Podcast episode 6 How to disrupt the overthinking cycle
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m a writer and teacher specialising in overthinking and overworrying. Here I share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Welcome to episode 6 and in today’s episode we’re looking at what it feels like to get stuck in your head, going over and over worries, and what to do about breaking that cycle so you can feel less stressed out and soothe your strung-out nerves.
So, if you’re an overthinker you’ll know what it’s like to keep replaying the same thoughts over and over without getting anywhere. It could be a conversation you’ve had, something that happened, the way someone looked at you, what you meant to say or do but didn’t. Or it could be imagining all the possible ways something in the future could play out, what could happen to the people you love, how you imagine a conversation going, wondering what if this happened or that. This is rumination.
And all the time these thoughts are spinning around your brain at a hundred miles an hour you’re not really here. You’re lost in your head ruminating and what if-ing and worrying and overthinking. On the outside you might look like you’re in the room, listening, smiling, nodding your head, but on the inside you’re in a whirlwind of thoughts whizzing around you.
It’s exhausting. And stressful. And it can feel really hard to break free of this overthinking vortex. To someone who hasn’t experienced it this probably sounds rather counterproductive and you’d be better off just not doing it. Ah, if only it was that simple for us overthinkers. We love the idea of simply switching off our brains when our thoughts get stuck on repeat but in reality it really isn’t that straight forward.
If you ask you not to think of a mouse wearing boxing gloves all you can think of is a mouse wearing boxing gloves. And the same goes for any thought, tell yourself to stop thinking about something in particular and it fills your mind.
It can feel like we have no control over our minds, that overthinking is what we do, it’s how we made and we just have to put up with it. Except we don’t.
We have a say in what we give our attention to. Our brains work fast and we can find ourselves caught in a thought tornado but, here’s the but, once we become aware of our spiralling thoughts we can do something about it. Because we’ve created a little bit of space between us and our thoughts – we recognise them rather than being consumed by them.
And this is the point where we can take action.
Instead of trying to block out worries or specific thoughts, we’re going to redirect our attention. It’s like moving the light beam from a torch from one place to another. We’re not denying the thoughts, we’re not pretending they don’t exist or trying to squash them, we’re simply moving our attention away from them to somewhere else.
And we do this by practising mindfulness.
I’m going to give you one technique that you can practice any time you find yourself getting stuck in overthinking and feeling your stress levels rise. You can do it anywhere, any time, no-one else need know you’re doing it and it’s easy to remember. It doesn’t matter what your thoughts are about, this technique works because you’re not engaging in the thoughts or challenging them, you’re moving your attention away from them so that they lose their power over you.
Okay, so, here’s what you do.
First of all drag your attention out of you head and direct it towards your feet Feel the pressure of your feet on the ground. Is your weight evenly spread over both feet or are you leaning on one more than the other. Concentrate on your left foot. Where can you feel your weight, on the heel, the toes? How does it feel? Is your foot warm, cold, comfortable, achey? Are you wearing socks, is your foot squashed into a shoe? Do the same with the right foot. You don’t need to judge your feet or try to change anything about them. All you’re doing is noticing your feet, one at a time, giving your attention to them rather than to your worries.
There’s a good chance that your mind will keep pulling back to the thoughts you were having and that’s totally understandable. You’re used to living in your head and overthinking is the norm, you’ve built up a strong muscle keeping your attention there so it’s going to take effort and practice to shift your attention out of head and into your body and what’s real rather than imagined.
Every time you notice you’re back in your thoughts, you acknowledge it and then redirect your focus to your feet. However many times your mind wanders off just notice it and bring it back to your body. Don’t get cross with yourself, you’re not doing anything wrong, this is all part of the process. In time and with practice you’ll find your attention stays where you want it to for longer. So please, be gentle with yourself.
Okay, the next step is to move your attention from your feet to what you can hear around you. It could be people talking, the rain hitting the window, tree branches rustling in the wind, the sound of street traffic, stairs creaking, or some music playing. Whatever sounds you can hear, single out each one. It doesn’t matter who’s making the sound, you don’t need to imagine what could be going on to make the noise, you’re simply observing what you can hear, that’s all. If you’re in a quiet space and there’s not much to hear, notice if your clothes make a sound as you naturally breathe. Or if you can hear your breath entering and leaving your nose or mouth.
And again, when your mind drifts off to your thoughts, as it will, simply notice and bring your attention back to what you can hear.
Now you’re going to move your focus again, this time to another sense. You’re going to pay attention to what you can see around you. It helps to name what you can see out loud or silently to yourself – for example a green door, a cracked paving stone, a bare tree, yellow flowers, a grey sofa, a pair of slippers, – one by one. You’re not forming an opinion of what you can see, you’re just stating what it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re indoors or outside, if you’re sitting, standing or walking, alone or surrounded by people, just observe and name what you can see around you.
This is the simple technique – moving your attention through these three senses, taking them each in turn, as many times as you like. You give your attention to something you can feel, then a sound you can hear, then an item you can see, then back to what you can feel again. Your mind will keep diving off to your thoughts, wanting to do what it’s used to and getting embroiled in overthinking. And that’s fine, that’s normal. When you notice your thoughts have moved away from your senses simply bring your mind back to what you can see, hear or feel and carry on with the exercise.
Run through this mindfulness exercise as many times as you need to to soothe yourself and calm your mind. You can practise this anywhere and any time it’s helpful, whether you’re sitting alone at home, standing on a crowded bus, in the middle of a busy office or walking along the street. You have this technique now and you can use it any time you feel yourself getting sucked into the overthinking vortex and you want to feel calmer and more in control.
It’s not a quick fix, you already know there isn’t a magic formula that instantly banishes worries and rumination, however much we wish there was! But, this exercise does work. It will calm your mind, you’ll feel your stress ease, your shoulders relax, your heartbeat slow down. I know it because I do it and I know that the more you practice the easier it gets. Practising mindfulness makes you stronger, more resilient and better able to deal with spiralling thoughts.
And by spending less time lost in your head overthinking, you spend more time in the real world, in the here and now. You can pay better attention to what’s going on around you because it isn’t just your body that’s in the room, your mind is too. And that opens up the opportunities for you to really connect with your family and friends and work colleagues, to feel a part of what’s going on rather than being a bystander, and to experience moments of joy that would pass you by if you were lost in thought.
Give this exercise a go and let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear about it.
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast along with information on how to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. If you enjoyed Pressing Pause it would mean a huge amount to me if you could leave a review on iTunes because it helps other people find the podcast too.
You can also find lots more to empower you to overthink and worry less and enjoy your life more, including the Nook of Inspiration free resource library and the range of online courses, at gabrielletreanor.com.
And if you’re on Instagram come say hi to me, I’m @gabrielletreanor.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.