When I was a child, my elementary school teacher told me that I should try not to be such a worrywart. It was an endearing growth tool to receive. “Worrywart” made it sound so darn cute.
I wish I knew back then that my adorable habit of overthinking everything under the sun would turn me into one hot mess of an adult who wants to control everything. I've learned a lot about how to manage this annoying part of my hardwiring, and hopefully, I can help you reduce any overthinking in your life so that you can start enjoying things more. Let's get started.
I'm not in the business of changing people, and you shouldn’t be either. So, you're an overthinker. That's okay. There are a ton of great things that come with that (when you're not, you know, in tears breaking down every meaning of a conversation that you had a week ago with a person you barely care about).
One great thing about being an overthinker is that you care. You don't race through your life haphazardly making decisions that negatively affect other people or yourself. You're a thinker. Go you! Please accept that your brain is hardwired to take in a lot of info on a daily basis and that it is constantly trying to analyze your world so that you can become an accomplished person. Your only goal is to ease your mind a little, given that you’re aware that you overthink stuff. So let's get to work.
If I've had a terrible day at work, I can guarantee you that I will carry those negative thoughts around in a backpack with me for a week if I don't remember to dump the bag out. I will remember (word-for-word) a negative comment from a guest who is upset in the heat of the moment and took it out on me, and I will let it inform me of my self-worth, give me a terrible outlook on the world, etc.
At the end of the day, the person who ruined my week has probably forgotten why he was so upset five minutes later. I'm not saying you should bottle up your anger by not overthinking. I'm also not saying you should drag your anger around with you for a week. Allow yourself a designated time to really over-analyze the heck out of the situation — then let that toxic mess go.
I like to give myself five minutes when I walk in the door at home to verbalize something that is weighing down on me. I also try to take into consideration the fact that my live-in boyfriend doesn't deserve to be the punching bag at which I swing all of my venting every day. If it's a particularly terrible day, I find a distraction the minute I get home. Usually, an episode of literally anything on Netflix will help me put my focus elsewhere.
Life can be a buffet of over-thinking goodness if you're a passionate dreamer. You can have the clearest vision of your dream job and life, then when you look at the to-do list of how to actually get to those dreams, it feels as if your world is crashing down.
• Write down your goals.
Let's keep it simple and sweet, fellow dreamers. Grab your morning caffeine fix and a notebook and write down one or two goals for the day that are small, baby steps toward your dreams.
• Take action.
Overthinking is caused by a massive inflation of thought and a decline of actions. Let's amp up the actions. If your goal is to start your own business, instead of thinking, “I'll never open my own business because there are so many ways for this to go wrong,” start thinking of small actions you can start taking now to pursue your dreams.
• Start small.
Making the first actionable decision is actually a lot harder than taking time to worry about your dreams, so let's get in the habit of conquering the hard stuff. Jot down one action in your notebook. Maybe it's to research DBA info, or maybe it's to open a P.O. Box. Once you start navigating the baby steps, the big picture will seem a lot more feasible.
Yes, I'm asking you to do the polar opposite of what you are inclined to do. Rather than overthinking the scenario, get outside and get active. Find the most no-brainer activity you can lay your hands on. Speed walk through your neighborhood. Use the swimming pool at your apartment complex. You will be shocked at how 30 minutes of doggie paddling will make your problems seem microscopic.
We all have that friend or family member. The one who seemingly always has negative stuff happening in their life. You ask how they're doing and they're more than ready to tell you how the world is wronging them day after day. For overthinkers, instigators are nothing short of exhausting. They are basically giving you the “all clear” on a behavior habit that you are trying to keep in check.
Shut it down. If you're around someone who is recreationally spouting off problems because it makes them feel good, make sure that you're the one navigating the conversation. Change the subject. Seriously. I'm not saying don't be there for people, but you know the type I'm talking about. You jumping down into the pit with them isn't helping them. And it's certainly not going to help you to heal.
Oh, how I love to make fun of the abundance of #grateful posts that flood my social media. #Grateful for my perfect friends and family and clothes and jobs. A part of me instantly overthinks it and wonders, “What are you hiding and how unhappy are you?”
Is vocally being grateful a wall to not express your true feelings? Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes you have to enjoy a spoonful of 'grateful' or you are going to allow yourself to sink. Mindfulness is a double-edged sword, and I will teach you how to use it wisely. Mindfulness may make you realize that you hate your job, your room desperately needs to be redecorated, and you don't have enough hours in the day to accomplish your dreams.
But why can't mindfulness be a positive thing? It doesn't mean that you have to ignore the stuff that is getting you down, but rather, finding positivity to lift you up. Being grateful that you spent time with family or that you can support yourself. These are all tiny appreciations that can go a long way.
Overthinking gives me an abundance of unnecessary anxiety. Anxiety, therefore, makes me feel like I have zero control over my world. The only way that I feel like I can finally have control over my life, is to be a control freak.
Sounds familiar right? If every element of your life is controlled, you can predict everything that will happen to you. If you can predict everything that will happen to you, there is zero room for situations that will cause you to overthink. You're healed! I'm telling you right now, allow yourself to go with the flow once in awhile. Otherwise, you're going to have to explain to people why you're having anxiety attacks and crying because they were 30 minutes late and it set off a chain of events in your brain in which your day has now fallen off of a cliff and you desperately want to climb into bed and start the day over.
Here's the truth. There are good people in the world. There are terrible people in the world. Some stuff will be easy. Some stuff will be hard. If you attempt to control every aspect of your life, you're going to miss out on the spontaneous wonderment that is your life. I promise you.
You don't have to struggle with this element of your life alone. Please let people in. And I'm not talking about the people who overthink once in a while when they had a truly bad day. I'm talking to the people who allow overthinking to be the captain of their life. Please talk to someone.
It wasn't until I started to tell people what I was going through, that I started to find solutions for myself. I now know what my triggers are and how to reach out to people when I feel myself spinning. I don't think of myself as 'weird' or 'different.' I just think my brain likes to fill itself with details. And sometimes I have to allow myself to let others help me sort it out.
Let's face it. Overthinking is the best procrastinator tool that our brains are capable of. There are days where I come from my hourly gig and I'm completely overheated over the details of the day. That's when I look over at my desk and my empty journals and I realize that I'm getting heated about a detail of my life that I don't even care about, in order to avoid focusing on the part of my life that I'm terrified of failing at.
If you need a 'get out of jail free card' when it comes to deal with overthinking, start thinking about your long-term goals. Thinking about the future will help you put the trials of today into perspective. But don't just think about it. The key is actionable steps in your everyday life. Start carving out time to make your plans. It's also important to take a look at your everyday life and understand how it's possibly helping your future plans. If it's hurting more than helping, it's time to make alterations.
Remember how I told you to beware of the instigators? Now I'm going to tell you to find a new type of people to incorporate into your life. The movers and shakers. There are two types of people. The people who spend their free time analyzing everything that went poorly at work, and there are the people who are using their energy to make the change that they want to see in their life.
You need a vision of possibility in your life to distract your brain from overthinking. Start thinking about your friend group. Who has been stuck in a rut for a decade, and who is taking chances?
• Find a risk taker and message them.
Take them to lunch. Proudly pick their brain. They want to help you.
• Stop your critical inner voice in its tracks and find a role model.
Whether it's a pilot or an artist, find someone who has successfully taken control of their life. Read about them. Clip out quotes. Do whatever you have to do. Surround yourself with the ability to start the life you want.
I hope some of these tips help you to find peace of mind and perhaps a gateway to happiness. The great thing about change is that you can start today. And know that you're not alone. You got this.
Erika Jenko is a playwright and theme park junkie trying to navigate the magical world of adulting. Also, a YouTuber and blogger at www.subwaymouse.com.