Pressing Pause Podcast episode 31 The questions to ask yourself when you’re overthinking, part 2
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to 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 31, this is the second of two episodes focused on the questions you can ask yourself when you’re caught up in an overthinking whirlwind. They’re powerful questions that give you the opportunity to get curious about your overthinking, to challenge it, to take care of yourself while you’re in this thought spiral and to move out of it. In episode 30 we looked at the questions ‘What story am I telling myself?’ and ‘If my best friend was going through this, what would I say to her?’.
So, the next question I’m going to suggest to you is a step on from the last question. It’s about taking action right there in that moment and it’s ‘What would help me the most right now?’ This question is designed to get you out of your head where you’re sitting and spinning in your thoughts, and to do something to help yourself. The answer could be anything depending on how you’re feeling, where you are, what your current circumstances will allow and what occurs to you. So it could be that what would help you most right now is to park your worries for the time being and allocate yourself 15 minutes of worry time at a specific time later today. Or perhaps it’s to go for a walk, or have a glass of water, or take five slow, deep breaths in and out, or phone a friend, or have a cry, or punch a pillow, or cuddle your dog, or give yourself a hug, or something else that is the support you need in that moment.
This is where having a mental health first aid kit really comes in handy. I talk about what this is and how you can put together your own kit in episode 22. It’s the third most downloaded episode in this podcast so I’m guessing that means having a mental health first aid kit to hand is helpful! In that episode I suggest that you write a list of soul soothers to keep in your kit. This is a list of all the actions that you can take when you’re feeling stressed or upset or worried, actions that you know will help you. So what’s on your list could be completely different to what’s on mine because it’s personal to the individual. And the actions you list vary so there’s something that will be doable whatever situation you’re in or however much time you have. The point of the list is that when you’re struggling you can pull out the list and pick something off it to take action with right away. If you haven’t already, listen to episode 22 to find out how you can make your own soul soothers list and mental health first aid kit.
Okay, another question that can be useful to ask yourself when your mind is spiralling is ‘Will this matter to me in a year’s time?’. I know, you’ve heard it before and you might be thinking, yeah, yeah, I know it won’t, whatever, that doesn’t help me now.
I ask you to give it just a little more thought before you dismiss it. When something goes wrong, when we feel like we’ve failed or missed out, it can be hard to find perspective or to see the bigger picture. We’re in the thick of the difficulty, the pain or the upset and it’s hard to imagine life outside of it. But there have been disappointments in the past, life has taken wrong turns, you’ve messed up, you’re been let down and you’re still here, you got through it. Think back to some of those moments when, at the time, it felt like whatever was going on meant everything to you. How do you feel about it now, a year or several years later? Is the pain, embarrassment or disappointment just as raw as it was then? Or can you look back and see what you learned from that time, perhaps life did you a favour with that curveball it hurled at you?
Sometimes the answer to the question ‘Will this matter to me in a year’s time?’ is a resounding yes. There are some things in life that leave a lasting impression, that change us and yes, it will still matter in a year’s time. And there are also other things that won’t. With time and perspective, actually you can imagine that this won’t be that big a deal, that it won’t matter in a year’s time. It feels pretty rotten right now, this is not about dismissing your feelings or pretending whatever you’re dealing with isn’t as difficult as it is, but this question gives you the chink of light you need to believe and to hope that this isn’t going to be forever all-consuming. And by allowing in that little chink of light you’re loosening the power your thoughts about your experience have over you.
And so we come to our fifth and final question. As I said in episode 30, they’re not in any particular order, they won’t all be relevant all of the time, and you don’t have to ask yourself all the questions, just whichever one that feels most useful in that moment.
This question is most impactful when you’re in the spiral, to bring you out of your whirring, overthinking brain that is running at a million miles an hour and makes you feel like you’re out of control. So ask yourself this: ‘What is real and true in the world around me right now?’. By posing this question you are refocusing your attention away from your thoughts and onto what is actually happening in this present moment. This isn’t about denying your feelings or pretending everything’s fine. It’s about helping yourself to move forward when you’re going over and over the same thoughts without getting to any solution or conclusion and all you’re doing is getting more and more stressed out. Whatever it is that’s on your mind may need addressing but when you’re in an anxious, overthinking, overwrought state of mind you aren’t able to think clearly. What you need is to come back to reality, to bring down your heart rate and your blood pressure and soothe your strung-out nerves.
So, ask yourself ‘What is real and true in the world around me right now?’. Look around you, what can you see? Name it, out loud or silently, whatever works for you. But name it – post box, a Labrador, a pizza restaurant, a couple holding hands, a child splashing in a puddle, leaves blowing across the road, a black car, traffic lights. Perhaps you’re indoors so say what you can see from where you are – grey blinds, circles on the rug, a TV, a pile of magazines. You get the idea, wherever you are, whether you’re at home, in a doctor’s waiting room, in a park, on a bus, or walking along a street, you can look for what is real and true in the world around you. You’re not judging, you’re not forming an opinion, you’re not making up a story about who or what you see. You’re simply stating the facts, what you can see and perhaps hear.
This question is one that I have used for years and I still do when I can feel the fluttering in my stomach start or my breathing quicken as my brain cranks up into overdrive. It can feel quite difficult when your mind wants to keep going back to your worries but it’s absolutely worth sticking with it. Because while your attention is fully focused on what is real and true in the world around you right now it cannot be lost in thoughts going over the past or what if-ing the future.
So, to recap, these are five powerful questions you can ask yourself when your brain is spiralling off into overthinking and you want to calm the thought whirlwind:
What story am I telling myself?
If my best friend was going through this, what would I say to her?
What would help me the most right now?
Will this matter to me in a year’s time?
And What is real and true in the world around me right now?
These questions are quite broad so they can be applied to all kinds of overthinking issues and I’ve found and continue to find them helpful when my mind starts to go into overdrive. I use some of them, or more specific variations of them, with my clients in our coaching sessions too.
So, try them out for yourself and let me know how you get on. As always you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts on this or any episode of the podcast, and if you have any ideas on what you’d like me to talk about here I’d love to hear that too.
If you’re interested in working one-to-one with me on your specific overthinking challenges and you’re ready to take action to move towards living the life you want, go to theoverthinkerscoach.com for where you’ll find all the info on my coaching services and my special introductory offer.
And you can find the show notes for this and all the episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.