Victim of an overactive mind? Dwelling on the past, the future, and all the what ifs? Thinking about every possible scenario and taking them way too far that the thoughts become simply unrealistic?
This perpetual overthinking can cause heavy stress and unease. To fight it, we often turn to distractions in attempt to smother our overactive brains. My go-to is TV. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to listen to my brain anymore, I binge-watch TV. No shame, but these distractions only put a temporary pause on overthinking.
Here are tips and ways to channel overthinking into something productive with your hands, mind, and voice.
1. Write It Down
The simple effort of pausing to write down your thoughts can help an overactive mind. However, besides just scribbling out everything that’s on your mind (though this can be helpful too), there are several tools and techniques to constructively guide you through your thoughts.
A mind map is a way to connect ideas to one another. This tool will be helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed trying to understand a situation or plan something out. Start by writing the core of the issue or the scenario in the center of your paper (ex: “my ex-boyfriend,” “should I move?”, “do I need a new job?”, “what am I doing with my life??”).
From there, write anything that affects, or is caused by, the center thing. Continue the pattern, growing branches out from all the subcategories.
This is a useful tool when you can’t stop thinking the same things over and over again when you are trying to rest or go to sleep. “I need to remember to wash my socks tomorrow. I have an appointment at one tomorrow.” Why, brain? Why??!!! Make it stop!!!!
One of my professors from college coined the term “shit list.” It’s a bedside piece of paper (or desk-side, or car-side, or wherever you need it-side) where you can scribble the simple, mundane crap that runs over and over in your mind while trying to focus on something else.
Pros and Cons List
A simple and classic tool to help yourself make a decision and create a practical solution to a problem that is bugging you. Old school, maybe a tad nerdy, but don’t forget it.
Doodle, Color, Draw
If you’re not one for words, doodling is a very helpful tool for expression. Coloring or doodling can help to relax your brain—even science agrees. The simple act of coloring is an effortless way to draw your attention away from your babbling mind and to the present moment, which creates a calming and relaxing effect on the brain.
2. Meditation & Mindfulness
Both meditation and mindfulness can ease your overthinking by grounding yourself to the reality of the moment. Distractions and thoughts will always be present. A firetruck with the siren blaring will drive by. A neighbor on the metro will have a coughing fit. You can learn to not let these distractions affect your mental and emotional states.
Simply focus on your breath for 1-2 minutes, and when distractions, worries, or unwanted thoughts pop into your head, refocus on your breath. And re-focus again. And again.
Meditation can also be incorporated into your normal life through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of awareness without attachment to, or judgment on, our thoughts and life as it is. It allows us to be present in each moment, and only that moment, for what it is.
Here are some tips on how to live a mindful life in your average day-to-day activities like drinking a cup of coffee, washing the dishes, or holiday shopping.
3. Talk It Out
Remember that you are not alone. When you are struggling to process something on your own, reach out to those around you—your partner, your best friend, a long lost friend, a co-worker, a barista, a therapist, a dog.
Bouncing your thoughts off on another person (or your pet) can help you find a resolution to a thought or realize that you can throw that thought away and be done with it. Even if you don’t have a person who can respond to you, talking out loud can help you to process your thoughts.
Ultimately, we have to accept ourselves for who we are. Recognize that your mind will never be fully clear. We are humans and we have a conscience and consciousness that will always be talking to us. However, you can learn to channel your overthinking, to control your thoughts, and to manage them. Eventually, with practice, you will find serenity by keeping yourself grounded to reality and to the present moment.