My boyfriend frequently tells me I need to give my brain a rest or I’m going to burn out. I’m an overthinker, and I know it. I always have been, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned a few techniques to help me put the brakes on when I realize what I’m doing.
Today, I want to share those techniques with you so you can stop stressing and start relaxing.
Take some deep breaths
The body’s panic response includes a rapid heartbeat, and short, shallow breathing – preparation for fight or flight.This is great if you’re facing a hungry bear or a mugger with a gun, not so much when you’re just worrying about random things.
A few deep breaths can help quell this response. It doesn’t have to be any big production. Simply close your eyes for a few moments and focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, then letting it out slowly. Try counting to four for the inhale, holding it for four, then counting to four for the exhale, and holding for another four before inhaling again. Breathe in deeply enough to raise your belly, and breathe out until you feel like there’s no more air to come out.
As you go through your day, try to remember to breathe deeply as often as possible. It will not only help you stop your thoughts, but will also help you be more focused and productive because of the increased oxygen.
Take a walk in the park
Taking a walk can improve your mood and help you find solutions that have been eluding you. Combining it with nature can also decrease your stress. So don’t just go for a walk on the city sidewalks. Take a detour through a park, or get out of town and take a walk on a winding country road or through a forest or meadow.
While the walking is exercise, there’s no need to be a speed demon. It’s not necessarily about getting your heart pumping. It’s about giving your mind a break by getting into your body, and that can be as simple as a slow stroll while looking at the wonders of the world around you.
Ideally, you’ll walk for 30 minutes, but even if you can get as little as 5-10 minutes, you’ll be able to feel the benefits as your mind slows down and eases up on you.
When you meditate, you focus on something other than your thoughts. This can be your breath, the sound of music, nature, or singing bowls, or a guided meditation. Rather than reliving the past or worrying about the future, you consciously focus on the present moment and let your thoughts pass by like clouds.
You can’t make your mind stop thinking, but you can choose not to hold on to the thoughts. Each time a thought comes, acknowledge it, let it go and return to your breath or the sound you chose to focus on.
Meditation can be a lovely way of cooling your brain down. It lets you put everything down for a little while and just be. There’s nothing you have to do, nothing to fix, nothing to think or say or figure out. All you have to do is be.
Write it all down
A brain dump can be a very effective way of slowing the brain down. Sometimes the problem is that we’re so afraid of forgetting something that we put our brain in overdrive. If you get it all out on paper, your mind realizes it no longer has to remember everything and can settle down.
You can use a fancy planner or even a regular notebook, but a plain piece of printer paper can be just as effective. Just grab a pen, pencil, or even a crayon and write down every thought that’s running through your mind, no matter how big or small.
Then, set the list aside. Come back to it a little later when you’re ready to start addressing each item. You’ll be more clear-headed and ready to tackle it all, rather than feeling overwhelmed and worried.
Replace thoughts with positive affirmations
If you notice that you have the same repetitive negative thoughts over and over, you can try replacing them with positive affirmations. Negative thoughts are stressful and drag you down but positive affirmations will remind you of what’s great about you. If you can’t stop the mind from racing, why not at least let it race with good thoughts, right?
This is, of course, both simpler and harder than it sounds. All you really have to do is choose some positive thoughts to replace the negative ones. Of course, that’s the easy part.
The hard part is that you have to pay attention to your thoughts and when you notice a negative thought coming in, shut it down immediately and think the positive one instead. This can take serious effort and more time than you might think.
You might find faster and easier success with this if you write down your new positive affirmations and leave them in places where you’ll see them regularly: on your bathroom mirror, taped to the edge of your computer screen, as a wallpaper on your phone, or on the cover of the book your reading.
Try Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
This is very much like the idea of replacing your negative thoughts with positive affirmations, but it goes much deeper. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is usually done with professional assistance. CBT helps you to identify negative thoughts that you might not even realize are negative, as well as notice the ones that are so ingrained that you don’t even realize that you’re thinking them.
CBT can be very beneficial if you also suffer from anxiety, addiction, or depression. Sometimes the monkey mind is just an overthinker, but when it’s more than that, CBT can help you deal with the deeper issues that are causing your monkey mind.
If you think you want to try CBT, your first step is to look for a professional who can help you decide if it’s right for you.
Spill your guts to a friend
Sometimes all you need is to vent it all to someone you trust. Whether that’s your partner, a good friend, your mom, or a trusted colleague, getting it all out can take the pressure off.
The key here is to be sure you can trust the person you choose to vent to. Sometimes the things you think about most can be very dark and deep. They can make you incredibly vulnerable, emotionally and otherwise.
It’s also a good idea to set some boundaries before you vent. Do you want your friend to just listen? Or do you want them to offer advice if they see a potential solution?
Tame your monkey mind
You may never be able to fully stop the overthinking. I certainly never have. But with a combination of the techniques above, or others you find, you can tame it. You can calm it and gain some control over it.
And remember that if you really struggle, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a coach or a therapist to discuss what’s on your mind and either look for solutions or for a root cause. In fact, it might just be the very best thing you could do for your own peace of mind.