Overthinking is a habit that many women get into. Join the club - me too!
In her book “Women who think too much”, Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema says that the evidence for women’s tendency to overthink points towards social and psychological roots. Noelen-Hoeksema says that the more stress a woman is under, the more she tends to overthink. Not earth-shatteringly surprising, is it?
To put it simplistically, most women are under stress because they are doing too much and thinking about too much and trying to find a way to be in more control! Trying to be more in control of our lives is something I hear frequently from my clients; unfortunately “being in control” is a constant journey of discovery for most women, with no final destination!
Nolen-Hoeksema’s research shows that even though women are busy pursuing careers in the same way as men, women still bear the lioness’s share of managing the household. In an attempt to feel more in control of having too much on their plate, many women fall into overthinking. Women literally try to think their way out of a tangle of conflicting priorities.
At this time of year, probably like you, I have a to do list as long as my proverbial arm! I still haven’t written my Christmas cards; there is still a pile of paperwork that needs wading through and there are always clothes waiting to be put away. As for the cobwebs, I’ve given up the battle for dominance and bowed in defeat to the spiders!
There’s a lot to think about! As a business owner, I’m thinking about plans for the New Year, cash flow and stretch goals. As a mum, I’m thinking about Christmas presents. And with Fred’s 10th birthday on Wednesday, I’m thinking about his celebrations. And on it goes.
Some of this may sound familiar to you!
But what do you do when, even though you are managing to keep it all ticking over so well on a daily basis, it’s still not enough and you find yourself in a chronic state of overthinking, trying to figure out how you can get it all done, just get that little bit more ahead of the curve, in control?
And what if you find yourself waking up at night, continuing the inner dialogue from the day? You can fall into a vicious cycle of overthinking and exhaustion.
I don’t want you to get exhausted and overwrought, particularly at Christmas, so in this post, I’m sharing my 2 favourite – both practical and highly effective – ways to quieten your busy mind and reign in your overthinking habit:
1. Do a graphical brain dump
You’ve probably heard or even given advice about “get it out of your head and down on paper”? It’s a great strategy when you’ve got a lot on your mind.
You might be an avid list writer, but I’m not talking about writing a list here. The problem with lists is that they are linear – it can certainly help to write a big list when you’ve got a lot on your mind, but it won’t give you a big picture of all those buzzing thoughts.
Enter the mind map…
Mind mapping helps your thinking process by enabling you to structure thoughts in a graphical, visual way. This will help you to “see the big picture”. I’ve created the bare bones of a “what’s on your mind?” mind map in this post to show you what a mind map looks like.
All you need to do to start mind mapping, is get a piece of paper (the bigger the better) and turn it so that it is landscape layout. Draw a circle in the middle and label it “thoughts” or “brain dump”. You can use an online mind-mapping tool as I have done for the purposes of the example, but I actually recommend you use pen and paper; there is something scribbling down on paper that facilitates the creative thought process better than any computer software.
You can structure your mind map however you want – there is no right and wrong and you’ll start to see a pattern as you write on it. Just brainstorm anything that comes to your mind and then allocate it a category. The categories will become your primary branches directly linked to your centre label. You can see in this example, I created 5 categories: Home, work, Christmas, Fred’s birthday and miscellaneous thoughts. The latter category can be used to scribble down anything that has been racing through your head, which doesn’t seem related to anything in particular. AS you brainstorm, you’ll easily be able to see which category the thought fits into.
Your mind map is NOT a to do list – it can and probably will contain things you need to do. But it might also contain random thoughts, worries, quandaries, decisions you need to make and ideas. It is simply a graphical brain dump.
The great benefit of mind mapping to stop you overthinking is that everything is in one place, on one sheet. You don’t have to go looking for one particular thing – it’s all there ‘at a glance’.
2. Get unstuck from your groove
If you’ve fallen into a rut of worry, create a mind map with the title “worries”.Another great benefit of mind mapping to help you stop overthinking is that, if you keep your “worry” mind map and then look at it in a year’s time, you will invariably find that most of the things that on it have been and gone without the fanfare of impending doom that you’d anticipated. In fact, most of the worries will have never materialised in the first place. It’s a great exercise to remind yourself how fruitless worrying is!
Sometimes when we overthink, we focus on the darkest possible scenarios over and again. It can be so difficult to change our focus. Think of a record player (if you’re old enough! If not, Google it!) Sometimes, the needle will get stuck in a groove of the record, playing the same sound again and again. The only way to fix this would be to skip the track, by physically lifting the arm with the needle and placing it after that “stuck” groove.
When you’re stuck in overthinking, your mind is similar to the stuck record. The best way to get unstuck is to physically do something different – i.e. lift your own needle and put it somewhere else!
If you find yourself lying awake at night with a racing mind, try focusing on your breathing. Lie on your back, put your hands on your belly and silently say, “breathe in” and “breathe out”, focusing on your breath. Look up “Yoga Nidra for sleep” if you need something more than focusing on your breathing. You’ll find some great recorded sessions specifically designed to help you relax, clear your mind and get back to sleep.
If you STILL find yourself drifting back into overthinking, drastic action might be needed – get out of bed and curl up somewhere cosy with a good book – preferably a non taxing novel that will let your mind switch off, rather than a book on “How to change the world in 90 days” or “How to have 50 great ideas in one hour”
When you’re overthinking during the day, the same rule applies for getting out of your stuck groove. Lift that needle! And I swear by physical activity EVERY TIME! There is a strong correlation between your mind and your body – when you change the state of your body, your mind will almost always follow.
If you’re at work – step AWAY from your desk! Find somewhere you can move your body without getting strange looks from your colleagues. Maybe you could head out to the stairwell if you’re in an office building.
Now – let’s get physical! Do a set of lunges, squats, jumping jacks or simply run on the spot (take your heels off!) You’re giving yourself a mini impromptu exercise session. Do your chosen exercise until you’re out of breath and feeling the burn! You’ll soon find your focus has moved away from your negative thought patterns to the burning sensation in your thighs as you approach your 50th squat!
This will really help you to quieten your overthinking – you’re getting out of your groove and resetting yourself – and raising your endorphin levels to boot!
Do you ever overthink? When do you tend to overthink? And what helps you to quieten your busy mind? I’d love to know what works for you. Share in the comments below! And if you enjoyed this post, please share with your overthinking friends!