Because your brain never switches off, no matter how much you want it to.
I arrived home from my boyfriend’s place sobbing this morning.
We hadn’t had a fight. He hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he’d just finished wishing me a great day and telling me he loved me.
But my brain was already 2,432 steps ahead.
I’d spent the car ride home frantically scrolling through my never-ending list of What Ifs.
What if he was dropping me home early because he was sick of me? What if he didn’t ask when I was free to see him next because he was already bored of me? What if the reason he didn’t invite me to join him on his weekend trip to visit family was because he was embarrassed of me? What if the look on my face was giving away how terrified I was feeling?!
Quickly closing the car door behind me and fleeing to the cover of my apartment as the tears began to fall was all I could do to shelter him from the storm of anxieties brewing inside me.
That’s the thing about being an overthinker. You’re often completely aware of how crazy your thought process would sound if you ever let a partner hear it, but you feel totally helpless to the downward spiral of superfluous analysis once that wheel starts spinning inside your head.
Unfortunately, gulping back tears till your SO’s out of earshot won’t fireproof your relationship from burning to the ground in flames of excruciating over-examination. Though the cogs in your always-going-a-thousand-miles-an-hour head may never stop turning completely, with a few strategies under your belt, it is possible to get on top of the vicious cycle of overthinking before it gets on top of your relationships. Here’s how…
1. Flip the script
At the root of most overthinking is fear. Overthinkers are all too familiar with the relentless internal monologue that assesses everything that could possibly go wrong, or be wrong, in any situation. (Eg: ‘What if I’m raising my kids wrong and they all grow up to hate me?’, ‘What if my husband is having an affair when he stays back late at work?’, ‘What if I stuff up my presentation and ruin my chances of getting a promotion?’.)
And we’ve all heard the saying that we attract what we believe. So try flipping your mental script and instead imagining all the things that could go right in any situation. (Eg: ‘What if I’m raising my kids awesomely and they grow up grateful for having me as a mother?’, ‘What if my husband is missing me when he’s staying back late at work because our relationship is so strong?’, ‘What if I ace my presentation and land that promotion?’.) Keeping a gratitude journal can also be a great tool to help get yourself into the habit of thinking more optimistically.
2. Harness positive distractions
Each time you notice that self-destructive thought process occurring, force yourself to interrupt it with a positive distraction. Things like meditation, dancing to upbeat music, cooking something nice for yourself (unicorn cupcakes, anyone?), reading an uplifting book or even picking up some needles and knitting, will work to break the negative cycle of overthinking by re-channelling your energy into something positive.
If none of the above strikes your fancy, or you’re stuck at work when overthinking takes hold, try getting up and simply making a hot cup of tea. In a 2012 study, Yale researchers found people recalled fewer negative feelings when they were holding something warm.
3. Live in the moment
Perhaps one of the worst consequences of overthinking is that it takes us out of the present moment and leaves us drowning in a sea of stresses about a future that hasn’t even happened yet; and may not ever happen anyway, because we can’t predict it! It’s futile to worry about things that haven’t happened yet and potentially never will, and, more poignantly, it eats away at mental space that should be reserved for enjoying the here and now.
So accept that you can’t predict or control the future, no matter how many hours you dedicate to thinking about it, and instead, make a conscious effort to ancor yourself in the moment by practicing mindfulness. That means savouring every minute of that car ride home from your boyfriend’s house by taking note of things like how nice it feels to be sitting next to him holding his hand, instead of wasting it worrying what the future holds for your relationship.
4. Talk about it
Overthinkers are notorious for bottling up our feelings and letting them manifest as anxiety. Giving your thoughts some air time, rather than simply attempting to repress or ignore them, can help in a number of ways.
First and foremost, they don’t say “A problem shared is a problem halved” for nothing. Sharing your feelings with others has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression by decreasing feelings of isolation; so grab a trusted friend or book in to speak to a therapist, who can provide a non-judgemental ear.
Secondly, discussing your feelings, though uncomfortable, forces you to really confront where they’re coming from. Why are you always stressing about scenarios involving your partner leaving you? You may discover it’s rooted in a fear of abandonment because you were rejected by a parental figure growing up, and are letting it cloud your judgement in relationships. Once you can determine what’s really causing your negative overthinking patterns, you’ll be able to challenge them each time they come up; and the more frequently you can challenge a thought, the less fuel it has to stay alight.
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Comment: How has overthinking affected your life and relationships? What’s helped you get on top of it?