Overthinking may mean many things. In this blog overthinking means:
Worrying about the future
Thinking about bad things that may happen in the future also called “catastrophizing” is a kind of worrying where you imagine all kinds of threats awaiting in the future that are not likely. As one plagued bank manager told me: “Each and every time before a meeting, I worry that I will lose my nerves, that I won’t be able to speak out of sheer terror.” It turns out that he had had one unpleasant meeting his entire working life, in which he had to fire someone years back. A situation that he, by the sound of it, managed quite well despite his anxiety. In his overthinking about future meetings he disqualified the fact that he had had hundreds of meetings without actual problems. Others are haunted by the fear of suffering from debilitating diseases, job interviews, exams etc. Time and time again these “worriers” discover that their worry was primarily a harrowing waste of time.
Overthinking about the past
Some will rewind and replay past scenarios to reflect on how they may have appeared to others or what transpired. What happened, what they said or what they should have said. Mostly this kind of thinking revolves around whether one has been adequate, or “good enough”. As such this type of overthinking wrecks havoc on the person’s self worth and simultaneously breeds fear and worry about future events. Many rehash traumatic memories and things they may have done wrong in the past, and in that case not realizing that if bad things from the past should surface, worrying about it won’t fix it anyway. Common to this kind of overthinking is a tendency to shame oneself and actual depressions.
This leaves us with two questions:
- Why are these types of overthinking so widespread and so dysfunctional at the same time?
- What are the best ways around it?
You were born to worry
As the eminent professor of psychology Paul Gilbert describes it, it comes down to evolution: We are born to worry. The stone age person who worried a lot was propelled to sharpen his knife an extra time, check his traps more often, look out for danger, and maintain a vigil eye on his or her children thus outliving the one who didn’t worry at all. See: The Compassionate Mind. As such you may say that we are the heirs of neurotic stone age people. Therefore: Don’t assume that your mind is a mess just because you worry a lot. Rather accept that fearful images will appear in your mind from time to time, and try to engage yourself in real life instead of living inside your head with all kinds of imagined dangers.
Our brain tires from overthinking which worsens the worrying
Our brain is not a perfect instrument. When thinking too much our brain gets flooded by glutamate. Mental Fatigue May Involve a Potentially Toxic Chemical Buildup in the Brain | Technology Networks. In other words overthinking leads to our frontal lobes getting exhausted thus leaving us at the mercy of catastrophizing and irrational thinking. A tired brain is not good at disqualifying negative thoughts. As Nietzsche put it: “When we are tired we get conquered by ideas we overcame long ago.” Therefore: Be cognisant of the fact that any and all overthinking clouds your judgment. Rather than overthinking about something bad, reach out to someone and talk about it, or write about it in a structured way putting some order into your thinking processes.
Live your life fully if you want peace of mind
As Nietzsche also argued we have a “will to power”. Or rather, I would say, a will to matter. He goes on to argue that if you don’t make yourself matter in the real world (with words and actions) this, your “will to matter” turns into whirling thoughts and attacks on yourself in your mind instead. Beyond Good and Evil Paperback – Friedrich Nietzsche. This I believe is true. Therefore beef up on your assertiveness and get active in your day to day life. Following these insights you may consider your overthinking a symptom of inauthenticity and passivity on your part. Get living! Connected to this point, you may say that especially creative and productive individuals need to be productive and creative in real life in order for this energy to be channeled in a constructive way. Consider this: Intelligent breeds of dogs develop OCD like behavior if they are not kept active. They eat the furniture, chew on headphones, swallow socks, chase their tails or bite their paws. For god’s sake – don’t buy a dog if you don’t intend to take it for long walks and give it the company it needs – and don’t be a human who doesn’t partake in life.
Social beings are preoccupied with status
We are social beings and being accepted and valued by our peers is crucial for most normal people. Therefore we are concerned with how we appear to others and therefore most people will have a tendency to worry about their social status. It can’t be any different. For most people getting older is the only redemption: Age and experience teaches you to relax. This book addresses that perennial problem in the vein of existential psychology. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – af Mark Manson. Parents: Don’t let your children and teenagers exhibit demeaning behavior towards people who may have been unlucky in terms of looks and success. Everyone: Discover that each and every time you judge and demean others based on their appearance and lack of success you project a worldview in which you yourself take part, an animal like, hierarchical, indecent and stressful world.
Don’t tax your unconscious with unrealistic ideas
The following is complicated. The leading psychiatrist and writer Ian Mcgilchrist outlines in his book, The Master and his Emissary that you mentally represent your plans in your verbal left hemisphere. If you – in this left hemisphere, naively envision yourself being perfect, in full control or being loved by everyone, your intuitive right hemisphere will warn you about the innumerable things that may go wrong (cue: perfection is impossible therefore you will be flooded with images of things going wrong). Tragically these many possible dangers that the right hemisphere conjures up on your inner screen as it were, may become your focal point of attention thus robbing your attention on real life matters. The solution: Don’t make too many grand plans and rid yourself of fantasies of perfection, control and admiration. Rather than for example thinking “I plan to win at the marathon” think: “I plan to participate”. Chill.
Don’t always take your mind literally
Following these points you should consider what your mind is? Strap your seat belt:
Your mind or your “self”, is like an ocean harboring countless memories and mirroring everything around it. From this vastness of impressions and information ingrained in places, related to faces, moods, eras of your life and contracted and structured however loosely by archetypal structures and latent innate narrative manuscripts, your thoughts, feelings, sensations and mental images stream forth. Much of that content is not ordered. It flickers, shimmers as reflections on a riled up sea and brings forth rational and irrational beliefs, assumptions, thoughts and feelings alike: “The unconscious in its natural state is not only a source of supreme wisdom; it is also the source of utter nonsense” – Marie Louise von Franz. The Feminine in Fairy Tales (C. G. Jung Foundation Books Series): 9781570626098: von Franz, Marie-Louise
Do your best to develop a sound sense of skepticism towards this mind of yours. Don’t consider automatic negative thoughts about problems, something to be necessarily engaged with and sorted out – in your mind. This “problem thinking” primarily achieves one thing: By catching, following and reflecting deeply on negative messages from your mind, you marinate your brain with a sense of calamity, it producing even more fearful images for you to engage with. Follow the dictum: Actions solve problems – worrying doesn’t. Rather than witlessly ruminating on negative “messages” from your mind like a hen laying on an egg, learn to notice how products of your mind stream forth continually and realize that it is within your power to choose to reflect on these negative images or not. For you to deeply realize this I would suggest that you get into mindfulness meditation. In my clinical experience most worriers experience a great benefit from meditating.
Worrying is normal. Don’t worry about worrying. But realize that a life inside your own head with imagined dangers doesn’t beat real life. Be aware that overthinking about problems makes them feel more real as your tired mind can’t think straight. Realize that your life is like “energy”, if you don’t express yourself and live the good life your mind may start acting up creating the drama that your real life is in want of. Don’t think too much about your status; it will make you come across as a rube towards others and eventually yourself. Be aware that harboring unrealistic ideas about perfection, control and admiration will give rise to worrying that you won’t be able to live up to such unrelenting standards – take it easy. Your mind produces an endless amount of negative and positive and rational and irrational images in your awareness. You need to learn that you don’t necessarily have to engage with your automatic negative thoughts. Consider practicing mindful meditation to learn the skill of letting thoughts pass you by.