Overthinking is common, but too much of it can be problematic. It’s a distraction from actually being in the here and now and getting on with life. Some people believe that when they are thinking about a problem they are actually problem-solving and I don’t doubt this can be true when the problem is real and solvable rather then hypothetical. But in truth, very often the worry just turns round and round on a loop in our minds and rather than solving anything we become increasingly distressed.
I’m going to take an example that I am familiar with:
You have unwittingly booked two appointments (let’s choose the hairdressers and the dentist) at the same time, on the same day and you are concerned about cancelling one. Well, the concern is more about the consequences of cancelling. What if my hairdresser gets annoyed? What if they charge me for the missed appointment?
Well, ‘what if’ you were to work out which appointment takes priority and go with that? Rearrange the other and don’t chase the worry any further? It sounds simple because actually it is.
Stalling the telephone call to cancel your hairdresser because you need to be somewhere else is merely prolonging the inevitable. If the hairdresser is going to think negatively about you for cancelling, they will. There’s nothing you can do to stop them. However, these things happen regularly enough and it certainly won’t matter in a month’s time. Make the decision not to chase the worry and just make the call.
Because of my job, I think a lot about over thinking! Last week, when I was driving to work, I was listening to Nihal Arthanayake’s programme on Radio 5. He was talking to mother and daughter, Debbie and Lydia Bright about the impact fostering children has had on their family. Over the past 27 or so years, Debbie and her partner have fostered at least 250 children. They spoke about the joy and the challenges that fostering brings to a family and explained that their family was just like any other – sometimes the kids got on and other times they didn’t. Sleepless nights, worries, fun times and, as Lydia put it, the opportunity, “To be a part of their journey”.
Debbie had started fostering after a chance conversation with another foster parent and the rest is history. Nihal suggested that Debbie must have thought long and hard about fostering before getting into it and about the impact it could potentially have on her own children? Absolutely not, Debbie explained, she had not thought about it very much and just made the decision and got on with it. There was no over-thinking on Debbie’s part. She was passionate about fostering, she decided to do it and got on with it. Although over the years she has questioned if she was doing the right thing, it didn’t hold Debbie back from her extremely fulfilling journey into fostering.
In Debbie’s words, “Many times we overthink things, we over analyse things but these are just kids…yes, you are in charge of someone else’s life. You can’t fix everything, but you can make a difference”.
It’s OK to acknowledge your concerns, worries or whatever you like to call them. You are absolutely not going to be able to stop them popping into your head. You don’t have to engage with them though and if you notice you are over thinking, make the decision not to get drawn in. Try a distraction technique: physical activity, cooking, listening to music or meditation, which can be an excellent way to train your mind to calm down and there are plenty of apps available. You do need to practise though and changes don’t happen overnight.
Try taking some inspiration from the Bright family and if you want to do something, just give it a go without getting lost down worry, rabbit holes on the way!
“We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It’s a death trap.”
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for chronic worry or anxiety related to overthinking is available through the NHS or contact me at Anxiety Tame.