Pressing Pause Podcast episode 53 Is it really possible to stop being an overthinker?
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers, brought to you by The Calm Mind Club where overthinkers can find calm, confidence and community.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I share ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to worry less and enjoy life more.
Hello and welcome to episode 53! Before I get stuck into the listener question I wanted to give you a heads up that I have some exciting news to share at the end of the episode so keep listening for that!
Now, this question comes from Suriya, I really hope I’ve said your name right, and she says, “I’ve been an overthinker for as long as I can remember. I’ve read some self-help books and I’ve joined a couple of groups on Facebook but I’ve never been able to really get a grip on my overactive brain. I hate the thought that I’m always going to worry and overthink stuff, I want things to change but maybe it’s not possible, maybe this is just how I am. It’s not like I’m looking to stop thinking at all, I just want to not overthink so much about everything, is that even possible?”
First of all I want to thank you for your question because you’ve articulated what so many people feel but they don’t necessarily want to say out loud.
So, I could just say yes it’s possible and this would be a really short episode, but that wouldn’t reassure Suriya or anyone else, and there’s a lot more going on here besides.
Let’s take the term ‘overthinker’ which I use a lot to describe myself as a recovering overthinker and the people I work with. I describe this podcast as for overthinkers. It’s a label you can attribute to yourself just as you might use the labels sister, employee, introvert, runner, vegetarian… there are numerous words we can use to describe ourselves. But what’s important to note here is these words describe us, they don’t define us. You may be an introvert but that’s not all you are. You may be a runner but that is not everything there is to know about you. You may be an overthinker but this does not define you. You are a complex, fascinating, flawed, splendid human being who cannot be summed up and defined by one or even a handful of labels.
If the amount you worry is interfering in your life, if you worry so much it stops you from basic functioning in daily life your overthinking may be developing into an anxiety disorder and I would encourage you to seek help from your GP or contact your local branch of Mind. Okay, so that’s if your worry stops you from day to day functioning.
Overthinking as I talk about it here, in relation to my personal experience, the people I work with 1:1, in my courses, and in The Calm Mind Club, is where you’re getting on with daily life, your overthinking isn’t interfering with how you function but it’s taking up a lot of your time, energy and brainspace. It’s getting in the way of you being fully present, focusing on your work, listening to your friends or family, and being able to fully enjoy the good stuff in your life. Thinking deeply is not a bad thing, it’s when you get stuck in your thinking, when it stresses you out that your overthinking becomes unhelpful.
It’s when you send a text message to a friend and she doesn’t reply so you re-read your message to see if she could have misinterpreted it, wonder if you upset her somehow, or if she’s cross with you. You keep replaying a conversation you had at work over and over trying to figure out what your boss really meant by their comment, beating yourself up for what you should have said. You’re watching your child in a show at school but you’re only half paying attention because you’re wondering if you parked in the wrong place and might get a ticket, if the costume you made for him is as good as everyone else’s, if the other parents think you’re a bad mum.
Your mind is always thinking at super speed whether it’s rehashing what’s already happened, what if-ing all the things that you imagine could happen, worrying what other people think of you, wanting everyone to be happy, not wanting to let anyone down, berating yourself for what you did or didn’t say or do, how you look, how you feel, who you are.
All the while, to the outside world you look like you’re totally in control, everything’s fine, but inside your overactive brain makes you feel anything but in control. You feel tired most of the time not just because all the thinking zaps your energy but because of the 3am wake-ups when your brain suddenly sparks into action.
You look around you and everyone else seems to be fine, they’re getting on with things without overthinking it all, they look relaxed, happy, they don’t get phased by anything. And yet you don’t feel like you can even control your own brain.
And when you’ve felt like this for a long time it’s hard to imagine how things could ever be different. Someone asked me recently at what age did my overthinking start and I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t do it. Maybe I inherited a tendency to overworry, maybe it’s something I learned growing up, at any rate I’ve always done it. And I thought I always would.
But here are two interesting things that positive psychology researchers found that challenge the idea of once a worrier, always a worrier. The first thing is that we all have neuroplasticity, this means we have plastic, malleable brains. It used to be thought that the human brain became fixed in adulthood but in actual fact our brains continue changing and developing right the way through our lives. Our neural pathways continue to make new connections which means we can learn, change and adapt all the way through our lives. Which means it will never be too late for any of us to learn or change.
The second thing is that who we are and how we go through life is only due in part to what we inherit from our parents. Researchers think it’s only around 25-35% so while inherited traits play a part they don’t have the starring role in our lives. Factors such as geography, education, occupation, gender and age are thought to account for 10-15% and of course the privilege you were born with and enjoy feeds into this too.
Which means around 50%, depending on which positive psychology researchers you speak to, of how we go through life is based on our own choices. So how we perceive people and life events, and how we respond to them is partly down to genetics and circumstances but we also get a say in it. We are not ruled by what we have inherited, we do also have some power and choice over ourselves and our lives.
So, to go back to Suriya’s original question, what this all means is that while you may have been an overthinker for as long as you can remember it is possible for you to change that. It is possible for you to not feel so stuck in your head thinking about everything and everyone and it is possible for you to calm your overactive mind. Not because there’s a magic trick that you just need the code for, not because I tell you but because you have the ability and the power within you to do so.
If you’ve tried before and you didn’t notice any difference that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it and it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck. This is hard, you have years, decades even, of habitual thinking and it’s not something that you or any overthinker can ‘fix’, and I’m doing air quotes as I say that, in a jiffy. Sadly there is no magic trick that will make overthinking disappear, believe me, I’ve looked and it doesn’t exist.
All this simply means is that you haven’t had the guidance and support that you need yet. Perhaps reading a book on the subject wasn’t enough for you. Maybe joining a Facebook group didn’t give you what you needed. Maybe you need help understanding what’s going on in your brain when you overthink. Perhaps focusing on specific actions and habits would nudge the needle for you. Maybe being part of a likeminded community or working 1:1 with a coach is the support that would be of most benefit to you.
You don’t need to be someone else, there is nothing wrong with the person you are. You don’t need to be fixed or to deny how you feel. You just want to learn how to deal with your overthinking so that it no longer takes up so much of your energy, your time and your brainspace. And you can do this, it is absolutely possible for you. And I say this not just because I had three decades and more of overthinking under my belt before I learned how to cope with it, but also because of the women, and a few men, that I’ve worked with who had spent years worrying and now, finally, feel that they’re no longer a slave to their out of control, super busy, overactive, over imaginative brain.
Becky thought she would always be a worrier and now she feels a lot calmer and happier than she has in a long time. Esme felt overwhelmed by her overthinking but now she feels more confident, in control and she’s having more fun. Laura was exhausted and stressed by her overactive brain and now she feels the battle to stop overthinking is much easier and she’s worrying far less than before.
I’m giving you these examples because these are people just like you and me, who felt just like you do, like the label overthinker is one they would be stuck with forever. But they aren’t, and neither are you.
So, to answer your question, Suriya, and to you listening who are also wondering, yes, it is absolutely possible for you to learn how to overthink less.
Now, I said at the start I have exciting news to share with you and I do! I have challenged myself by making available 30 slots for a 30mins Jumpstart Coaching Call completely for FREE. This means that 30 individuals (that's you!) can get free coaching on one specific challenge for 30 minutes, before the end of September. Although it isn’t 30 any more as the slots are being snapped up but they are still available at the time of posting this episode!
In the space of our free 30 minute call we will focus on whatever challenge you decide you want to focus on.
All you need to do to book your free 30mins Jumpstart Coaching Call with me is to go to gabrielletreanor.com/jumpstart, I’ll put the link in the show notes too, and schedule yourself into my calendar. The spaces are limited so if you’re interested I suggest you book a slot sooner rather than later.
Thank you to Suriya for her question, I hope you and everyone listening has found this episode helpful and if you have a question you’d like me to answer I’d love to hear from you! Email me at email@example.com or message me on Instagram where I’m @gabrielletreanor.
You can find my contact details and the link to book your free 30 minute Jumpstart coaching call in the show notes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.