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Understanding Worry and Overthinking

Worry and overthinking are mental habits that can be broken. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more balanced perspective. Thinking is helpful when a decision has to be made or a plan laid out, spurring you to take action and solve a problem. But if you're preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios, worry and overthinking becomes a problem.

When you worry you talk to yourself about things and negative events that might happen. The feared situation runs in your mind over and over and you think about all the ways you might deal with it. In essence, you are trying to solve problems that haven't happened yet.

All this worrying may give you the impression you are protecting yourself by preparing for the worst case situations. But more often than not, worry is unproductive - sapping your mental and emotional energy without resulting in any concrete problem solving strategies or actions.

How to distinguish between productive and unproductive worrying?

If you are focusing on what if scenarios , your worry is unproductive. Overthinking tips the balance into being stuck and stops you from taking action. Too much thinking leads to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, emotional distress and self-destructive behaviours.

Once you give up the idea that worry and overthinking somehow helps you, you can start to deal with your anxiety in more productive ways. This means challenging irrational thoughts, learning how to postpone worry, and learning to accept uncertainty in your life.

Understand why you worry and overthink

Some of the roots to overthinking can come from childhood and your experiences with your caregivers. If your caregiver didn't let you try out new things, was overly critical or made you feel inadequate, you may begin to doubt your ability to act. Overthinking keeps you trapped in thought without taking action. Research shows that overthinking is prevalent among (25-35-year-olds) and middle-aged adults (45-55-year- olds). Overthinking tends to be worse among women.

The theory that our thinking causes our problem emotions rather than events is nothing new – we see that this has been the view of many deep intellectual thinkers with insight through the ages.

Epictetus (Stoic - Ancient Greek Philosopher) said...

Buddha (Founding Figure) said...

Shakespeare (Poet & Playwright) said....

Symptoms of worry and overthinking

1. Criticising and fretting about the future.

2. Rerunning decisions in your mind and procrastinating over the next one.

3. 'What ifs' and 'should of's' dominate your thinking.

4. Not sleeping well, because ruminating and worrying keeps you awake.

Effective strategies to stop worry and overthinking

Get out of your head

Exercise, take a brisk walk or a physical activity such as cooking, painting, making a jigsaw, cleaning out a press or do some gardening.

Write down your thoughts

Write them in a journal or a thoughts jar. Writing is a great psychological tool, it allows you identify your distorted thinking and creates a distance from your thoughts.

Tune in to your senses

We live through our senses and by becoming more attuned to them you give your mind some time off. Find nice things to look at, listen to your favourite music,

burn some scented candles, cook a tasty meal, and feel a nice fabric against your skin.

Set aside a thinking time

Ring fence some time when you actively engage in thinking, rather than spreading your thinking throughout your day.

Be Mindful

Thoughts are just thoughts and often are not facts. Mindfulness helps re-frame your thoughts, slows down your thinking and teaches you to see your thoughts pass through your minds like leaves in the wind. It also helps you to be more present to what's happening now, rather that projecting into the future and dwelling in the past. With regular practice, mindfulness boosts activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of serenity and joy.

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”

- Michel de Montaigne

Speak to a Counsellor

Overthinking saps your physical and emotional energy. It can spiral you into depressed or anxious territory. Therapy can help create stronger foundations to enable you to live life to the full now rather than overthinking and worrying.

Cabin Counselling is just a phone call away. To book and appointment with Pauline just call 087 6203371 or email

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