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The Plague of Overthinking

Overthinking is likely the source of many issues in your life

There are a multitude of issues that are giving people a lot of trouble with their mental health these days. Overall, I regard our modern lifestyles as unhealthy and that what we consider to be normal is actually unhealthy. Our collective mental wellness, I think we can all agree, is doing poorly. I think it's possible that we are experiencing more significant and widespread levels of mental illness now than at any other time though it's hard to know for sure. I am convinced, however, that one thing that we deal with and struggle with more now than possibly ever is the plague of overthinking.

Constant Worrying

Virtually everyone that I talk to and work with as a therapist has a problem with repetitive and ruminating thoughts. Their brain tends to cycle the same fear and anger over and over again with a heavy emphasis on worry. I hear that word a lot. Worry. People tend to fall into patterns of constant worry. They sometimes fall into the myth that worrying will somehow help them be more prepared for negative things in the future but I beg to differ.

Excessive worry creates paralysis or the inability to decide on a course of action. If your kitchen was on fire you wouldn't sit around and worry about it. If someone was breaking into your home you wouldn't sit around and worry about it. You'd take action. In these two examples, doing nothing while worrying is the worst possible thing you can do and I argue that worrying isn't just useless, it's counterproductive. It's almost guaranteed to make any situation worse even if it's not immediately apparent.

You might worry, for example, that your romantic relationship is deteriorating and falling apart. "What if they file for divorce?" You might think, falling into a state of fear and worry where your decision-making is going to decay quickly. If you act out of fear you're likely going to make the situation worse. You might fall into a state of paranoia, for example, wondering if they are cheating or hiring a divorce lawyer which would cause you feel hurt, angry and defensive which would lead you to lashing out and being accusatory to them which would also make the situation worse. It's possible that you just need some positive problem-solving efforts in your relationship and worrying does nothing in this regard. If your partner wasn't thinking about divorce now they might now be starting to think it's the best thing.

Worry really is the main contributor to overthinking or it's the primary way in which humans find themselves in a state of overthinking. When it comes to overthinking and worrying the truth is the more that you worry, the more you're going to worry or feel the need to worry. There's a song lyric from my favorite band that simply states that "overthinking, analyzing, separating the body from the mind, withering my intuition, leaving opportunities behind." These lyrics speak the truth. We're at our best when we're working from our intuition and we can't do that when we're overthinking. Worry and overthinking also have a tendency to pick up and gain momentum like a runaway truck whose brakes have failed. The faster it's going and the more momentum it picks up, the harder it's going to be to slow it down or stop it. Your mind is this way. If you have years and years of constant overthinking under your belt then you're going to have some challenging habits to break. It's extremely important to understand and realize why we should face this challenge in the first place.

The Basics of Behavior

The most basic way to break down behavior and human dysfunction is to understand the process of how thinking affects our behavior and our habits. Your emotions will always take orders from your thoughts. If you think good things, positive things and happy things, you're far more likely to feel good emotionally. You're going to make decisions and choices based on how you feel, for the most part. If you're feeling afraid, worried or angry, your approach to life, situations, relationships and problems is going to be drastically different. These might seem a little basic or even more than a little bit obvious, I know, but so many people just do the same ineffective things in their lives over and over again while they wonder why they can't get better results. The more that you dwell on negative thoughts, the more you're going to feel lousy and the more you're going to make decisions that are less than stellar. When you run through this pattern over and over and over again it becomes a habit and so it goes. People just repeat the same destructive and ineffective patterns over and over again without realizing it. Their habits have them on autopilot most of the time and that's what they do. Run on autopilot. This is a whole other topic and a whole other article entirely, running on autopilot and so I hope that you will stay tuned.

Overthinking usually becomes a habit. The whole chain of behavior becomes a habit. The thinking, the feeling part of it and the choices and behavior. Overthinking, I find, has a tendency to work people into a frenzy of fear, worry and anger and hold them emotionally hostage there. Most of the choices that they make from that psychological place are going to at least be counterproductive at best and entirely destructive, at worst. Life becomes less complicated and chaotic if you can reign in your overthinking. Yes, it's hard. Which is, in part, exactly why you should do it. We're supposed to do difficult things. It makes us strong. Mental and physical strength should be important to you if it's not already and there's only one way to build and acquire it. To do difficult and challenging things but frankly, this is one of those things that will likely and hopefully lead to its own groundbreaking article. I digress. The point that I'm trying to make here is that overthinking is destructive. Plain and simple.

Overthinking can keep you in a state in which you are living somewhat of a fight or flight state and that's a big problem. Unfortunately, there are so many people these days that live in this state of heightened distress to the point that it becomes normal to them. It becomes their homeostasis and that's a problem. It's going to grind and wear you down over time and cause the different areas of your life to break down.

Overthinking myths

There are a couple of myths about overthinking that we need to take behind the barn and shoot. Let's put these myths out of their misery.

  1. Overthinking is beneficial and 'good' - I'm pretty sure that I've done my due diligence so far to put this one to bed but if I haven't done it sufficiently yet, perhaps this will help. I'm a therapist and I'm a well-seasoned and experienced one. Trust me. Overthinking isn't your friend when the opposite is entirely true; overthinking is your adversary. If you have seen it as a friend and a benefit, you may want to rethink it and see what happens when you start regarding it as an enemy inside of your head. That's a fun rabbit hole, let me tell you when you start to realize that you can't trust everything that's floating through your head.

  2. You can't do anything about your overthinking - If you're new to my content let me fill you in on something important as my efforts and practice as a therapist. I reject any notion that mental illnesses are 'just a part of who we are' and that there's not much you can do about it other than learn to deal with it and manage it. I'm talking from experience both as a human being and as a therapist. I've overcome a lot and I do mean a lot in my life in regards to mental illness. I've struggled with anxiety, depression and suicide. I don't struggle with those things anymore. I've come miles and miles from where I once was and it's chalked up to my dilligent dedication to change and now I pass these methods onto my clients. I refuse to listen to anyone that wants to try and tell me that depression or overthinking are things that you just have to learn to live with.

Frayed Rope

I've realized that our minds have become like a frayed rope that has come unraveled. With dozens of frayed loose ends, we shouldn't wonder why we can't concentrate or focus, why we can't slow down or why we have so much frustration and difficulty when it comes to completing projects or staying on task, for example. Our minds have become like a frayed rope that has come totally unraveled.

Yes, I'm going to blame smartphones which have become an open portal for companies to compete for your attention and they pay millions and millions each year to help ensure that you're looking at their app instead of anybody else's. I swear I can't even purchase a toaster without the company wanting me to download an app that wants to send me notifications. ADHD should be partially blamed on the fact that we are buried in technology that is constantly bombarding us with notifications and yet we're usually led to believe that it's an 'us problem' and that we're somehow supposed to believe that previous generations had no issues with staying focused, stationary and quiet and now we do have these issues just because and no other reason? Don't ask questions, just keep taking your pills. I don't buy it. I've overcome many of my own issues and helped many others do the same thing without the use of medication. It can be done though it doesn't mean that it's easy.

I also think that our minds have become like a frayed rope because it's just how we've learned to cope with and manage an overly complicated and demanding way of life. Not to mention how we're constantly showered with information that is always in direct contradiction with the previous information and our minds are struggling to make sense of all of it. Trying to keep up with narratives presented to us by the media is an exercise in madness. I swear sometimes that it seems to be deliberately and intentionally confusing. Honestly, I don't even listen to most of it anymore, I can feel my mental health slipping when I do. We get more information thrown at us in a week than people did in a year or more a hundred years ago. Honestly, why isn't the mental health industry asking questions about whether or not our brains are built to handle this much information? At no point in history were humans consuming so much daily information and we're supposed to believe that it doesn't come with any side effects? Come on, seriously, all this information is like trying to drink from a firehose and it's ripping our faces off in the process.

I think our brains are trying to chase down so many things at once that it's caused it to lose its ability to focus on one particular thing for any particular period of time and again, it's often made to sound like it's an 'us' problem. Taking a step back from all of the information and notifications is enormously challenging but important and entirely worth it. If you dedicated yourself to managing your overthinking don't you think it would be worth it if, after a few short months, your life was less stressful and less chaotic? Wouldn't it be worth it if you weren't so anxious all of the time?

If we want to have good mental health, we have to get that frayed rope wrapped up again. We have to be able to bring our minds back into some level of quiet or relative silence and we need to bring it back to some kind of singular focus. I have personally found that the more that I have done this, the more satisfied and happy I feel with my daily experience in life. I also notice that when I have days when there are a million loose ends for me to chase after my life feels more frustrating and pointless. I've noticed that my feelings of discouragement about my life increase and it can happen fast. I find that when I fall into a pattern where I'm thinking too much I just feel less happy. Period.

When we overthink, our minds go into overtime looking for things to be unhappy about. There really seems to be a direct correlation here; I'm certain of it. When our minds are in a state of overthinking, they aren't repetitively reviewing all the great and amazing things, what we're grateful for or the layers and layers of optimism we might be experiencing. Overthinking always, and I do mean always, is about fear, worry and anger. Overthinking can, and often does, work us into an irrational frenzy. Fear is the least logical and the least rational state of mind; the more afraid we are the dumber we are, that's just the truth of it and in the process of this mess, our ability to ascertain the real from the imagined deteriorates and we fail to realize that our fear is just an intense emotion that has taken over our bodies. In other words, when we become worried and afraid, the more we struggle to separate what is real and what is just an intense emotion. Fear has a way of convincing us that what we are afraid of is certainly real and if there's one piece of advice I would give about emotions and emotional intelligence it's this. Fear is a liar. Don't trust it. Remember to tell yourself when you're afraid that fear is a liar. "I don't listen to fear, I don't trust it." Adopting mantras like these can help.

The lack of mental discipline

I've gotten more than a couple of sideways looks when I've talked about the lack of mental discipline that people have. Our smartphones are more than happy to do most of our thinking for us. Your phone tells you when to wake up, when to go to bed, where you parked, when to get up and move around, when to drink water, when your music is too loud and when to poop. They also tell you what to think and what to feel, what opinions you're supposed to have and how you're supposed to feel or not feel about certain people and certain situations. Smartphones do all of your thinking for you if you let them. You might be able to change my mind on that but I doubt it.

Most people don't see this as a problem and they probably don't see it as a problem because their smartphone hasn't told them it's a problem and until it does, they will continue to see it as a non-issue. We aren't required to do any mental heavy lifting and so we lack discipline and like a spoiled child that has never been given rules, guidelines or structure, our minds are running wild. I'm convinced that our minds are in a state of mental atrophy. If you laid in bed all day every day for several years, you might get overwhelmed by the smallest amount of physical exertion and this is what I think has happened with our minds and our thinking processes.

We're unhappy, miserable and living without joy or fulfillment and I am certain now after years and years of working as a practitioner while figuring out how to get the most happiness and fulfillment out of my own life that happiness and fulfillment becomes excruciatingly difficult to experience when your mind is in a constant state of overthinking.

Changing Your Overthinking Can Be Hard, Which is Why You Should Do it

You can learn better mental and emotional discipline and you should. It's hard which is why you should do it. Difficult things are often good for us. If you want your life to improve, you might want to let go of any idea or notion that life is supposed to be easy. That's nonsense. As I mentioned before, difficult things make you strong. There are some important principles to keep in mind first.

  • Diligence - There are a lot of words that start with the letter 'D' that are helpful when it comes to making positive changes and the word right now is diligence. The definition of diligence is to remain constant in your effort in order to accomplish something. In this case, you want to quiet your mind and slow down your thinking. I can give you the tools and skills and I can give you the steps to do it but if you don't do them consistently and if you don't remain diligent with them, you'll be far less likely to accomplish this. The steps, skills and tools aren't complicated. I keep them simple and uncomplicated on purpose but you have to remain dilligent.

  • Patience - You have to be patient with yourself during this process which means giving yourself the luxury of struggling through it. Too many people approach things like this with unrealistic expectations for themselves. They more or less expect perfection from themselves when that's neither helpful nor realistic. This takes time and practice. You wouldn't expect yourself to be able to sit down at the piano for the first time and be able to crank out some Beethoven and this is very similar. It takes time, patience and practice.

  • Realistic expectations - You probably don't realize that expectations play a significant role in your life and it's extremely important to have realistic expectations about this. Expect it to be challenging and difficult and expect it to get harder before it gets easier. But you should also expect there to be some positive payoffs in the end.

Here are some tips, approaches and methods that will help you with your overthinking:

  • Simplify - Our modern lives are way way too complicated and I know I've fallen into the trap of trying to add more things and do more things as some kind of solution when I'm not getting to where I needed to go. A couple of years ago I realized that I needed to simplify my life meaning that I needed to make it less complicated. It helps to get really honest with ourselves about what is making our lives more complicated. I'll give you a hint. Technology is an issue. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier but in the process, it makes our lives more complicated.

  • Don't watch the news and get rid of social media - In fact, it helps to reduce the amount of information that you consume in a given day. I've found that the news and social media are particularly problematic as they have a tendency to put our minds into overdrive. People often tell me that they feel like it's important to 'be informed' which is why they bury themselves in this stuff to begin with, allegedly. So my challenge to them is simply this. Get rid of those things for two weeks. Try an experiment. Ditch those things for 2 weeks and then evaluate whether or not you feel like your life is better or worse from it.

  • Mindfulness and meditation - This is a big giant rabbit hole but mindfulness and meditation are, by far, the most effective things I've done for my mind. These things have done wonders for my anxiety, worry and anger. Volumes could be written about this and they have been written about this. Most people tell me that they can't meditate because their minds are too chaotic. My response is always that they're misunderstanding the purpose of meditation. It's not some task that you accomplish, it's a practice that you stay with for the purpose of making gradual improvements over time. Yes, it's challenging and difficult at first but that's the point. Anything worth doing is always going to be tough in its own way. Frankly, most people overcomplicate meditation and they also tend to put some heavy and unrealistic expectations onto it. They overthink it. You can easily start small. Three minutes a day is a great start. When that gets easier, move it to five minutes, eight minutes and so on. Mindfulness and meditation are the most effective ways, I've found, to slow down that runaway truck and slow down that momentum that I talked about earlier.

There are so many other ways to improve your mental focus and change what you think and how you think that can help in so many ways. Good therapy can be helpful so if this is something that you'd like my help with give me a call.


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