I write a lot about positive thinking in this blog, but it struck me the other day that although it is great to encourage lots of positive thoughts and a positive mindset, it’s not always easy to get rid of those nasty negatives that crowd in on our thoughts … so much so that sometimes positivity gets pushed out all together.
Negative thinking and overthinking is a major issue for many of us. I have had weary clients ask me in sessions, “How can I turn my head off?” In the worst cases, people that have the potential to live happy, fulfilled lives feel trapped, wasting precious time feeling exhausted and drained.
Negative thinking and overthinking is not only tiring, but it can feel overwhelming and will seep all the joy out of your life until you are left feeling like that character from the cartoon Peanuts. The one that walks around with the rain cloud over his head.
The biggest issue I have with negative thinking is how fast it can taken off. I mean really FAST, like a rocket! Why doesn’t positive thinking do that? Where positive thinking takes some time to build up, negative thinking is away before you know it. A simple worry or feeling of apprehension can become something major and turn you into someone who is transfixed with fear and dread in a few seconds. In reality, the problem has not actually got any bigger of course, but our perception of it has, making it much more frightening than it actually is.
Here are some tips to try and deal with those negative thoughts, and if you have others that I have not mentioned, please let me know in the comments:
Declutter your brain first thing every morning. When you wake, do not immediately reach for Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. This fills your mind with lots of info that is not necessarily required. Concentrate on YOU for that first hour or so of the day. Get up, breathe deeply, stretch and repeat some favourite mantras, (see my blog post 50 Positive Things To Tell Yourself Every Day), and decide that today is going to be a positive thinking day.
Get outside if you can… look around you and take in the fresh air. A bike ride or a run is even better, but a brisk walk should help you get in that positive fram of mind.
Try to do one thing at a time during the day. If it helps, make lists and tick off tasks as they are accomplished. Don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. Concentrate only on what you are doing for the next hour or so.
Make up your mind and then move on! By this I mean don’t dwell on indecisiveness. If you have a small decision to make, for example, deciding whether or not to go to a lecture, allow yourself a maximum of 10 minutes to make up your mind. If it’s a bigger decision, allow yourself up to 12 hours. I’m a big advocate for sleeping on a big decision, but constantly going over and over information in your head over a period of days, or even weeks, is not helpful and the longer you think, the more you will doubt the final decision.
Write down the one thing you are feeling most negative about. Read it back aloud. Consider how it is making you feel now. How do you think you will feel about it in a week, in a month or in a year? Try and put it into some perspective within your life as a whole.
Remind yourself to stop if you are starting to overthink. Have a little note on your mirror or desk that says ‘Am I overthinking this?’ Realising that you are heading off in that direction can put the brakes on, long before you get to that place where your head feels like it’s going to explode.
Listen to podcasts or read positive thinking blogs. There are so many wonderful ideas and coping strategies available out there. Pick and choose which ones work for you! Many of the people you admire will have dealt with periods of negativity and overthinking. Listen to their experiences.
Try Mindfulness. If your thoughts are running away at top speed, stop. Look around for something you can concentrate on; A pet, a piece of jewellery, a cup of coffee… it can be anything. Set yourself a timer and concentrate fully for 2 or 3 minutes. Touch it, consider the weight of it, it’s texture, it’s colour, it’s smell. If nothing is available to you, look around and see what is interesting in your environment and count 5 things you can hear, 5 you can smell, and 5 you can touch. If that doesn’t appeal, plan a holiday or go shopping in your mind. Anything to distract you for 5 or 10 minutes until the overwhelming feelings pass.
Try not to panic. Breathe deeply and repeat to yourself that you are in control of your thoughts and there is plenty of time to think about this later. Slow down whatever you are doing. Count to ten, breathing in and then out, try and relax your body, unclench your hands, and close your eyes.
Decide that you will only allow negative thoughts if they are time limited and organised. For example for 10 minutes a day. Write them in a journal and after 10 minutes, close the journal and go and do something else. One client used to write down her negative thoughts and then put them in the shredder. Once they were destroyed, as far as she was concerned, that was it for negative thinking for the rest of that day.
Overthinking is often about trying to control everything so there are no nasty surprises. The reality is we can’t control everything and thinking over things 50 times or more, won’t help anyway. It doesn’t change anything, and will only give you new opportunities to frighten yourself. You are strong enough to deal with whatever happens. You have dealt with everything up to now and you will only grow in strength as time passes.
Some of my clients were constantly overthinking about how others viewed them. Remember that no one else but you is interested in your thoughts. Everyone is too wound up in their own life’s, worries and cares to be thinking about yours.
I try and make light of negative thoughts by turning them into characters or images. I think of my negative thoughts collectively as Gremlins in the film of that name. Like in the film, they turn into crazy uncontrollable monsters if I don’t deal with them properly. A recent client decided to think of her anxiety as the cartoon Tasmanian Devil! She imagined giving him a satisfying kick, sending him flailing into the far distance, when her negative thinking showed up.
A negative thought should always be verbalised before it grows into something unmanageable. Say it out loud and if possible talk it over with someone. If no one available, talk to a mirror. Why am I worrying about this? How will that help me?
Try not to get overwhelmed by irrational thoughts. Focus on one positive thought and remember that a jumble of irrational thoughts exploding in your head has changed nothing in your life, they are just thoughts. It is up to you to choose how they are going to affect you. Check those thoughts, ask yourself their worth in the bigger picture of your life, and choose to concentrate instead on something that is more worthy of your time. ❤️
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”