Overthinking

We all do it, especially when we are stressed or worried. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, loss, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attachment disorder etc often have overthinking as a symptom.

So what is overthinking?

Overthinking is defined as thinking about something for too long or analysing it in a way that is more harmful than helpful. Very often it has a repetitive quality, someone with social anxiety for instance may overthink how they were in a social situation, what they did or said and will repetitively do this for most, if not all sociable experiences.

Why do we do overthink?

It is often because we care, we care about what someone else thinks, we care about what will happen next, and we care about how others see us. This caring leads us to be concerned about the outcome of a relationship, a conversation or result. So our ever ‘helpful’ brain decides that if it analyses all the possible outcomes we can be prepared, it’s so good at this it will even analyse an event, meeting or result BEFORE it’s even happened. There are two main issues with our brains doing this:

  1. Our brain cannot possibly compute every outcome
  2. Our brain is influenced by any biases we have whether they are positive or negative. (If we are worriers or have a mental health issue this is usually a negative bias, but in mania, and some other conditions it can manifest as a positive bias.)

We can experience overthinking as:

  • Not being able to think of anything but the subject/person we are worried about.
  • Interfering with our ability to function.
  • Insomnia.
  • Increased stress levels.
  • Things feeling bleak.
  • Avoiding situations you are worried about.
  • Conversely, if you have a positive bias, getting into situations that are risky or more complicated than you had imagined.
  • Difficulty eating or eating too much in a bid to feel better.
  • A form of self-harm
  • Causing anxiety.

So what’s normal?

We all worry at times. We get nervous about things that matter to us like exams, job interviews, going on stage etc and during these periods we may experience overthinking. Overthinking becomes a problem when it doesn’t end after the specific event is over, when it becomes more generalised and we do it everyday. If overthinking is taking over your life, you should seek help from a qualified professional like a counsellor.

What we can do about overthinking?

So you are tired of overthinking, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, life feeling overwhelming and that you can’t seem to get out of your own head. So what do you do?

Especially when talking to others about their overthinking and worry, I find that most people use short to medium-term solutions, tips and tricks they have picked up to help in the moment. These include:

  • Distractions like: talking to someone, listening to music, listening to podcasts, and watching TV.
  • Mindful approaches like: grounding, breathing techniques, and fingertip touching.
  • Facing the problem: checking the facts, testing your assumptions, and talking it through with someone.
  • Getting support: help from family or friends when you are going through an tough time that needs extra support like exams, stage fright, PIP appeals.

Whilst all of these approaches can help you to feel better, people will repeat them over and over again because they still overthink.

My treatment plan for clients experiencing overthinking is a two-pronged approach, I will initially use short to medium-term interventions to give clients tools to help in the moment. But I also recommend more.

At the same time I will teach you a longer-term strategy to help you stop overthinking altogether so that eventually you don’t need the tips and tricks anymore.

So what do I recommend for chronic overthinkers?

Firstly we will try out and choose a short-term strategy that works for you, nursery rhymes or other distraction techniques are a favourite of most of the people I work with.

Next we work on the habit of overthinking. Noticing when you overthink allows you to name it, then you can catch yourself doing it and then you can change the habit to something else. One of my clients for instance will catch herself overthinking and acknowledge that she is worried about a particular issue, but the will choose to focus on something else and deal with the problem later. By the time later comes, the problem has often resolved itself.

For some people (especially those where the overthinking is more generalised and doesn’t have a specific cause) learning the first steps in meditation, where you focus on an object, sound, your breath or a sensation, can teach their mind to slow down and stop overthinking.

Learning to relax through Reiki or meditation can help to reset the balance in our bodies. letting go of the tension and stress that overthinking places in our bodies can be really helpful and replaces the the habit of overthinking with one of peace and calm.

Sometimes if your overthinking is part of a larger condition like anxiety, depression, Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotianlly Unstable Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or due to trauma or abuse, counselling can be a way forward. Counselling will provide support in the moment and help you to work through the issues you are facing, to help you find a better tomorrow.

None of these approaches is mutually exclusive, you can mix and match what works for you. My hope in writing this is that, as well as the short-term tips and tricks to beat anxiety and overthinking you see on Facebook and in ads, you will also consider using a long-term strategy alongside it so you find you don’t overthink in the first place.

If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch by clicking the button below.

Three Tips To Cope When Anxiety Strikes

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can range from nervousness to a full blown panic attack. You know you are heading there when you feel:

  • Restless
  • A sense of dread
  • Constantly “on edge”
  • It’s hard to concentrate
  • Irritable

These feelings can stop you from going out, seeing friends or even being able to work. Which can lead to more stress, feelings of guilt and not being good enough (low self-esteem).

You may also experience physical symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • A noticeable strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick
  • Headaches
  • Pins and needles
  • Not being able to sleep well

Some people know what causes their anxiety, it may be a phobia (fear) or a particular situation, for others the feeling comes with no real explanation.

Anxiety Girl Meme
Anxiety Girl Meme

So what can you do?

There are three tips I share with my Clients for when anxiety strikes, and generally one will work better for them than the others. So do try all the techniques and see which works best for YOU.

Technique One – Grounding

In this technique we use a mixture of focus and distraction to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly say out loud:

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

Repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Two – Nursery Rhymes

In this technique we use a mixture of focus, distraction, comfort and controlled breathing to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly sing in your head, or out loud your favourite nursery rhyme.

Singing even in your head will help you control your breathing, the familiarity with your favourite nursery rhyme can bring comfort and a feeling of safety, and remembering the words and tune provides focus and distraction.

Again repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Three – Make Friends With Your Anxiety

In this technique we take a different approach to dealing with anxiety. When anxiety strikes we often instinctively fight it, and it’s a battle we can’t win. The more we fight the anxiety, the worse it gets.

The thing is: Your anxiety wants you to listen, it wants to keep you safe and the more you push it away the harder it tries to make you listen.

Making friends with your anxiety is not about giving in to it. It’s about accepting your anxiety for what it is (a way to keep you safe), and working with it rather than fighting that part of yourself.

So how do you change your relationship with your anxiety? 

When you start to feel anxious or worried talk to your anxiety, reassure it things will be ok, you can say things like:

‘Thank you for letting me know you are worried, but I am only going to do X, it will be fine because…’

‘We went to the supermarket last week and it was fine, I am really looking forward to getting ice cream.’

‘I know you are concerned, but remember how much we love seeing X they are funny and kind.’

This technique can take a little longer to work, as it takes time to change a relationship, it can also be used with one of the other techniques. Once the anxiety calms down a little, begin the self-talk.

Do get in touch if you would like to learn more, ask a question or book a session where I can help personalise the technique to you.

Can’t Sleep?

I came across this article in the Independent: getting less than six hours sleep a night increases risk of early death

And it prompted me to think: What causes a lack of sleep and what can we do about it?

Aside from a ‘whole number of factors such as having small children, having other health issues and environmental factors’ cited in the article by Lisa Artis of the British Sleep Council; many Clients I see state one of the largest causes of lack of sleep is stress.

Whilst stress is aggravated and worsened by lack of sleep, the article fails to mention how worry and stress also raised cortisol levels which can themselves disrupt sleep. Cortisol changes in our blood is an important part of our day/night rhythm as well as our fight or flight response.

It has long been known that ‘depression and other stress-related disorders are also associated with sleep disturbances, elevated cortisol.’ 1 Therefore it would be sensible to think that managing and working with stress and other stress-related disorders to reduce the levels of cortisol in the blood in general will improve your ability to sleep.

So how can this be done?

  • Exercise can burn off adrenaline that is linked to cortisol production making less available for use.
  • Meditation and relaxation can allow us to tell our body’s they are safe and in the present, reducing anxiety, depression and helping us to control the over-thinking that often happens in response to the problems and stress of life.
  • If you have experienced trauma, abuse or have a chronic mental health issue, counselling can help you to find better coping strategies, find a way forward and share your fears and anxieties.
  • Amy Cuddy 2 has shown how changing your body language can help change how you feel and your blood chemistry, lowering cortisol. To find out more check out her TED talk cited below.

All these strategies can help although they can take some time to work, particularly if your experience of stress has been chronic.

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  1. Arborelius L, Owens M, Plotsky P, Nemeroff C. The role of corticotropinreleasing factor in depression and anxiety disorders. J Endocrinol. 1999;160:1-12.
  2. <a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are“>http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

Stress And Its Consequences

I’m currently writing and working on a stress management course. Sounds like some boring HR exercise right!?!

So why? What’s the problem with stress?

A little stress in our lives can be a good thing, motivating us, helping us to reach our goals and encouraging us to get out of bed (especially now the nights are drawing in and bed is oh so cosy!). Stress becomes a bad thing when we feel overwhelmed by the demands that are being placed on us and we don’t feel we have the resources to cope with them.

According to the Health and Safety Executive stress is a leading cause of time off work with the total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2014/15 being 9.9 million. Equating to an average of 23 days lost per employee who experiences stress (1)?

This means stress accounts for 35% of all work related ill-health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.

What we are saying is stress can lead to depression and/or anxiety, particularly if the stress being felt is prolonged, unmanaged and you can’t access support. It can affect your work life and your home life causing symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Being unable to sleep
  • Overthinking
  • Worrying
  • Relationship issues
  • Feeling anxious
  • Digestive troubles

So what, if anything can be done?

The ideal is to reduce or resolve whatever is causing you stress, as well as building up your emotional and mental resilience to stress. With my Clients I use a range of techniques to help them with this including:

  • Developing long-term habits to alleviate stress including how to access support and resources

  • Learning body movements and relaxation, to reduce the impact of stress on the body

  • Using meditation techniques to take control of their thoughts and improve their focus

  • Counselling for long-term issues

If you are stuggling with stress and would like more information please get in touch.

  1. http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm