Have you ever been stuck on a problem and the more you thought about it, the harder it seemed to solve? How do you avoid overthinking at such times?
Six years ago I was a single mom, working full time as a behavior therapist for families of children with serious behavior problems.
As my job became more stressful, I became lost in a dense, dark forest of chaos. Not wanting to spend my life lost in the woods, I learned a secret: Sometimes the answers to your conundrums are below the surface of the conscious working brain and surprisingly, the answer is to stop “trying” so hard to fix it.
Equipped with this knowledge, I allowed the trees to fall away–and clarity returned. Soon after I learned these tactics, I ditched the stressful job and started teaching yoga, meditation and life affirming workshops to help others quiet their minds and live healthier, successful lives. I’m happier and more fulfilled than at any other time in my life and I can’t wait to share a path for you to get there too.
How to Stop Overthinking
1. Live in the moment
Mindfulness is the basis for Buddhism (1), Taoism (2) and several Native American traditions. The sense of being overwhelmed arises when we are focusing on the past or what needs to be done in the future. Take your attention to the task at hand and bask in the glory of this present moment that will never return again in this exact disguise. You will find that your mind has an amazing ability to stay calm and content when you are able to stay focused in the moment.
2. Write your thoughts on paper
It can be a relief to empty out your head of all the duties that bog it down. Journaling has been one of my most mind-freeing ways of letting go. There’s a line from Anna Nalick’s song Just Breathe that always reminds me of the freedom that a pen and paper offer to the mind:
2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to
3. Take a Walk
Sometimes, we can physically feel the fuzziness infiltrating our mind. We become overwhelmed and suddenly can’t get anything done. This is your mind warning you that it’s time for a break. Get out in the fresh air and get some physical stimulation by taking a walk, going for a bike ride or a quick swim to wash away all your thoughts. You’ll notice it gives you a new zesty inspiration to jump back into life.
By meditating or quieting the mind, the brain is allowed to open up to “aha” moments. It’s called cognitive disinhibition (3) and it’s present more often in creative types and it helps you access the well of unused data stored that gets shut out when one needs to efficiently get to the grocery store and run home to make dinner for the family. By allowing the mind to rest and relax, you can better allow all the wisdom sitting on the back burners to rise.
Researchers from the Department of Neurological Sciences, University of Bologna in Italy reported that deep wave sleep is required for individuals to retain information (4). When dreaming, the mind replays the activities and situations and places important information into the long-term memory. It sheds the information that has no significance allowing our brains more room for new information.
If you do yoga, at the end of class you perform Shavasana (translated from Sanskrit to English as “corpse pose”). You lie quietly on your mat for several minutes in order to relax into the body so that you can feel the benefits of the class.
Some yoga teachers say it’s the hardest pose for westerners to do. We’re trained to believe that we must be productive and active from the moment we wake. But one of the most productive things you can do for your mind is to quiet down and relax.
How do you prevent yourself from overthinking about stuff? Share your tips with us below!
1. Hanh, Thich Nhat (1996). The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation. Beacon Press.
2. Dyer, Wayne. Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (Hay House, 2007). ISBN 978-1-4019-1750-0.
3. Carson, S., Peterson, J. & Higgins, D. (2003). Decreased latent inhibition is associated with increased creative achievement in high functioning individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 499-506.
4. Sleep-dependent memory consolidation in patients with sleeps disorders. Sleep Medicine Reviews, April 2012, Carlo Cipolli, Michela Mazzetti, Giuseppe Plazz.
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