How Mindfulness Can Be a Super Power When Tackling Overthinking
17th Mar 21
Do you sometimes find it hard to stop going over and over things in your mind? Worrying about what might have happened or will happen? Falling into the same patterns of thinking and obsessing over past mistakes or wrong doings even though you know it’s no good for you?
You’re not on your own; overthinking is pretty common and one that can see you experiencing lack of sleep and tiredness as a consequence. However, it’s a relatively manageable habit if experienced every so often. However, if overthinking is something of a regular occurrence it can take its toll on you leading to fatigue, poor productivity, mental health and relationship breakdown to list but a few.
Don’t despair though, the toxic habit of overthinking can be overcome and there are lots of different strategies to help you achieve this. One but strategy is to equip yourself with the practice of mindfulness. Once you’ve grasped it, it can feel like you’ve taken on a superpower – especially when tackling overthinking!
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and is basically the ability to focus your chosen attention upon the present moment and not be distracted by your thoughts, but instead merely acknowledge and accept them. In a nutshell, you become an observer of what goes on within you and what goes on outside of you.
You are not your overthinking thoughts!
With all the overthinking that occurs within our head and the impact it has on your body, it is easy to think that you are your thoughts, but you’re not. All that is happening at such times is that you have become attached to the thoughts and ideas generated by the thinking part of your brain that it has caused you to believe so. The fact that you notice conversation and chat within your head, whether pleasurable or painful, demonstrates that you’re separate from your thoughts, or you wouldn’t have noticed it in the first place! The problem is that when we experience overthinking we tend to get lost in our thoughts; thoughts that aren’t in ‘real time’.
What I mean by this is that the thoughts you’re having are not in context with what is happening in the current moment. Such as when a friend is talking to you, and your mind drifts off to thoughts of what happened at work that day. At the very point your mind drifts off to thoughts of what happened at work, you have got lost in thoughts that aren’t in ‘real time’! Your thoughts and observations if you were in ‘real time’ would have been on what your friend was talking to you about.
When our attention is on worrisome thoughts of the future, or like in the example above, of the past, we forgo the experience that is occurring in the present moment! Have you ever driven a car and then wondered how you got yourself to your destination? Another good example of not living in the present moment!
Why do we pay so much attention to our overthinking?
Basically it’s because of the way our brains are designed. In a nutshell, our brains were built for survival not to make us happy. So, as a consequence our brains work on a negative bias and are always on the lookout for anything that threatens our survival.
This seems a great function to have, but the major flaw in the brains design for us mere mortals, is that our brains can’t tell the difference between what a real / current threat is, and what is not. Simply put, whether something happens to us, or whether we think something will happen to us, our bodies react the same. Here’s an example;
You’re sat comfortably in the front room having a cuppa, when thoughts come in about a pressing deadline that you are currently behind on. Your body begins to react to the thoughts of ‘what might happen’ if you don’t meet this deadline.
As a consequence of these thoughts your heart rate begins to increase, you begin to start feeling anxious, sweaty and irritable. Even though, the fear of what might happen is only in your head, it isn’t happening in that moment, and may not actually even happen at all!
The problem for us over thinkers is that the strong survival instinct within our brain (limbic system) is always at play, driving us to identify with our thoughts and believe them. It’s just your brain’s best way of keeping your safe from what it ‘thinks’ might harm or upset you. I repeat, what it ‘thinks’ might harm or upset you! The only thing is, the survival part of your brain has a poor take on reality, so it needs you to pay more attention to what a ‘real threat’ is and what a ‘perceived threat’ is! And this is where mindfulness comes in!
How mindfulness can help with overthinking?
Overthinking occurs when you’ve allowed your mind to go over, and over things that happened in the past, or scare you with thoughts of what might happen in the future. The aim of mindfulness is to always live within the present moment, and not allow your ‘mind’ to get lost in thoughts (judgements) that cause you upset or distress.
Through practicing the act of mindfulness you are able to develop three important areas to help you tackle overthinking; that is the area of;
- ‘Observation’ – the ability to observe your thoughts and not react towards them
- ‘Concentration’ – the mental discipline to place and keep your attention where you choose, rather than your mind dictate!
- ‘Mindfulness’ – the ability to purposefully become aware of what is happening within and outside of you, without distraction.
Your aim while practicing mindfulness is to tackle overthinking is to become an observer of your thoughts, rather than a ‘believer’ and ‘participant’ of them. This naturally leads to less overthinking, less stress and a much calmer and content YOU.
Have you ever tried mindfulness?