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Tame your overthinking - present moment is the only thing that matters

man thinking too much

We can not change the past, nor have a control over our future. And yet, many of us spend the majority of our time thinking about past events, conversations that did not turned out so well, the personal misfortunes, the relationships that were broken and would not be repaired, regrets of not having done certain things or worrying about our children, their future, our health, retirement money, losing our jobs, being fed up by our jobs or even by people we spend a significant time with. In our head there are countless stories we tell ourselves based on what we were told, what we are afraid of or ashamed or what we wish should happen or not happen.

Overthinking is a protective mechanism - it gives us false feeling that we control or predict the situations. Yet, constant overthinking leads to tiredness because all energy is used to avoid problems. Moreover the multiple options that emerge out of it can lead to decision paralysis. Rumination causes raise of cortisol level. Short release of cortisol in dangerous situations is useful so we can run out of them. However, when its levels are too high for a longer period it causes weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia or difficulty sleeping and irritability. Add to it headaches, excessive worry, self-blame and you end up with a poor mental health.

Clients often come with the question why they cannot tame their thoughts, negativity, self-criticism when they know it is dragging them down. The answer is quite simple: to tame our overthinking we cannot fight against our thoughts. Close your eyes and imagine a nice box of chocolates, the variety, the thought of the different flavours, which one will you pick first, how will it melt in your mouth, the feeling on your palate. Now stop thinking about the chocolate, think about something else. It is almost impossible on a command, abruptly stop thinking about something. What we need to learn is to observe the thoughts as they come without judgment. Accepting every single thought, imagining that we are just flipping pages of a book. This can become a regular mindful exercise - letting the different thoughts come and go.

Another useful technique is to turn our attention to the breath. Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing allows us to use our lungs at 100% capacity to increase lung efficiency. It also has positive effect on our autonomic nervous system ( a network of nerves throughout our body that control unconscious processes) and thus hart rate and blood pressure. During deep abdominal breathing, we oxygenate our blood and trigger the release of endorphins, while also decreasing the release of stress hormones. When we concentrate on breathing we are in our bodies not in our heads. Practice it at least 3 times a day for 5-10 minutes.

Embrace your inner critique. Have you noticed that voice - the one that tells you either that you are stupid, or clumsy, or weak, not good enough, not pretty, fat, less fortunate, not safe?

His intentions are good - it wants to protect us from danger, rejection, failure. It adopts often the phrases we heard from our not well intention-ed parents, teachers, siblings or peers in the past. Of course its approach is disastrous as it originates from fear. Again, awareness is the key. Catch yourself the next time you feel anxious, distracted, avoidant or numb. Identify the voice of the inner critique. What was the situation that triggered it? The inner critique wants to help you to feel in control. What are you afraid of? What is deeper - what are the most vulnerable feelings about the situation? What is it that you really need to hear? Talk to the inner critique. For example: I understand that you are afraid that I would never be able to move forward and will be stuck forever. I hear you, you do not need to talk to me in this way. It prevents me to think positively and continue with little steps. What I really need...

Change your daily routine. If your mind is restless, you feel overwhelmed from the early morning, you worry about your upcoming schedule and tasks. Slow down. Open the window, look at the nature, do a couple of stretching exercises, turn to your belly breathing. Feel the energy flowing in your body. With each inhale say aloud: I am fine. With each exhale make a loud sound and say aloud: I am letting go my tensions and worries.

Mastering our minds is a daily work in progress. It does not help that we read about it, that we understand it with our rational mind. In order to feel the change we need to practice so that we can directly influence our parasympathetic nervous system (with its help our body enters a state of relaxation, and this relaxation breeds recovery.) With the regular practice come slowly the results - more peaceful outlook towards future, not too much expectations, gratitude for what is, fulfillment from being rather than doing, compassion towards people, forgiveness of past hurts. It is worth all our endeavors because as Eckhart Tolle puts it: ".... the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life."


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