Do you get stuck up in your head and have a hard time talking yourself out of a negative place? This used to happen to me A LOT. Ruminating on past mistakes: stupid things I said or did, kicking myself for things I didn’t say but should have, and worrying about how my inadequacies made someone else feel. I had a hard time making decisions, or even knowing what I wanted, because I was so consumed with how my decisions might affect other people. This is an exhausting way to live, even though it feels normal to those of us who live it. In fact, most over-thinkers LIKE this quality in themselves. We appreciate our conscientiousness and admire that we always strive to do our best in the world. We like to analyze issues from all angles, even though it takes a huge toll on our sense of peace, calm and well-being. Left unchecked, this tendency towards rumination will cause anxiety, depression, insomnia, or stress-related illness. Until then, we feel like thoughtful, caring people who alleviate suffering in others by carrying it around by ourselves.
Here’s what you need to know about over-thinking, ruminating, and over-analyzing. It’s a decoy. It’s a distraction. It’s a relief the same way over-drinking, over-eating, and over-exercising and over-facebooking are a temporary distraction from feeling our feelings. Here’s how it happens:
We have a feeling we don’t like: embarrassment, inadequate, shame, fear, guilt, disappointment, etc.
We don’t like the way this feels. Emotion is a physical sensation in our body. It feels like tension, heaviness, darkness, emptiness, etc.
Instead of allowing ourselves to feel this yucky feeling, we move up into our heads and we stay there where it’s safe. In order to keep our attention away from our body, we have to create compelling, emotional stories and scenes. Notice that we don’t ruminate over the colors in the sunset or the soft feel of puppy dog ears. We ruminate on horrible, shameful things, rejections, and wrong-doings that grab our full attention.
Unlearning this pattern of behavior takes some practice but it isn’t as complicated as you might think. If you are ready to learn another way of being that feels more relaxing, try this the next time you find yourself stuck on the overthinking brain train.
1 – STOP! – As soon as you catch yourself in this negative thinking pattern, flick your fingers, snap a rubber band on your wrist, thump your chest, write it on paper and tear it up, do some kind of action to indicate your intention is to stop this line of thinking.
2 – BREATHE – I know you want to skip this step but it is the one part of the fight or flight response we have control over. If you want to switch into a different part of your brain, breathing slowly and with your full attention is key. Put your hand on your stomach and see if it moves while you breathe. Notice which lung fills up more, or if the air passing through your nostrils is warm or cold. Engage your attention on your breath and come into the present moment.
3 – Ask yourself, “Am I in any immediate danger?” Look around you, are you about to be attacked? Are you about to die of exposure? If not, tell yourself that you are safe and it’s okay to breathe.
Ask yourself, “What is the feeling I’m trying not to feel?” Find it in your body and describe it. Is it solid, liquid or gas? Where in your body do you feel it the most? What color is it? Does it make a sound? In order to process this emotion, you need to keep your full attention on it for 90 seconds.
4 – Think about what you were ruminating on and ask yourself, “What action step can I take right now to make this situation better?” Appropriate actions might be to write a letter of apology, address a conflict in a mature manner, update your calendar system so you don’t forget another appointment, etc.
5 – After you have taken appropriate action, ask yourself, “Why do I want to feel guilty?” (or whatever feeling you had bubble up?) Is there any pay off I get from it? Could I learn to be kind to others without feeling guilty? Does this feeling remind me of being somewhere else? (with my Dad, Catholic school, when I was a little kid). Why would I continually want to feel like I’m not good enough? If you can’t find any good reason to continue to keep yourself down, commit to something you value.
6 – Ask yourself, “How would I like to feel?” “What accomplishments would I like to achieve?” “What example would you like to set for your children?” “What would make me proud of myself?”
Think thoughts that make you feel the way you want to feel. Act the way you want to act. Know that the ruminating thoughts will come back, just repeat and recommit to your values.
The solution to getting stuck in your head, is to drop into the body. You won’t believe how relaxing life can be. If you want help with undoing the over-thinking habit, schedule a coaching session today.