This article is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few different angles to explain and slow down the overthinking mind. I hope to keep coming back and adding more to this list, as I explore more avenues of self-healing in my own journey back home.
First, let’s talk about the benefit of overthinking.
Say what?! Yup – there’s a good reason, if you look at it from a neurobiology perspective.
So essentially, when your mind goes into the process of thinking (and overthinking), this is a sign that you’re triggered and exiting your window of tolerance. You are beginning to enter a state of flight/fight which involves planning ways to manage the “threat” in your situation.
Now in the jungle, of course, this ability to overthink would be helpful to plan escaping from a tiger. But in today’s reality, we may not have to fight or run away from an actual tiger. It’s more to do with a “perceived threat” and the mind endlessly trying to solve the situation that may not even be happening at all.
For example, you might imagine what could go wrong in a completely hypothetical environment. In the jungle, you would have run away and the energy would have been released. But in this case, because the event hasn’t even happened, the mind isn’t able to let go of that “planning” energy and it turns into overthinking.
So there’s nothing bad about the mind wanting to solve this challenge, but in this scenario, it could mean that you’re feeling wired for HOURS because the energy has nowhere to go. Your body hasn’t received the signal to come back into the window of tolerance and is continuing to fight an invisible battle.
So then what do you do to regulate your wired up system?
First, stop judging yourself for being an over-thinker by understanding that the mind is just doing its best to “save” you. And then, focus on coming back to the present moment and reaffirming yourself that there’s no real danger in this moment. You’re safe now (if you really are). I share a few techniques in the next section about building present moment awareness (and why it’s so difficult sometimes).
And as you begin to feel more safe in the body, you can channel some of that survival energy to create a written list of possibilities to manage the future event. Writing things down helps the energy move through us, versus keeping things stuck in our head.
I love what spiritual teacher Carleen shared in her newsletter about overthinking, when she said, “if you can accept plan “f”, you’ll be happier when plans “a,b or c” work out.”
Use your overthinking to your advantage. But first come back to safety and regulate your nervous system. That’s the biology 101 angle of it, let’s now explore the other tangents.
#1 – If you’re overthinking, your chakras might be out of alignment.
The ancient eastern philosophy of the Chakra System (energy centres of the body), is a great way to understand what happens when energy gets blocked in different parts of our subtle body.
And one way to look at overthinking, is to see it as overusing and obsessively fuelling your third eye, the chakra of imagination and visualization.
So when you’re daydreaming, living in the past/future, or are cooking stories about life, know that your lower chakras are not being fully utilized. And as a consequence of that, you have moved out of the physical plane to living in the mental plane.
To get back to the present moment, we always want to start at the base of our Chakra System, at the root chakra, to ground ourselves. As energy moves up from the base of the spine, gently moving through every energy centre, we show up more fully.
A simple technique I teach in my Chakra System Workshop, is to practice using all five senses to come back to the moment. This helps because our five senses are our first source of interaction with the physical world. Try using the following prompts, and see how it makes you feel:
- Look around you, and identify 3 different things you can see. Note the colour, the shape of each thing, being fully present with what your eyes are experiencing.
- Take a deep breath, and become aware of 3 distinct things you can smell. Maybe it’s your clothes or hair, or the smell of an old book. Ground yourself with your sense of smell.
- Touch 3 different surfaces, being fully present with the feeling of touch. What insights are these surfaces giving to you?
- Close your eyes, and see if you can tune into your sense of hearing to identify 3 different sounds taking place right now. Notice how your mind had beautifully blocked these sounds out previously, but how your nervous system was still being affected by them.
- And lastly, take a moment to feel the taste of your mouth. If you want to, you can self-hypnotize yourself to imagine that you’re eating something sour, like Serena had us do in her really cool hypnotherapy workshop.
Once you’ve tried this out, see how you feel. Are you more present and aware of what’s happening right now?
Note that being in the present moment can be scary for some people. Here’s an important article where I unpack the real reason why we’re not able to stay present, for those that want to learn more.
Another great technique to self-soothe and bring you back to the moment is to lie down on the ground and take a few deep breaths in. It works wonders for many people, give it a try!
#2 – Your overthinking can tie into your ‘gunas‘.
Let’s pull out some more wisdom from the eastern world. In Vedanta, an ancient Indian school of thought, there’s often talk about a person’s gunas (Sanskrit for qualities).
In Vedanta, they say that each person is a mix of three qualities –
- Sattva, the quality of balance, stillness, selflessness, positivity, etc;
- Rajas, the quality of passion, individualism, movement, etc;
- Tamas, the quality of lethargy, delusion, dullness, etc.
When we are overthinking, we typically become very stagnant and frozen in thought. As we spiral down in endless thinking, our tamas quality reveals itself. It’s as if a person’s energy shrivels like a prune! They may lose all desire to pursue the situation because they’ve drained themselves of the sattva and rajas.
If you find yourself immobile and losing all inspiration, as a starting point, it’s good to remember that you still have something inside that is inspired. You do have sattva, and with your willingness, you can call it into action.
This first bit is the awareness stage of your gunas, and how you are not limited to just one way of being.
And from there, a good practice is to look at these downward spiralling thoughts and ask yourself – what kind of thoughts inspire me instead? See if you can move your energy up through choosing different qualities of thoughts.
If you choose thoughts that serve you, you can move into rajas. If you choose thoughts that serve the highest good in the situation, you move into sattva.
This teaching is piggybacking on another idea that the Buddhists share, about the ten worlds within us. The idea even there is that heaven and hell are inside of us. And we can pick the state of mind we want to be in. I’ve made a short video sharing more on this reflection.
So, in essence, we can choose to move out of our overthinking ways, if we are consciously working to change this.
#3 – Cognitive behavioural therapy looks at it this way.
I love when psychologists explain how our mind behaves with analogies. Here is one of my favourites that helped me learn more about overthinking.
Think of your mind, like a car driving on the road. When we get stuck on a thought, it’s like we’re running the car down a steep hill with our foot off the brake. As over-thinkers, we forget that we have the choice to hit these brakes, to come out of thinking.
So if we keep spiralling down in our thoughts, we may find that it becomes very difficult to stop the car. After one point, gravity is working against the car and no amount of breaking will stop the vehicle. So what do you do? You jump out of the car to save your life.
In the same capacity, if you overthink yourself into really detrimental situations, jump out of them. Jump out of your mind, producing a shock-effect. Completely change your track by physically moving away and doing something else. For example:
- Get up and go for a walk to get a change of scenery and new inspired energy;
- Dance and shake off the immobilizing thoughts in your mind;
- Every time you overthink, commit to doing something silly, like going to the mirror and sticking your tongue out at yourself!
The best thing about overthinking is that we may not be able to regain control over our mind, but we can always use the body as a vessel to drive in new energy.
#4 – You might be overthinking the thoughts that aren’t even yours.
Huh? Well, have you ever questioned where thoughts come from?
The truth is, many people don’t realize that thoughts aren’t theirs. We don’t create them, they simply arise and fall. Don’t believe me?
Do a quick check-in with yourself – what was the source of your thought right now? Was it an external stimulus, or did you create the thought yourself? What about that other thought you were indulging in from before? What was the origin there?
As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle also explains, thoughts are like energy bubbles. They are hovering around everyone, and if we pick a thought and latch on to it, we enter into a loop of thinking! It’s interesting if you reflect on this idea. I talk more about it in this article about telepathy.
And many times, our ways of thinking are learned behaviours. We pick up from people around us and we make the innocent mistake of thinking that these ways are ours. If you’re sensitive to people’s thoughts and energy, you might enjoy practicing this free energy releasing tool.
#5 – You might be overthinking the opposite of what you want.
I want to share a personal story at this point. I’ve had this experience while driving, where we cross an intersection and my mind will create an image of another vehicle crashing into mine. This is scary, and definitely wakes me up if I’ve been a bit zoned out.
For a while, I never understood this and wondered if I was going crazy! But it makes sense that our mind creates the opposite of what we want, so that we are fueled to create a reality that does not allow this mind-made image to come true. In this case, my mind tells me to drive carefully, and to not let an accident happen.
This isn’t really effective, because we end up buying into the opposite image. We actually believe it will happen. I know better than that now, but for a good few times, I thought I was having a prophetic moment. I’m glad I didn’t!
And the truth is, the mind is a bit wonky like that. It thinks fear-mongering will prepare us to do better. Can’t blame the mind though, we’ve all been taught to live out of fear, and to only aspire for better because we don’t want the worst to happen to us.
So, what can we do instead? We can retrain the mind to create positive images. Such positive imagery is also called visualization, and what people use to manifest a better reality. I explain more about this in my latest article about overcoming negative thinking.
In every single idea above, the first step is always to have awareness of your overthinking patterns. The more aware you become, the more distance you’ll be able to create between you and your thoughts.
But sometimes, it can be tricky to not identify with our thoughts. We get very consumed in what we’re telling ourselves. You’re not the only one who gets stuck and forgets to off-board their thought-train.
We are all a work in progress. Don’t beat yourself up for it, if you haven’t mastered an old lesson yet. We are all getting there, one step at a time.
Happy healing, dear one!
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Pradeep Bhatter says
Wonderful article Vasu, melding so many perspective. Thanks for sharing.
Sharing this for if you’d wanna watch it 🙂
I’ve realised in my daily life I see people around me spend so much time on thinking about things that are either: not likely to happen (as future keeps changing), projecting their expectations onto others, moving from past/future and going in a loop.
This is considered absolutely normal and people are encouraged to be this way to be the “part of the society”. When someone tries to be in the present moment, they’re looked like a madman as if that person has nothing better to do. A lot of social conditioning but well, atleast the society is moving away from it. 🙂
Being centered is so important during these uncertain times. Glad to read this, reinforces the idea that being in the Now is essential to our growth.
I know what you mean Shivangi! Things are hardly “normal” even though so common. But it’s amazing that we get to switch things around for our future generations. And we shall – one step at a time 🙂