How to Manage Severe Stress
Question your thoughts
Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s accurate or likely to happen. It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts when your mind gets going. When you are so familiar with your own thought patterns, you may not realize how many other possibilities exist.
You may ruminate over and over about a highly unlikely and potentially bad situation. You might discount options that have a much better chance of occurring. This kind of thinking error is hard to spot if you don’t question your viewpoint from time to time. Simply start by asking yourself, “what else could happen that I’m not focusing on?”
Recognize that overthinking is a habit
You may not realize how often you get stuck in overthinking loops. It may be such an ingrained part of the background of your daily life, and you may not think of it as a separate behavior.
And that’s just what it is - a behavior. Much like exercise, your diet, and how you drive home from work, a large part of your thinking activity is directed by habits. The brain likes channeling activity into habits and patterns because it’s more efficient. It takes less work to run over the same old path dozens of times than it does to come up with a new path.
Take a moment and mentally pull yourself back from your own mind. When you can learn how to step out of your thoughts and become aware of your mental processes, you can see what your habit looks like. Does a habit of overthinking serve you well, or does it hurt you? That’s the essential question to ask yourself.
Get absorbed in something else
The good news is that your mind can only truly focus on one thing at a time. Any time you try to multitask, you pull your focus back and forth between two things. Take advantage of your brain’s limitations and get it focused on something else. Turn away from whatever you keep overthinking and give your brain a break.
If you focus on something you enjoy or that takes some effort, it’s harder to keep track of your other thoughts. Even if you take a short break, you have a new opportunity to take a fresh look at your other thoughts. Beware not to abuse this technique to avoid something you should address. But if you know your thoughts aren’t productive or helpful, distraction can help you get off the mental hamster wheel for a while.
Ground yourself with relaxed breathing
When your mind cycles through the same repetitive thoughts, you may feel like you’re getting carried away. Repetitive thought cycles can also make you feel out of control.
Interrupt this by getting physically grounded in the present moment. Sit or stand and bring awareness to your body. Focus on your breathing by taking deliberate slow breaths. If you feel like your breathing is shallow and fast, take it down gradually. You don’t need to slow everything down at once. After a little while, your body will adjust and it will be easier to breathe at the pace you choose. As you recognize yourself managing your breath, you may feel like you’re back in control again.
Understand your triggers and patterns
In an earlier step, we reviewed the importance of awareness. It’s easier to see the patterns unfold when you think of them as part of a process. The first part begins when you are triggered by something in your mind or environment. You see a reminder of the idea you were thinking about, or a random thought pops up. From there, you may feel a physical response like muscle tension or a change in your breathing pattern. These can also be triggers themselves as you notice your own emotional distress.
When you understand your triggers and how you typically react, you can find healthy ways to cope. You can choose methods that won’t take you down the path of overthinking. For example, if thinking about your long road trip next week makes you anxious, take a quick walk. Doing this can interrupt the build-up of your anxiety. Instead of stewing over the scenario, you can distract your brain and relax your body. You can reduce your emotional distress before it spins off into an episode of overthinking.
Quit overthinking - Changing thought patterns
You may believe that overthinking is a helpful and positive activity. But in many cases, overthinking perpetuates stress and does little to solve problems. When you recognize and interrupt these unhelpful thinking patterns, you can prevent mental stress before it grows.
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How to Quit Overthinking Everything
21 July, 2021