I believe that overthinking and negativity are like a bad hand of aces and eights.
Overthinking has been an Achilles heel for me many times in the past. Maybe it’s a girl thing or maybe it was just my thing…Nah way too many people engage in overthinking for it to be just me 🙂
People like to be in control and most of life cannot be controlled. Trust me, if I could choose the weather I wouldn’t have spent half this softball season bundled up next to my gal pals in blankets and hoodies absolutely freezing! Gotta love sports up North. P.S. My daughter’s team won divisionals this weekend and we are off to the state tourney!
In an effort to control things, many people start to overthink and play all the possible scenarios out in their heads. It rarely works. Usually, 9 out of 10 things don’t go nearly as bad as we had anticipated and the other 1, well chalk it up to a learning experience!
Ever notice that the outcome is usually not one of the scenarios or conversations you’d played a dozen times over in your head?
And what’s the result from all this overthinking? Stress of things that may not even happen. Will I embarrass myself, what if no one shows up, what if he doesn’t like my sense of humor? Refer to my article of the What If’s and Why Nots. Those What If’s can drive ya crazy!
Or the stress of things that are likely to happen but you drag them out by living it up inside your head for weeks or months before you even have to endure it. (exp. the stress of moving or divorce) Then maybe you replay the awfulness over and over. Repeating what you went through, what you could have done differently and run it by every listening ear.
There are of course much smaller examples of overthinking that can really add up. These little things below can pile on the stress.
- Stressing about every wardrobe decision.
- Needing your hair and makeup perfect before leaving the house.
- Helping your child get top notch grades on every assignment and project. (This is not helpful to them in the long-run.)
- Planning the perfect party, decor, snacks, invites, etc.
- Preparing for a speech or interview.
- Trying to read your partner’s/friend’s mind in an argument or disagreement.
Overthinking happens once in a while. But what happens when the need to control and overanalyze grips on tight and enters your daily life. Well, negativity moves in. The stress and constant battle that occurs inside your own head when you are overthinking will not allow positivity to reside.
When we start to play out all of the different scenarios and options, very few of them are the happy kind. Being negative is easy. Being positive requires effort. So naturally, our minds will stray much farther from the desired outcome, the longer we replay and overthink the same situation.
I like to think about and sometimes hover in the past. The past is done and over with. I already know what happened. I can replay the amazing moments and memories and smile. On the icky side, living in the past does not serve us well unless it is a short visit to learn from a mistake or smile at a memory. Reliving the past will also replay regret, sadness, and missed opportunities. So while we hover in the past, the opportunities in the present might not even make our radar.
Some people like to focus so much on the future, they too miss what is going on right in front of their faces. These people can overthink every decision and only care about how their actions will play into their futures. They don’t always relate to how the decision will play out in the present and this mentality often results in missing time with friends and family in the now.
The result is the endless, “chasing dreams but never actually catching them”. Because even when they have hit the next step in their plans, something is still missing.
Always waiting for the next big thing, the people who live focused on the future are even more lost than those stuck in the past. They say, “When I just get this done. When this falls into place, when I have this paid for, when I get that…etc.” We aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow and those overly focused on the future leave a big hole for what I refer to as “lost memories”.
An All In- Bet
An old friend of mine was a future overthinker. She had moved away from home right after high school and started her huge ten-year plan. Her daddy helped her pack her bags into the back of her car and kissed her on the forehead wishing her the best of luck. He told her he loved her and would see her at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
A year later, her parents invited her home for her little sister’s graduation but she couldn’t make it because of her first year’s final exams. Same sister’s wedding two years later, nope she had an interview with a new firm. Brother’s baby being born, uh not happening, she was transferring to a new branch. When her fiance asked her to get married? Postponed while she obtained her Master’s degree.
Eight years had gone by since she had left home. She also missed her sister’s first and second children being born and her brother’s wedding. Year nine her Mother calls and pleads with her to come home for her and her father’s 40th wedding anniversary. “Sorry mom I have to go to this dinner with my fiance because we could meet some real players in the industry and this could be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. If everything goes well I’ll be home for Christmas.”
The 40th wedding anniversary went on without her, as did every other event she had missed. Three weeks later her father died of a heart attack. She had not seen him in almost ten years. A week later she met her nieces, nephews, and sister-in-law for the first time at her father’s funeral. In her grief, she felt like a stranger to her own family. She missed out on so many of the “now” moments that bring happiness to so many of our lives because every decision she made was about securing a perfect future instead of living a happy/messy/maybe unperfect now.
My old friend slumped into a negativity that was ugly. She suddenly hated every decision she had ever made and all the ones she didn’t make even more. She folded all her cards. Her engagement ended, as did her career in finance. Mid-life crisis would be putting her next three years mildly. Then came the regret and the guilt and the depression. She slowly recovered over the following four years. It was rough and a lesson that left some lasting scars on her heart.
So what are some steps that one can use to avoid overthinking? To stop the negativity before it creeps in and takes over. Check out some of the hints below. Not all methods work for everyone so if one isn’t working for you try another.
- Manage what goes in. Media and Social influence are big ones here. Don’t surround yourself with negative, over-critical people. Read positive books and listen to uplifting music. Toss the soap operas and skip the news for a long while. Unfriend the dramatic on Facebook. Find ways to spend more time with those who uplift and encourage you. No excuses.
- Exercise. The natural dump of endorphins in the body post workout is a real stress buster. This is my personal favorite way to avoid overthinking. I will put on my headphones and walk, jog, lift, or cycle until I am lost in the moment or too tired to overthink anything except how soon my head will hit my pillow.
- If you are one who struggles with overthinking at bedtime and having racing thoughts, I strongly recommend affirmations. Put in the headphones and let the distraction of the voice and music keep your mind from other things. Jason Stephenson is one of my favorites because his voice doesn’t annoy and the music is okay.
- Don’t procrastinate. The longer you take to make a decision, the more time you have to freak yourself out or play out all the false scenarios in your head. Quickly say, what is the worst that could happen and what is the best that can happen. Accept that you are not a mind reader and that your outcome will likely be somewhere in the middle, usually closer to good than bad.
- Keep your own secrets. What do I mean by this? The more people who know about a major life decision or goal you have, the more people who want to give their opinion or weigh in on your circumstances. You feel more pressure from all angles and others will have you second-guessing yourself. Keep your goals quiet until you are really close to meeting them. Don’t share a major life decision with others until you are comfortable with the decision you have come to on your own or with the one or two other trusted individuals involved.
- Spend some time in nature. Being outdoors has a way of changing perspective. This is ten fold if you can really get off the beaten path. If you can only manage a walk in the local park, by all means go. But if you can take a weekend getaway to go rafting, hiking, camping or anything that separates you from a cell tower and all the people you normally associate with, GO! The change of pace allows us to breathe and slow down long enough to arrange our thoughts or better yet, forget about them for a few. I always feel a renewed sense of vitality when I return from the woods. If this isn’t an option for you try a staycation with zero technology. No phone, television, etc. Most people fail at this and cheat which is why nature really is your best bet!
- Give or Volunteer. Donate all the things you no longer use. And extra credit if you can personally find someone who needs the stuff but if not, drop it at a well-run shelter. Volunteer somewhere. How you treat others has a huge impact on your own self-esteem and goodness, big and small tends to be returned even greater. Not always in the very moment but eventually. When was the last time you got upset with yourself for being nice to someone? Never I hope. Doing good deeds doesn’t require a lot of overthinking. Smile at someone, listen to someone, help someone, feed someone, just put yourself in a position to help anyone.
A small note on Giving
Volunteering or giving should feel good and cheery. If your volunteering at a church, school, board, or anything else has become an obligation that is expected of you, it loses its value. Suddenly it’s another chore instead of a cheerful outlet. If you or someone you know is a chronic overthinker, try some of the tips above and share with a friend. Hope you all have an amazing week! Thanks for stopping in.
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