Humans are known to be the only animals on earth that are blessed with the gift of imagination. While some of us use it in magnificent ways, most of us abuse it to cause misery to ourselves and those around us. One of the ways we do it is by overthinking. We overthink small things and blow them out of proportion.
Like how at night, when a child sees a shadow of a tree forming on his wall, he lets his imagination run wild and scares himself by thinking it is a ghost. We, adults, are no different than that child. Only now, the shadow of a tree may be our date running late because of traffic, and the ghost would be us thinking that they saw us and left; therefore, we are ugly and unworthy of love.
Let’s hear more about how overthinking ruins relationships by Sam Curtis, an International life coach.
“Firstly we need to understand what overthinking is. It is the process of thinking about something too much. Our brain makes stories and tries to find answers to the questions. We keep going over and over the same problem,” Sam said.
She pointed out, “You’ll notice that overthinking is never for good scenarios; it’s always negative. We keep worrying and trying to control the situation. If you keep that mindset in a relationship where you are in a negative spiral, always trying to control the situation, you will create a very stressful environment for your other half. It will be passive-aggressive and full of doubt because you have already predicted what they are going to say even though they haven’t said it because you run all the scenarios in your head. Often the communication breaks down, leading to a heap of problems. Your partner will feel judged because you keep producing all these stories about who they are, what they are, and why they are doing things without any context from them.”
Sam explained that our overthinking is because of how our brain is designed. She said, “There is a part of the brain called the RAS, or Reticular Activating System, and its job is to find evidence for what you currently need. So if you are looking to buy a new green car, you will suddenly start seeing green cars everywhere because your RAS gets programmed to find green cars. So if you are overthinking and telling yourself all these negative stories, because overthinking never happens with good things, instead of noticing good things your partner does, you are training your RAS to look for things that fit your view. Maybe you are concerned that they might cheat. You won’t notice when they were home early for dinner or when they couldn’t take their eyes off you. You’ll notice the one time they got a text from another person. And you’ll use that as evidence to prove that they are going cheat. So overthinking can really break down the relationship.”
Sam continued by saying, “And let’s not forget about emotional outbursts. You are always overthinking, and often, communication breaks down because you believe you already know the answer as you have run through all the scenarios. Then suddenly, you get overwhelmed because overthinking is stressful, and you have an emotional outburst, which is very hard for your partner. No one wants to see the person they care about in that much emotional pain.”
“Because communication has broken down, you are looking for evidence, you have emotional outbursts, and your brain isn’t finding solutions; it is just finding more problems; it keeps that cycle of overthinking going,” she added.
What are some tools that you can use to stop overthinking?
If you, too, find yourself overthinking frequently and want to get rid of this self-destructive habit, Sam has some tools for you to use.
“When caught in the cycle of overthinking, the first step in dealing with it is building an awareness of when you are overthinking. And then you can get in a dialogue with yourself like, “Oh, here we go again.” to bring in awareness. This has to be done with compassion, which is really hard because we tend to judge ourselves so quickly, and it won’t help us move forward; it will keep us trapped. So we have to keep compassion alongside an awareness of when it is happening,” Sam said.
1. The HALT approach
Sam said, “I like to use the acronym HALT, which stands for
- H- Hang on
- A- Alternative
- L- Love
- T- Try it”
She continued by saying, “Taking the aforementioned example where your partner received a message from another person, you’ll tell yourself, “Hang on, I am overthinking.” Now think about what could be the alternative. In this particular case, the alternative could be that this is a new colleague, and he is trying to get a promotion at work. Now shower yourself with some love or compassion for spotting that you were overthinking. And now try it, go ahead with the new thought, ‘Okay, he just got a message, I hope he is doing well at work’ and try out that new thought pattern for a while.”
2. Handful of stories
Another useful tool that Sam gave was giving your mind positive stories. She said, “When you catch yourself overthinking, give your brain a handful of stories. As mentioned before, the brain looks for the worst possible stories, so start giving it positive ones. If a woman thinks her husband doesn’t help her with household chores, she will come up with a story that he must not love her. She could give her other possible positive stories like he doesn’t help out because he is busy or they don’t know what I need them to do. She can give her brain 5 (handful) such stories. You take the control back from your brain by choosing your own stories.”
3. Procrastinate worrying
Sam stated, “When you are overthinking, and the HALT isn’t working, just schedule a ‘worry time.’ Tell yourself you’ll put aside an hour on one particular day this week, and that’s when you’ll worry about this stuff.”
This is probably the only time where procrastinating will go in your favor.
4. Write it out
“A lot of overthinking is emotional. Our thinking drives our emotions, and our emotions drive our thinking; it is a feedback loop. And release writing is a very helpful tool that helps with this. Take a blank piece of paper and write, I am feeling, or I am upset, or I am worrying at the top of the paper, and then just write your heart out for 15 minutes. Let your brain get everything out on that paper. When the timer goes off, take a deep breath and throw that paper away,” Sam concluded.
5. In control and out of control
Another very helpful tool that Sam gave was determining what is under your control and what isn’t. She said, “ When faced with a scenario that can trigger overthinking, sit down and write down what is in your control and what is not. So if you are worried your partner might cheat, you can’t control that behavior; you can’t control their thoughts; you can’t control where they go and with who, but what you can control is how you respond to it and communicate it.”
6. The sweet old meditation
You wouldn’t have to deal with overthinking if only your mind would stop playing against you all the time. Meditation is one of many ancient ways to tame your mind to stop causing misery to you. As Sam explained, “Meditation gives us time to sit with our minds and learn that we are not our thoughts. That they can come and go. Imagine your thoughts as clouds drifting in the sky. So when you are meditating and a thought pops up in your mind, let it drift away like clouds in the sky. And therefore, that helps with overthinking because you don’t get as trapped by your thoughts as you know they come and go.”
You can practice meditation with the help of this audio. This practice introduces a way to watch your thoughts as if they are leaves on a river rather than allow your thoughts to run wild.