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  • Writer's pictureTed Bradshaw

Something to think about, something to do

When we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of “overthinking” what we are usually describing feeling on edge or anxious about something (to varying degrees) and going over and over it in our minds, or going backwards and forwards on a decision.

 

We are usually trying to find an answer or some certainty about how things are going to go. I can’t quite fully relax until I know that everything is going to be OK. The problem is that with lots of things, I just can’t reach a 100% answer, so my brain can’t leave it alone. That is not only a thought process. It is also a series of behaviours.

 

For example:

 

I can’t decide what to wear to an event because I am concerned I don’t look quite right, that I will be judged or not have a good time as a result. I keep asking my partner what they think but none of their answers really satisfy me. I keep landing on one option but then doubting it again later on.

 

I have messaged a friend to say no to something they asked me to do. They haven’t replied so I am worried that they won’t like how I said it or that they will be annoyed with me. I keep opening up my phone to check whether they have read it or been online, and re-reading my message to see if it comes across badly.

 

I am trying to book a hotel or a holiday but it is a lot of money and I don’t want to make the wrong decision. I start reading tripadvisor reviews but before I know it I have spent half an hour doing so and I am no clearer than I was at the start.

 

The cycle we get stuck in is:

The outcome of this cycle is that we end up spending a lot of time and energy on things that actually don’t get us any closer to feeling 100% sure, because that just isn’t possible. And, while we are busy checking, researching or asking for reassurance, we miss out on other things. It is hard to be present with my friends or my family, for example.

 

Breaking out of this cycle first requires noticing that we are in it. Noticing that I am trying to get certainty about something I just will never know for sure. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do anything at all (it would be daft to never check up on symptoms that scare me), it just means that it is helpful to have a limit, so it doesn’t end up dominating my life.

 

This means practicing living with a certain amount of uncertainty. If I can learn to put a limit on how much checking, reassurance or research I engage in, I can actually free up a lot of time and headspace.

 

I don’t lose a whole afternoon deciding what to wear. I still feel uncomfortable and not 100% convinced, but I would have felt that way after a few hours of trying them on again anyway.

 

I am still scared my friend is annoyed with me, but refreshing my phone every few minutes isn’t helping that fear go away. I will have to sit with that discomfort for a while, and that might let me walk away from my phone for a bit.

 

Overthinking is not just about the way we think, it is about what we end up doing.

 

And it is easier to control how we act than it is to control how we think.

 

Something to think about 

 

When you end up overthinking, what does it tend to be about? Do you end up checking things a lot, seeking reassurance, or researching?

 

Something to do

 

If you do spot any of this happening for you this week, try out acknowledging that you are on edge, and practicing living with some of that uncertainty. If I have checked it once, I’ll try not to check it again. If I have asked for reassurance once, I will try to sit with the urge to ask again.

 

Thanks for reading! Until next week,

 

Ted

 

P.S. It is only as I finish writing this that I realise that the two examples I have given are ones that happen for me a lot. There's a little peek into my brain for you!

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