinking or trying to escape the reality of our thoughts, the key is to notice them, observe them, without judgement, allowing them to come, then letting them go.
We have the power to train our minds to choose the thoughts we want to think about or that make us feel good. When you notice you are ruminating try replacing the thought with a mantra, e.g. “I am letting go of that thought.” Repeating this will train your brain to redirect your mind automatically when you start to get lost in that thought again.
As much as you may want to, resist the urge to analyse a thought you have become attached to with a friend or family member who may sympathise with you. This only reinforces the story you are telling yourself, keeping the drama front and centre in your mind.
That doesn’t mean you should bottle everything up inside and undertake avoidance or numbing behaviours such as shopping or excessive eating, drinking and exercise. If you need to talk to a professional about an issue that is affecting your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing then please do so.
It’s about changing your habits, as you become more aware of how you react to your thoughts, so they no longer control you. The more we practise being mindful of our thoughts, the less they will control us and the less we will be distracted and influenced by them.
Thought Cloud Exercise
- You may like to lay down for this exercise so it’s easy to visualise you are looking up at the sky.
- Close your eyes down, relaxing the muscles around them.
- Take a nice deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Begin nasal breathing, at your own pace, noticing the flow of air in and out through your nostrils and up and down in your chest and belly.
- Picture you are laying down (if you aren’t) and looking up at the sky – notice what colour the sky is. Are there are any clouds or is the sky clear?
- Begin allowing your thoughts to float into your awareness like clouds – are there just a few or a lot? What colour are they? Do they appear as words or as pictures in the clouds?
- Bring your attention to the blue sky between the clouds and on your next out breath, picture the clouds being pushed to the sides so there is just an expanse of blue sky at the centre.
- Allow your thought clouds to drift across your sky again – are there as many?
- On your next out breath picture the clouds being blown to the sides again.
- Focus on the blue sky between them for the next few breaths.
- When you’re ready open your eyes and bring your awareness back to the space around you.
FOR MORE TIPS AND EXERCISES FOR MANAGING OVERTHINKING CHECK OUT ON MINDFULNESS MEDITATION FOR BEGINNERS ONLINE COURSE
A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts but our attachment to our thoughts that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true without enquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.” (Byron Katie)