A lot of people do: bright, accomplished professionals, executives, and leaders who look like they have it all together actually don’t know how to stop overthinking. Even the most focused and grounded high achievers get sucked into today’s perfect storm of unremitting urgency and unhealthy expectations. Their sharp, but overworked, minds wind up circling in self-doubt or stuck on the simplest decisions… the result is overthinking.
You know the feeling. You’re tired, overwhelmed, or emotionally triggered or spent, and your inner critic just takes over the mic in your head to repeat old stories, rework past choices, or replay, “the problem with that” track until you’d like to pull the plug on thinking.
Try as you may, you are unable to calm your mind. Unfortunately, attempting to go to sleep might not even pull that plug.
These thought tracks tend to play off a common theme: Somehow you are “not enough” or don’t have enough to deal with the challenge or decision in front of you. The shame trigger is pulled, and you feel powerless to come to any “aha!” or simply take back control of your own thoughts and calm your mind.
Frustrating! And it’s not like you’re dumb — you know there’s a better way to use your precious brainpower, especially if your brain is supposed to be sleeping, relaxing, or playing!
You’re going to need to learn how to drop down into your wisdom and find the clarity you need. It’s helpful to look at why you are stuck by asking yourself some questions.
Here are 3 questions to ask yourself if you can’t stop your brain from overthinking and calm it down:
1. Are my brakes working?
The number one reason you start overthinking is a brain with a “brake” problem. Your frontal lobe (the executive center of your brain) is supposed to apply the brakes to non-productive, worrisome thinking.
But when it is tired, hungry, thirsty, lonely, or sad, it just doesn’t do that well. You’ve seen your children meltdown when they are hungry or tired. You have that same brain, and while it has learned some self-control, it’s still not capable of full mental and emotional regulation unless it has fuel and rest.
You’re going to have to do a “H.A.L.T.” check-in: “Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Thirsty?”
Before you can calm your mind, explore these basic needs and do a full-body scan to see what you need to attend to first.
2. Have I been hijacked?
This is also a “frontal lobe fail,” but for a different reason.
Whenever your brilliant brain senses danger, it sends the frontal lobe “off-line” to deal with the “threat.” This means it directs the blood from your frontal lobe to your legs so you can run. Less blood = you being less cognitively effective.
Safety is your brain’s first job — one that trumps all other functions, like keeping your perspective or constructive thought. This hijacking can occur whenever your stress load adds up in volume, or you are dealing with a “biggie.”
In order to slow down, breathe! Take few long slow deep breaths, lingering on the exhale, and ask yourself, “What is my current stress level?”
Keep breathing slowly and see if you can lower your body’s stress response. This will help ramp up your brainpower to deal.
Ask these questions to get clear about your stress and what you need now. Getting clear will build your coping confidence and help power up your brakes.
- “What is the real data?”
- “What story or assumptions am I adding?”
- “What do I need now?”
- “Who do I want to be?”
3. Am I in quicksand?
Everyone has his or her own emotional quicksand areas. In hindsight, you probably know some of yours. These are places where you’ve stepped, been pulled, or pushed that triggered strong emotional reactions, despite your best efforts to be “rational.”
But in the moment, or when you’re worn down physically, emotionally, or mentally, that self-awareness (another frontal lobe function) is MIA.
So this frontal lobe fail often occurs subconsciously — you’re on edge about something else and it affects your ability to think clearly about what’s in front of you. Your emotions have a far stronger hook on your mind than a cognitive challenge.
And you can’t just “stuff” emotions. So how do you climb out?
- Notice how emotionally charged you feel. Put a hand down on your heart or gut and breathe deeply again. Ask, “What is being tapped deep down under my swirling head?” Are you feeling vulnerable, betrayed, scared, or angry? Why? Is it an old pattern, not necessarily needed here? Honor your feelings with a little self-compassion, and then get strong.
- Decide who you would like to be in this situation. Is there another conversation you need to have with someone or yourself? This is taking back control.
Overthinking, like many stress-induced patterns, is a great metric, asking you to check in to see how you are really doing. What do you need? How can you more proactively get it?
So next time you really need to calm your mind, follow these steps to help keep you cool under pressure and stress.
This guest article was originally published on YourTango.com: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself to Figure Out Why You Overthink Everything–And How to Finally Stop