Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my thinking. In academic terms, this is called metacognition. But in my everyday life, it just feels like stress, doubt, insecurity, and anxiety. Not enjoying the present. Worrying. Overthinking.
I’ve noticed that in slower seasons of my life, I do more worrying and overthinking. As my two month long winter break wraps up, being "stuck in my own head" is almost an hourly occurrence. I’m thinking about the past and future as if my thoughts have more power than my actions.
A little while ago, I decided I'd like to stop living in my head and start living in the present. So, I took it to my journal to untangle what overthinking and worry feel like in my own life, and here's what I came up with:
Overthinking is reliving pain you’ve already experienced. Worry is mentally experiencing a pain that will probably never play out in real life.
I've heard it said that when you overthink or worry, you suffer twice: once by living through the experience, and again by ruminating on the experience. When we overthink, we drain our energy stressing over what's already been done. When we worry, we experience the emotional pain of something that hasn't happened.
When I read back what I wrote, I can say with confidence that overthinking and worry don't sound like positive, productive uses of my mental energy. So, I'm declaring now: I don’t want to live this way anymore. I don’t want to be scared of the quiet because of the thoughts that may come up. I don’t want to stay stuck in the past or try to predict the future in my head. I want to live in the present.
I feel most present when I'm exercising. When I’m working out, I must simply focus on what is right in front of me - one foot in front of the other, one more repetition…if I get lost in my head, I miss a movement. But, I don’t want exercise to be my sole solution to overthinking and worry, and I don’t think it has to be. I want to live my life concerned with what is right in front of me, not obsessing over a choice I made a week ago or worrying about something months down the line.
Recently I've experimented with ways to stop my overthinking/worry spirals and here's what I've found most effective:
Journaling literally everything on my mind (even incomplete sentences or the things I’d never want to say out loud).
Prayer (getting still and being honest with God).
Positive distraction (like going outside, cleaning my space, or cooking a meal).
Gratitude (ask yourself how long of a gratitude list feels doable for you right now...and then add ten more items to your list).
These practices (journaling, prayer, positive distraction, and gratitude) don’t always stop my negative, fearful thoughts, but I've found them helpful as I try to live more peacefully in the present. I hope that this blog post helps you evaluate your own thought life and consider a plan of action for when you feel overthinking or worry looming.
Most importantly, I want you to know that everyone struggles with their thoughts (at least to some extent). You are not alone in your worrying, overthinking, doubting, stressing, and ruminating. Our brains like to convince us that we are the only ones struggling with negative thoughts, but this is simply not true. If you feel like your negative thoughts control you, please open up to a trusted listener in your life. I can almost guarantee they overthink or worry sometimes, too.
If you feel like your negative thoughts have a hold over you, I want to remind you today that it doesn't have to be this way. Thoughts do not have power until you decide them worthy of dwelling or acting on. Your mind does not have to distract you from the present any longer. Your brain does not get to steal your joy from here on out. Overthinking and worrying are not who you are.
I wrote this blog post for me as much as I wrote it for you. We're in this together. We don't have to suffer twice.