Things have been hopping around my house this past week with summer break only one week away for my kids and two for me. Luckily, I got to kick off my summer last weekend with a fun trip to New York with one of my best friends. This was a whirlwind trip like I've never taken before and it occurred to me while I was there that I was actually living my life in a way that I had been rehearsing for a long time. I was meeting new people; something that would have made me a nervous wreck in the past. I was doing things outside my comfort zone like making decisions for groups of people, and I let anxious thoughts about what could happen float through. I showed my brain what was up!
I was surfing the whirlpool like a boss.
Of course, this was not always the case.
There was a time in my life when whirlwinds and whirlpools weren't so enjoyable. Back in the day when my anxiety was at it's worst, I thought I was the only person in the world who constantly felt sucked under by negative and scary thoughts. And worse, I believed most of the thoughts so my body went into overdrive sending me all the miserable anxiety symptoms that swirled around, creating more thoughts, more feelings, and so on.
Do you know the feeling?
The more people I talk with who are living in this thought cyclone, the more "normal" I realize I was and the more I'm driven to understand and help them get to the place I am now.
If this is you, keep reading! I know this is a HEAVY feeling and it might feel impossible to get out of but YOU CAN BREAK THIS CYCLE!
Let's get started.
When I'm working with clients or hanging out in groups helping people who are struggling with anxiety I'm often asked, "How can I stop this?" And the truth is, you don't have to.
If you're not familiar with anxiety, the overthinking and negative thoughts can become obsessive and feel uncontrollable, not to mention terrifying and exhausting. They keep you awake at night and on high alert all day. They cause you to hyper focus, but on the other hand, have no focus for what requires your attention. Truly, they can be the hardest part of anxiety for many people, myself included. What's more, the more you try to stop the thought, the more attention you're giving it.
Here are a few ways you can stop overthinking.
1. Pay attention to what your brain is doing. When you notice your thoughts wandering over to "the dark side," recognize them as only thoughts and not truths. The key is to recognize this loud, scary thought as ONLY a thought and move on without overthinking why you've thought it, what it means, and how to make it go away. Simply choose to shift your thoughts.
What do you want to think instead?
Question the truth of your thoughts, even when your body might have already been given a kick of adrenaline.
Are you worrying about something you can't control; tell yourself out loud that it is out of your hands. (Repeat this until you believe it!)
2. Notice when you are stuck in your head. Overthinking can become a bad habit that leads you to increased physical anxiety symptoms. Here's why. If your brain buys into a junk thought, it will still react as though you are in real danger and fill you with adrenaline and cortisol. This can cause rapid heart rate, shaking, tunnel vision, weakness in your limbs, shortness of breath, brain fog, etc... which will lead you to more thinking, then more symptoms, and on... and on... and on... Now your body is involved and the cycle begins until you learn to step in. Remember, this can be any thought that your brain perceives as a threat and it certainly doesn't have to be true. In fact, 99% of the time it's just some random imaginative garbage we have created.
Shift your focus to the present moment using a grounding technique such as 5-5-7 breathing or using your 5 senses to notice things you can see, smell, hear, touch, or smell.
Get back to doing what you were doing before you noticed the thought.
3. Schedule time to "worry". Giving yourself a few minutes of time to reflect on what you're worrying about each day allows you time to deal with scary or negative thoughts without allowing them to take up your entire day. Gently remind yourself when those thoughts come back into mind that you have worry-time later. Again refocus on what you were doing before the thought grabbed your attention.
4. Journal the story you're telling yourself. If I've said it once, I've said it 10,000 times, there is something magical and powerful about journaling. You don't have to know what to write, you don't have to edit, or to proofread. In fact, I've found it's better when I have no idea what I'm writing until I finish and go back to read what I wrote. Incredible things have spilled out of this brain when I mindlessly journal in a mad writing tangent. Doodling and colored pens are boneses!
5. Come up with at least 2 positives or truths for every negative or scary thought.
If you're freaking out over scary health symptoms (my specialty), give yourself two reasons why you're healthy and overthinking.
If you're swirling around a past mistake, remind yourself it's in the past and find something you learned from the experience.
If you're rehearsing a social situation, tell yourself about the times you have successfully navigated other social situations in the past and/or come up with what you want to happen.
This rule goes double for every critical thing you say about yourself! 4 compliments for every mean thing you say about yourself! YOU ARE FREAKING AMAZING! OWN IT!
My friend, you have the power to choose your thoughts and you do not have to, nor should you, believe everything that pops into your head. You brain processes over 60,000 thoughts a day and you choose to let the vast majority go. Question why you are getting stuck on that one negative and pesky thought and put it out with the rest of the brain trash. And yes, this can take practice and patience! It is simple but that doesn't mean it's easy.
I CAN HELP YOU!
If it feels difficult, schedule a Free Consultation and let's figure out together why that negative though is being such a sticking point for you. We'll dive deep into what is keeping you stuck, what you truly want, and come up with at least one way you can get started making incredible but manageable changes in your life right away.
I hope you'll remember how powerful you are and how changing your thoughts to focus on what you want instead of what you fear can completely flip your life around in the best ways. As always, I'm right here to help you get to where you want to go and to answer your questions.