Do you find yourself ruminating on different events or conversations? Rethinking what you said and how you should have/would have? Do you find yourself worrying about the next day's to-do list well in advance of the next day? Or, all of the hypothetical nightmares that could happen on a daily basis? These types of thoughts fall into the category of overthinking, which can usually be described as negative thinking patterns or cognitive distortions. If any of these patterns describe you, you're not alone. According to Tseng and Poppenk (2020), the average human being has at least 6,200 thoughts daily. This number doesn't factor in how many more thoughts might be swirling around in your head if you're a chronic overthinker. In addition, Mental Health America discovered of people who took an anxiety screen in 2020, a whopping 64% felt afraid, as if something awful might happen at least half of the time or nearly every day. Before you start overthinking about overthinking, there are some strategies to help quiet the noise in your head and find some peace.
First thing first, stop beating yourself up about any overthinking you might be doing. Being a bully to yourself is another negative thought pattern and we're learning how to quit that, not add to it. Kindly remind yourself that as humans, we're wired this way. The human brain reacts more intensely to negative events than to positive ones. This is especially true during tough times when negative thoughts start to feel like they're spiraling out of control. According to Mental Health America, this spiraling is better known as cognitive distortions, which we mentioned above. It's important to recognize when a thought pattern starts to become distorted. So, here are the most common types of distortion:
Overgeneralization: Making a broad statement based o one situation or piece of evidence.
Personalization: Blaming yourself for events beyond your control; taking things personally when they aren’t actually connected to you.
Filtering: Focusing on the negative details of a situation while ignoring the positive.
All-or-Nothing Thinking: Only seeing the extremes of a situation.
Catastrophizing: Blowing things out of proportion; dwelling on the worst possible outcomes.
Jumping to Conclusions: Judging or deciding something without all the facts.
Emotional Reasoning: Thinking that however you feel is fully and unarguably true.
Discounting the Positive: Explaining all positives away as luck or coincidence.
“Should” Statements: Making yourself feel guilty by pointing out what you should or shouldn’t be doing, feeling, or thinking.
Once you can recognize distortion, you can start using strategies to help yourself. From the definitions above, you can probably agree that nothing productive happens when you ruminate on any type of situation. So, how do we convince ourselves of that?
Schedule a time to brain dump: The point of this is to sit down for a set, but brief, amount of time where you let all of your anxious thoughts run wild. You can choose to journal some of these thoughts down to make this practice even more therapeutic. Once your set time is up (usually between 10-15 minutes) it's time to go do something else, leaving your worries dumped behind you.
Reframe your negative thinking: Did your coworker really think that you were stupid when you spelled that word wrong in your email? Do you really think it's true that you're not good at your job and it's just a matter of time before someone finds you out? The more you can recognize these types of negative thoughts, the more you will be able to challenge yourself and reframe those thoughts to be more positive.
Remind yourself that overthinking is futile: We just agreed that overthinking solves nothing and can often make things feel worse than they actually are. Try to remind yourself of this when you start to fall into the negative feedback loop inside your head. You're just going in circles and wasting precious emotional energy.
Find your Zen: We can interrupt our negative thinking with movement or even breathwork. Take a few minutes to go for a walk (especially if you can get outside), run through a few exercises, or even practice a quick meditation- these can all help you quiet your mind significantly.
As with most things in life, your approach to overthinking is going to be very personal to you- so it's important to try out different strategies to figure out what works best. You may find that brain dumping every morning makes for a more peaceful day. On the other hand, you may find that it makes it even more stressful. Never feel like a failure if one strategy doesn't work (especially if you're being consistent), just move on to the next one until you find what does work!
For more information on how exercise and meditation specifically can help you conquer negative thinking, please reach out to St. Andrew's Family Fitness's Fitness Department by calling 843-518-6635, or by submitting this online form. Our Fitness Team is ready to help you strategize an entire wellness plan to transform your life!