Updated: May 26, 2020
I’m not really enjoying my job at the moment, maybe it’s because of working from home, but what if it’s just because I actually just hate it and have only just realised? I never really wanted to do that anyway I used to want to be an actor, why did I never do that? Maybe I set out on the wrong path and now there’s nothing I can do about it and I like my life now but what if I just fell into things without really choosing like was I really supposed to get married? Maybe I’m just not suited to marriage and I must be really difficult to live with, and actually he’s seemed a bit off this morning, maybe he thinks that too, or is that just really self-indulgent? I wonder if my friends are honest with me about stuff like that or if they’re all just rolling their eyes at me when I’m not looking, I’ve not spoken to a few of them in a while I wonder if they’re relieved, I don’t mean to lose touch but maybe they’re glad about it…
There are lots of different forms of overthinking - you might be more familiar with endless deliberation over decision-making, trying to read minds, trying to predict the future. This kind of vicious thought storm is very common to those of us who suffer from anxiety. While we’re isolated during the pandemic, it’s prime time for this emotional-energy-sponge to rear its ugly head and make us feel like we’re really spiralling. The longer this sort of over-thinking/rumination goes on for (the further into the above type of rabbit hole we go), the harder it is to make it stop.
Anxiety feeds off of itself, and the more emotional energy the over-thinking takes from us, the stronger it gets. The thing is, suppressing these thoughts won’t help. Ideally, we can learn to acknowledge the thought or the worry, and let it pass, without becoming connected to it.
By acknowledging these unwelcome thoughts, and then ignoring them without becoming connected to them, you take away their power. If this type of mindfulness intervention is new to you, trying closing your eyes and imagine your thoughts, then imagine putting them to one side, or imagine each thought as a cloud that floats away.
If this just doesn’t cut it, there are a few other things you can try:
Distraction: You can try to become absorbed in a different activity that will refocus you. Bear in mind that sometimes when anxiety is high, an activity like reading a book can become very difficult. A puzzle, a game, drawing or another hobby may be easier to be absorbed by. If you are finding this difficult, that’s normal. Which leads me onto my next point.
Self-talk: The way you talk to yourself makes a big difference to your mindset, and will affect your energy, actions, thoughts and feelings. Engage in positive self-talk. Do not berate yourself if you try all of these tips and still find yourself over-thinking. You’ll get there. You’ll get there faster and for longer if you’re kind to yourself.
Externalise: List-makers of the world will know very well what I’m talking about here. When things are bouncing around in your head and you have no other reference point from which to view them. You have nothing useful to add to them because it’s all coming from and back to your own mind. That's when thoughts aren’t useful anymore. Writing them all down in the form of lists, or journaling, a stream of consciousness or any other form of writing can really help. If not, speaking it out also externalises these infuriatingly stubborn ruminations. You could record it, send it to someone as a voice note, say it to someone else or just speak it out loud to yourself. These are all good ways of externalising.
Postpone the rumination: Tell yourself you’ll think about all this in 15 minutes. If you remember, push it back for another 15 minutes. You might find that you forget to ruminate altogether! If this is quite tough, allocate half an hour later on in the day to worry - and then use it. Sit down at your allocated time and devote that half an hour to all the worries you have. Be boundaried - after half an hour, stop. Save the rest for your worry time tomorrow.
Move! Move your body in any way that you can/want. Force yourself to go for a walk, a run, do yoga, stretch, dance. Movement will connect you to your body, get good hormones and chemicals going through you and it will allow you to process thoughts as you do it.