CW: This article discusses topics of mental health, specifically: anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder, which could be distressing to some readers.
If you're reading this because you can relate to the title... congrats, you're an overthinker!! Congratulations are in order because you would be an incredible caveman, maybe you can thank your distant relatives for that. But in the modern age which is in itself overwhelming, crowded and busy... not so useful.
Let's start with some science... trust me, don't give up here, it's just the basics. You'll find a much more informative and yet conversational explanation in books such as: Untangle Your Anxiety. [Recommended from personal experience!] Every human is hard-wired to think over scenarios, it provides control and solves problems, pretty handy right?! This stress of thinking and solving builds cortisol, a hormone that prepares the body to deal with stress or danger, ultimately, deciding if say, adrenaline, should be released, to for example- run from an attacking lion or how stage fright causes the boost to perform a show.
But, if you're not running from a lion or about to perform in a show, you wouldn't need the extra cortisol to cause adrenaline to release. So, how do we control it? Well, for some people, it does so naturally, it is an innate response and will pass over swiftly. Except, overthinking comes from the primitive emotional part of your brain and when paired with anxiety, it can cause a troubling cycle of rumination.
For those who already experience anxiety, it becomes hard to listen to the intellectual brain that tells us there's no way we will lose our job because we called our boss by the wrong name. However, people prone to rumination are responding in that primitive fight-or-flight mode, where focusing on worst-case scenarios is supposedly more likely to keep us alive. Hence, helpful for our caveman ancestors! Overthinking and anxiety work together, exacerbating the feelings of stress and helplessness.
Okay, okay, I'll move on now... we know why it happens and we know how to find resources like books to understand... But, how can we cope in the short-term... or even long-term because the more we practice coping mechanisms, the more we can get control over our primitive brain again.
Thoughts are NOT facts
One of the best things I have ever been told is: I am a banana. The four craziest, most eye-opening words I have heard. You might be scrunching your face up at it now, but hear me out. When you're thinking you're worse than others, or said the wrong things, or even convinced that you're suffering from far-fetched illnesses due to the thought cycles associated with Health Anxiety- thoughts can feel real. They can feel like your inner voice is being honest or even like a gut-wrenching truth trying to flood out, but what if I told you there's a gateway to the other side?
I am a banana.
A therapist once told me this in passing, little did they know it would have such an impact. You can continually ruminate this thought, and it reacts differently. No matter how many times you try and tell yourself that you really are a banana, there isn't any truth to it. Nothing changes because you thought it, you aren't turning yellow... so next time you're stuck in a cycle, maybe try a remix of this idea.
Thoughts are temporary
Another perspective to take is that thoughts are only temporary. A study shows that humans have over 6000 thoughts a day and, well, there are only 1440 minutes in a day- so that's less than a minute per thought... brains are wonderfully complicated and hard to understand, but one thing that is super easy to know is that they get distracted. Incredibly easily. Think about how many songs you get stuck in your head? I bet if I just type: 'It might seem crazy what I am 'bout to say' you're already singing Happy by Pharrell Williams. My bad! But think, the more you sing the song that is stuck in your head, the longer it stays and repeats.
So, if we pay less attention to our negative thoughts and use distractions like: music, spotting things around us, hobbies, etc. these thoughts will dissipate and have less time assigned to them. Eventually, dismissing instead of ruminating becomes easier. Definitely not overnight, but over time with persistence. A bit like how you'll be working hard to get that upbeat song sung by Minions out of your head now... [at least I was more discreet this time]!
If you catch yourself spiralling into an overthinking whirlwind, at least try singing a catchy song, maybe it'll take some attention away.
Talk about it
Sometimes there are things that get so stuck in your head that there's only one way to get it out. - Elle, The Kissing Booth 2.
I'm all for a cheesy movie, but one that isn't just cheesy and actually talks through the troubles of overthinking... I'm sold. Elle might make a few mistakes through her journey to finding herself, but one things she does understand is needing to talk through the things that get you down. If something bothers you for longer than a few minutes, [and it's not that maths question on your exam], then you know it's not worth your time. There's at least 5999 thoughts left for you to think about today.
Sometimes, if you can't shake it yourself, it doesn't mean you have to ruminate alone. Speak to those around you and get them out in the open. Sometimes saying things out loud might make them sound more silly, here we are back at the 'I am a banana' again. But, sometimes the things you've been thinking really don't make any sense out in reality far from the trickster subconscious. Having fun with your thoughts and laughing at them out loud or on paper is another perfect way of detaching.
Hopefully, this article has at least given you some respite from those thoughts and now you know it is possible. It's most definitely achievable to escape the hold the primitive brain can have over you, and these are just a few simple first steps. That being said, nothing can substitute professional help and so be sure to find someone to talk with at your school, workplace or a local psychotherapy centre.
So, that's it from me today- best wishes and happy thinking... or maybe, happy quick-thinking.
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