Overthinkers Anonymous- The 12 Steps.

The overthinkers mantra.

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Step one – we admitted we were powerless over our over thinking and it made our lives overly complicated

Step two – we came to believe that a higher power could reduce our over thinking and simplifying our thought processes could restore us to sanity.

Step three – we made a decision to hand our thoughts an our overthinking, over to the care of rationality, as we understand it.

Step four – we made a list of all thoughts that caused us harm.

Step five – we admitted to God, to ourselves and another human being, all the thoughts we harboured I each day.

Step six – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these thoughts.

Step seven -We humbly asked Him to remove further thoughts.

Step eight – Made a list of all over thinking we did and became willing to think about them less.

Step nine – Did less overthinking wherever possible, except when to do so would involve avoiding making a decision that affected us or others.

Step ten – Continued to try and think more rationally and when we over thought, promptly admitted it.

Step eleven – Sought through prayer and meditation to reduce our overthinking, praying only for simple choices and the power to carry that out.

Step twelve – Having had a cognitive awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other overthinkers and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Step thirteen – We then went back to step one and began to read it again.

The irony is that it probably took more thinking about re writing the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous than it will to write the rest of this blog.

Research tells us that we have somewhere between 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts everyday.

Around 80% of these are negative thoughts.

So many times in the counselling room I’ve heard clients say or ask, “Am I overthinking this?” And quite often the answer is yes.  Overthinking  is strongly related to anxiety and feelings of anxiety.  Therefore rational approaches to problem solving are bypassed, as anxiety and it’s related emotions are located in the primal part of the brain, the amygdala.

Overthinkers struggle to accept basic instruction and follow them, without first dissecting them and all the possible variables. This can become quite crippling for people.  The simplest act resulting in two choices becomes an overwhelming act of analysis and frustration.

Rooted in uncertainty, overthinking has become more of a problem as more and more variables have been introduced in people’s lives.  In the times of the caveman our instinct was to survive. We go out of the cave to get food, or we starve.  Once out of the cave, we see a sabre tooth tiger, our fear and anxiety then presented us with fight,flight or freeze.  It enabled us to stay safe in times of threat and danger.

Our options then were limited, however now we are bombarded with so much information and an endless stream of possibilities that the options and variables are vast.  For the overthinker, the task of examining these variables stops them from making a decision, or a decision is made but the resulting fear and anxiety that it might be the wrong decision, continues to plague the overthinker.

Often overthinking is dismissed, sometimes joked about.  It can be difficult for the person who, when planning the family holiday is so overaught and tense at the endless variables presented, is unable to fully enjoy any holiday.

It’s not trusting any decision that you make because you might get it wrong. It’s dwelling on choices that you have made previously and worrying and wondering how things might have been different if…  it is not cute or silly or pointless.  For some people it is very real and can be excruciatingly exhausting both mentally and physically.

Telling someone to stop overthinking is like me telling the reader to “not think of an ice cream”.  Maybe you weren’t thinking of one before, but you are now.  The overthinker is also thinking of whether it should be one scoop or two, should it be chocolate, vanilla, double chocolate chip? Or all three.  In a tub or cornet…  

Some people I have met have become so paralysed by their overthinking that they avoid certain situations, like going to London because a terror attack might happen, or because they might get lost, or the children won’t want to eat the food or, or, or…

So what can the overthinker do?

How To Stop Overthinking

Putting an end to rehashing, second-guessing, and catastrophic predictions is easier said than done. But with consistent practice, you can limit your negative thinking patterns:

1. Notice When You’re Thinking Too Much

Awareness is the first step in putting an end to overthinking. Start paying attention to the way you think. When you notice yourself replaying events in your mind over and over, or worrying about things you can’t control, acknowledge that your thoughts aren’t productive.

2. Challenge Your Thoughts

It’s easy to get carried away with negative thoughts. Before you conclude that calling in sick is going to get you fired, or that forgetting one deadline is going to cause you to become homeless, acknowledge that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative. Learn to recognize and replace thinking errors before they work you into a complete frenzy.

3. Keep The Focus On Active Problem-Solving

Dwelling on your problems isn’t helpful, but looking for solutions is. Ask yourself what steps you can take to learn from a mistake or avoid a future problem. Instead of asking why something happened, ask yourself what you can do

4. Schedule Time For Reflection

Stewing on problems for long periods of time isn’t productive, but brief reflection can be helpful. Thinking about how you could do things differently or recognizing potential pitfalls to a plan, for example, can help you do better in the future. Incorporate 20 minutes of “thinking time” into your daily schedule. During this time, let yourself worry, ruminate, or mull over whatever you want. Then, when the time is up, move onto something more productive. When you notice yourself overthinking things outside of your scheduled time, remind yourself that you’ll think about it later.

5. Practice Mindfulness

It’s impossible to rehash yesterday or worry about tomorrow when you’re living in the present. Commit to becoming more aware of the here and now. Mindfulness takes practice, like any other skill, but over time, it can decrease overthinking.

6. Change The Channel

Telling yourself to stop thinking about something can backfire. The more you try to avoid the thought from entering your brain, the more likely it is to keep popping up. Busying yourself with an activity is the best way to change the channel. Exercise, engage in conversation on a completely different subject, or get working on a project that will distract your mind from a barrage of negative thoughts. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201602/6-tips-stop-overthinking)

Listening to the overthinker can be difficult, it may seem irrational or just plain pointless. It is hard to see that for the overthinker, this is not a choice, it is a pattern of behaviour that has developed over time.  Therefore it takes time to break these habits and for some people it may require ongoing therapy to continue to address this pattern of over thinking.

“We didn’t become overthinkers in one day, so remember, Easy does it.”

Sincerely Yours 

A Thirsk Counsellor

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