Do you over-think? You know, when your mind goes nuts and runs in a cacophony of negative thoughts that inevitably leads to depression, anger, resentment and all those horrible feelings that end up with you reacting, ultimately damaging your relationships, work and inner peace?
When my world turned upside down a month ago (read about it in A Spiritual Kick-in-the-Ass: Painful Yet Positive), a good friend of mine gave me a book that helped enormously. It’s called, Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Over-thinking and Reclaim Your Life by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D.
This book was/is a life-saver! It’s packed full of real-life examples and stories of over-thinkers who employed the author’s strategies (covered thoroughly in the book) to overcome their obsessive negative thinking. She also provides strategies to enable us to effectively deal with our troubling situations in order to make clear decisions and take action to improve life.
By the way, Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema is a professor of psychology and her research on over-thinking has won awards.
Thoughts are connected in the brain
According to Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema, our thoughts are woven together in intricate networks of associations. There is a network or node that has to do with family, another with your job, a separate one for your body image, etc. While they are specific to single pieces of your life, many of these nodes are connected to one another.
One result of all these interconnections is that thoughts about one issue in our life can trigger thoughts about issues that are connected through these networks. Sometimes the connections are obvious, other times we may not be consciously aware of the connections.
Thoughts affect our moods
To make things a bit more complicated, our network of thoughts about different issues in our lives is also connected through our moods and emotions. Situations that have aroused negative moods tend to be connected in one network of memories, while situations that have aroused positive moods tend to be connected in a different network.
As a result, when you’re in a bad mood, it tends to trigger a cascade of thoughts associated with that mood. And these thoughts may have nothing to do with the incident that put us in the negative mood in the first place. These nodes of negativity communicate with each other, feed on each other and amplify that poo-poo mood to give us even more to over-think.
How do people tend to respond to their over-thinking?
Dr. Susan says that distractions free us from over-thinking and break the cycle of negativity; however, it’s unhealthy to avoid thinking about our concerns all the time by engaging in constant diversions. Some people chronically deny or avoid their negative feelings which is just as unhealthy as over-thinking because the issues never get resolved!
For those of us who spend too much time thinking about our negative feelings and concerns, we can send ourselves into a downward spiral of uncontrolled depression, anxiety and anger. These people often turn to unhealthy ways to distract themselves, like binge eating, using drugs to quiet the mind or drowning in alcohol.
These unhealthy distraction techniques only backfire in the long run, though. Overeating tends to make us feel bloated and sick, which then activates feelings of self-disgust and guilt over our lack of self-control. Alcohol and many drugs are depressants on the central nervous system which brings our mood down, and often causes us to be more self-absorbed, activating even more negative thoughts!
(Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema’s studies have found that over-thinkers are more prone to binge drinking and having social problems related to alcohol use, like a loss of a job or divorce).
Constructive, positive distraction methods
If you’re an over-thinker, then I know you could use some help immediately. So before you pick up the book (which I highly recommend), here are just a few strategies the Doc suggests:
- Exercise. Getting out of your head and into the Now can be as easy as doing something physical. Dr. Susan recommends doing something challenging, though, that requires a lot of attention. Her research indicates that runners, for instance, often over-think because when the activity no longer takes concentration to perform, your mind tends to go off on its own.
- Playing with children or pets. Have you ever noticed how calming it is to just even watch children or animals? It’s because they haven’t been conditioned like we have, nor have the worries that often come with being a responsible adult. They live in the Now and when you watch or engage in activities with them, you get to experience a little bit of their peace. They often also ground us in what’s really important in life, like relationships and having fun!
- Work. When you have work that engages you mentally and increases your self-esteem, negative thoughts disappear.
- Schedule time for thinking. I love this one because it promotes balance – what Live Lighter is all about! Rather than totally ignoring our issues, scheduling time to think gives us the freedom to live in the Now and still deal with our problems. And because we’re more relaxed from living in the Now, it’s easier to discover creative, constructive solutions!
- Hand it over to the Universe. Another favourite of mine. Spiritual folks know that worrying has never done any good and they have the faith that a Higher Power will either take care of the issue, speak to them through their intuition or send them a sign as to how they should deal with whatever ails them. (Although, I’ve discovered that even when you’re spiritual, you sometimes need to be reminded of this and/or build a consistent practice of reminding yourself.)
Again, I cannot stress how much this book helped me during my recent life event. Yes, my spiritual kick-in-the-ass saved my life, but it could have easily destroyed me if I hadn’t employed the strategies Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema outlines in Women Who Think Too Much. So a BIG thank you to Kim for lending me the book and to the Doc for her work in this area!
Do YOU tend to over-think? Do you use some of these positive techniques for distraction? Do you have any others not listed here that work?