My friend coined the term overthinking Olympics. I’m devoting this special blog to her, as I dive into the world of overthinking. I used to be really good at this. I still am sometimes. This is not an Olympic sport that I ever want to win. I want to lose badly at this one and stop overthinking.
If I begin to analyze my overthinking, it tends to be something that already happened or something that I’m worrying about in the future. My husband Seth has helped me so much with the phrase he says to me all the time: “You don’t know anything yet.” I have often wondered why I am wasting my precious time and precious energy on something that is draining me.
I recently made a parenting mistake. I will tell you time and time again that I am not a perfect parent. I will always try my best (unless I’m exhausted, and then I might have to sit down and throw in the towel for the day or the hour). I realize that I am learning and growing every day, and I’m learning to give myself more space for mistakes. I’m not sure where any of us get the idea that we are going to be perfect all day. I’ve become good at waking up and knowing that I can try again to do a better job than I did the day before.
I was thinking about the mistake that I made. I was thinking about it too often. I cried, I vented, I discussed, and I thought long and hard about it. The nice thing is that Seth and I are in this parenting world together. I feel like I have a team member, and I don’t feel alone. I also realize that I can always talk to my friends. I absolutely love that I have friends with older kids because they have already gone through a lot that I haven’t that I can discuss with them and ask them questions about.
As I am typing I am remembering another parenting mistake that I made. I have made a couple that will stick with me. They may stick with me, and I may think about them, but how is focusing on it going to benefit me? What am I getting out of this? I am just draining my energy and making myself feel bad. I don’t want to do either of these things. I want to make myself be in a happy state and I want to have energy for myself and my family. My emotions and my time are too precious to me to continue to waste dwelling and feeling bad about things that I think that I did wrong. I deserve to give myself happiness.
How have I moved forward and stopped overthinking it, and how can I help you do this too?
I can give myself room for mistakes. I can stop expecting perfection. I can realize that I learn from every mistake I have made. I have read that we don’t fail. This is our first attempt at learning, and we will have many more opportunities. I am learning to have more compassion for myself. I have often realized how much compassion and understanding I have for others. I am learning to transfer that skill that I have to myself. I deserve my compassion and understanding too. My forties are bringing about a new me.
Start paying attention to your automatic thoughts. This is negative self-talk that we automatically think in response to something. Examples include: “I’ll never be happy. I’m such a failure. No one understands. I never do anything right. I make so many mistakes. I’ll never change. I’m so ugly.” We call these thoughts ANTS – automatic negative thoughts. It’s perfect because it’s like ants in your brain that you need to tell to go away. Start to track what you tend to think about yourself every day. I’m reading “How to stop Automatic Negative thoughts,” from Hope Therapy and Wellness as I type this. I love the fact that they suggest replacing your ANTS with PETS. We are switching from automatic negative thoughts to positive empowering thoughts. When I say, “I can’t believe I made that mistake. I really suck.” I can switch that to something like: “It’s okay to make mistakes. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. You will never be perfect. You are having a normal human experience.” I’m changing the voice in my head daily. Every time you hear and identify an automatic negative thought, I want you to write it down and then work on the PETS you will change it to. Slowly you change the thoughts in your head by practicing this every day. Be patient and understanding with yourself. When you are learning something new, don’t criticize yourself for doing it wrong. Be gentle with yourself and start to shift your thinking. You will rewire your brain. Right now, you may have wired your brain to think negatively. Time for a change.
When I was younger, one of the biggest things I would ruminate over was, “I can’t believe I said that.” Or “I can’t believe I didn’t say that.” I would think about it over and over again. I drove myself crazy. How about if I say to myself, “It’s ok. Let it go and learn from this. This is not a big deal.”
My mother used to tell my dad and I that she wanted to give us a hammer to beat ourselves up with. She saw how we would beat ourselves up mentally after we thought we did something wrong. She doesn’t realize how much this comment has helped me throughout my life. You see, handing me a hammer to beat myself sounds so absurd. It’s so absurd and yet it really brings me back to reality. If it is so absurd to beat myself up with a hammer, why is it okay to beat myself up with my thoughts.
We can overthink the past and we can overthink the future. Are my kids going to be ok? Am I going to be ok? Am I going to be here for my children? My friend told me years ago that she often worries about her health. Her health is totally fine, but she worries she is going to die and leave her kids. I remember walking with her and her telling me this and my heart just sinking for her. Living my daily life worrying about that would really mess me up. There are so many things we can worry about. Is my kid socializing enough? Are they involved in enough? Are they involved in too much? Am I a good mom? Will my child find happiness? Are they safe at school? Are they okay mentally? We can certainly drive ourselves absolutely crazy if we let ourselves.
I have had therapists explain to me the biological root as to why we worry. Our brain is trying to protect us. Our brain wants us to be safe and is trying to do its job. Years ago, our brain was protecting us from things like starvation and predators. It was on the lookout for us. Thank you, brain. We can thank our brain and reassure it that we are ok. It helps me to understand where this comes from.
What exactly am I worried about and how can I stop worrying?
I have heard anxious people tell me that they set a timer for worrying. They give themselves five minutes to worry and overthink things. When the five minutes are up, it’s time to put a pin in it and move on with their day. It doesn’t have to be five minutes. I am just giving you an example.
What do I have control of? If I am worrying about my children, I need to get specific about what I’m worried about. If I think they need more socialization, then I can hone in on what I think the problem is and work on this with them. I can make suggestions and encourage socialization. If I am worried about my health, I can start focusing on things that I can control. I can eat healthier, exercise, take vitamins, etc. If I take steps towards solving something that I am worrying about then I start to feel better.
I can bring myself back to the present moment. I start to drift to worrying about things from the past or in the future. What is presently going on today? I’m putting my feet flat on the floor as I’m typing this to become more present minded in this very moment. I am taking a deep breath. I am going through my body from the top of my head to the tips of my feet. I am thinking about my fingers typing. I am bringing myself to this present moment and the present moment is really good. I love typing my blogs and trying to put out good content to the universe. My present is a gift to myself to try to remember to stay in.
Have you noticed that when you take better care of yourself you worry less? You overthink less? I noticed this. When I have a bad night’s sleep, I am more anxious. Sleeping well, eating healthy, drinking water, walking, journaling and reading are all things that I do to take care of myself. Sunday, I had football on and then I had Avengers movies on in the background. I was editing my book and watching the Avengers movies. I had the tv on all day which is not normal for me. I went to bed that night and slept horribly. All the action and tv really messed up my sleep. My brain was totally overstimulated. I got up the next morning and was tired, cranky, overwhelmed and anxious. That is not a good combo. I notice that if I focus on caring for myself my emotional health is also better.
My friend called me yesterday. She knew that I had a rough week and she wanted to hear about it. She asked me why it was so hard and really wanted to be there for me. She helped me so much. I vented a lot of pent-up emotions out. As I let it all out and laughed with her my stress melted away. She also has older children and really understands the phases of life that I am entering. She is helpful and understanding. I appreciate her so much. I was also reminded to reach out to people. I can bottle things up and that makes it worse for me. I will stew in my own thoughts by myself. My husband will ask me what’s wrong which is also so kind and helpful. He notices me and makes me feel so loved. I love when he will say, “Oh, we are back here again.” It wakes me up to the fact that I am worrying again about the same thing. Worrying won’t fix it. I can talk to him about what we can plan for and that may make me feel better. I have also told Seth that I need to talk about things more than once to put them to bed. One conversation doesn’t always wrap it up for me. Explaining that to him has helped him to be more patient with me.
We can plan for the worst-case scenario. What are you most worried about? How will you handle that if it happens. Planning for the worst-case scenario helps ease my mind. Seth made me go see lawyers to do our will. It was very hard for me. He does this stuff every day, so he is desensitized. In fact, we need to update it. Having our will completed made us both feel better. What will make you feel better? Don’t stay in your thoughts. Take steps to make yourself feel better. Make a plan. Talk to someone. Get it out of your head.
I hope that you took something away from this that you can focus on to help you stop overthinking. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to save your energy for better things. I would love to hear from you. Let us know what you are overthinking. What ANTS are you replacing with PETS?
I love that you are a deep thinker. Deep thinking can be used for good and for bad. Use it for good.
Tune into my live Vlog Wednesday night at 9:00 PM on Facebook to hear about my overthinking teenage relationships. https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.greene.73
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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