Did you know that today, 13th September, is Positive Thinking Day? But wouldn't it be wonderful if every day could be a day filled with positive thoughts? Imagine having the ability to control your thoughts and steer your mind away from negativity whenever it starts to creep in? Well, let’s make that happen!
It’s easy to let our thoughts run wild and, at times, spiral out of control. The "what if'' scenarios can become overwhelming, but in truth, they very rarely materialise. This is what we call catastrophising - painting the worst-case scenario and into a mental catastrophe that you and your overthinking buddy have concocted.
While thinking is a natural part of being human, problems arise when our thoughts take a negative turn or when we obsess excessively, otherwise known as "overthinking". Sound like you? Well you're not alone. We recently carried out a survey asking our followers "Are you an overthinker" and a shocking 100% of you answered YES!
Let's dive a little deeper into this.
The Harmful Effects of Overthinking
One of the primary consequences of overthinking is an overactive mind, leading to elevated stress levels and the surge of stress hormones like cortisol. Chronic stress can bring about a range of physical and mental health problems accompanied by symptoms such as headaches, an increased heart rate, muscle tension, and even sleep disturbances.
Overthinking often traps you in a loop of considering all possible outcomes, impairing your decision-making abilities. This can be problematic, especially in the workplace where you may have to make significant (or even minor) decisions. Having an overactive mind that is prone to overthinking can slow down this entire process, causing you unnecessary stress, which subsequently leads to decreased productivity, whether that be in your professional or personal life.
Have you ever heard of analysis paralysis, where you spend so much time thinking that you struggle to take any action? This can also be known as procrastination, and again, causes difficulties in the workplace as well as your personal life, potentially straining relationships as your communication skills break down, leading to unnecessary conflicts.
So it's very clear why an anxious, over-worrying mind can be troublesome. Let's explore some strategies for coping – there is light at the end of the tunnel!
Strategies to Control Negative Thoughts
Mindfulness, Meditation & Relaxation techniques
These practices help centre your attention to the present moment, reducing the tendency to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and activities like yoga or tai chi can help calm an overactive mind. We recently looked into Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman's tried, tested and proven breathing techniques. He has a fantastic range of informative and advisory content covering a huge area of the science behind health, and one of his main interests is breathing techniques. One of the easiest techniques he's shared that can have an instant calming effect is known as "The Physiological Sigh". This simple technique can have an instant result, and we highly recommend you give it a try if you're someone who's prone to getting stressed or easily sucked into a slurry of overthinking. He explains:
"The physiological sigh is the fastest hard-wired way for us to eliminate the stressful response in our body, quickly in real time".
Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a widely used form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected, and that by changing negative thought patterns, we can also change our emotions and behaviours. One of the key principles of CBT is Cognitive Restructuring. This involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, such as irrational beliefs or cognitive distortions. The goal is to replace them with more realistic and positive ways of thinking by providing you with coping mechanisms and tools to reframe negative thinking into more balanced and constructive thoughts. If you’re seeking guidance, remember that CBT is available via the NHS following a consultation with your GP.
Regularly acknowledging the positive aspects of your life can help shift your focus away from overthinking potential negatives. This is a proven and effective way of getting your thoughts in perspective. It can be as simple as saying “I am grateful I have another day to live”, or "I am grateful I have the luxury of eating food everyday".
Ruminating involves continuously replaying or obsessing over negative thoughts, situations, memories or scenarios. This can intensify overthinking and lead to heightened anxiety and stress. Instead, try to allocate specific times for problem-solving and reflection, redirecting your focus to more positive or productive activities outside of those times. Professor Elissa Epel, author of The Stress Prescription and the Telomere Effect gave advice in an interview on overthinking and ruminating that this can be challenged with 3 main strategies:
- The mind changes the body: Present awareness and nice things that we can actually say to ourselves to reassure, since our beliefs and mindsets can really help us release stress.
- The body changes the mind: Work the stress out of the body, metabolising it and burning it up through exercise which causes an instant relief.
- Change the environment: Getting physically away from all the stress triggers that you have and finding an environment and setting that you find calming, whether thats a space in your home, a walk somewhere peaceful, or perhaps even sitting in nature still and quietly.
See a snippet of her interview here.
Don't Suppress Your Emotions
Acknowledge and validate your emotions rather than bottling them up or dismissing them as insignificant. Ignoring your feelings can lead to a buildup of tension and contribute to overthinking. Techniques like journaling, talking to someone you trust, or seeking professional support can be helpful.
Avoid Catastrophising or Fortune-Telling
Catastrophising involves imagining the worst-case scenario in a given situation, while fortune-telling involves predicting negative outcomes without concrete evidence. Both of these thinking patterns can fuel a flurry of overthinking and spiral you into a pit of anxiety. If this sounds like you, instead of dwelling on the worst-case scenario or predicting negative outcomes without concrete evidence, challenge and reframe these thoughts by considering more balanced perspectives and gathering evidence to support realistic conclusions.
In addition to these strategies, an increasing number of individuals are exploring CBD products as a potential aid in calming their minds. CBD, derived from the cannabis plant, has garnered attention for its reputed ability to support relaxation, thus managing the effects of overthinking. If you're contemplating the use of CBD as part of your approach to coping with negative thoughts, we recommend considering our Love Hemp CBD Oil. These drops are available in a variety of flavours and strengths, allowing you to select the option that best aligns with your specific requirements. To learn more about Love Hemp CBD, visit our Hemp Hub for everything you need to know including what CBD is & how it works, how much CBD you should take and what CBD feels like.
Remember, occasional bouts of overthinking are normal, but if it becomes chronic or significantly impacts your daily life, seeking help from a medical professional is a valuable step toward finding effective coping strategies.