It is only natural to think that we need to analyse and examine a problem. After all, we need to solve it, right? But going over our issues over and over again can cause anxiety, especially if our stress bucket is already full. So how do you let go and stop overthinking things?
The solution-focused way
The most common perception of therapy is that it is all about unpicking your problems of the past to find the cause and then move on from that. With solution-focused work, however, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’m often faced with looks of astonishment when I tell my clients that I don’t need to know about their problems of the past to help them feel better! But if we don’t need it to feel better, why do we do it?
Why it’s so hard to stop overthinking things
First of all, we learn from a young age that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and talking about our issues means we are being open and honest. Mental health awareness campaigns also encourage people to talk and find safe spaces to do that. I agree with all of this…to a certain extent.
Secondly, it’s really important to understand that our brains are wired to go negative and stay there – it’s a survival response. The reason that human beings are at ‘the top of the food chain’ is because we have considered all the negatives and then chosen the correct response for survival.
And once you think even slightly negatively, your primitive brain encourages you to stay there until the danger passes. You can begin to catastrophise quite quickly and then remain on alert for more negatives, too. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.
So, letting go of the problem is tricky. For survival we need to think of a plan B, maybe even a plan C, just in case something goes wrong. And having issues in our life can really consume us because as human beings we are complex beings.
Also, it’s important to know that something that’s an issue in one part of our life cannot be compartmentalised. Work stress doesn’t remain work stress, it may lead us to worry about personal issues, too, like our finances. Conversely having family issues at home may mean that you cannot concentrate at work.
So now you know why you cannot let go of the problem, here are some tips to stop overthinking things, catastrophising and feeling anxious – including answers from my private FB group. (You can join the group here!)
1. Pause and reflect
Take a deep breath and remember what you HAVE achieved, how far you have come and know that you can rise to the challenge. Human beings are great at adapting. We just need to get out of ‘survival mode’ and start to think more creatively.
I’m sure there have been times in the past where you’ve achieved a goal, where you overcame a difficulty. Harness that sense of pride to help you meet your current challenges. You did it before, you can do it again.
2. Do something for someone else
Doing something small for someone else will really get you ‘out of your own head.’ It allows your mind to get a bit of perspective and brings you back to what is really important. When you are stuck in the overthinking loop you need human connection.
It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. Maybe you could offer to make a cup of tea for someone else, or send someone a card to let them know you are thinking of them. The sense of making someone else happy will make you feel capable and resilient.
3. Distract yourself
Take a break and do something fun. Rarely is a problem on a strict time limit. It will still be there when you get back from a walk or after playing with your children. This will help you to leave some negative thoughts behind and your subconscious will continue to deal with the problem in the background of your awareness, which is hugely beneficial.
You’ll be surprised how quickly your mental attitude can change if you take yourself away from the problem. Don’t feel that you are ignoring the problem or procrastinating, your brain has a huge capacity to deal with things in the background of your awareness, to allow that to happen you need to learn how to loosen the reins a bit.
4. Prioritise your sleep
If I begin to overthink, I know my sleep will be affected. However, the paradox is that if I sleep better, I know I’ll be able to deal with the problem far more effectively the next day. Therefore, I don’t let my sleep routine fall by the wayside. In fact, I take greater care over it.
Before I go to sleep, I almost imagine that I am handing my problem over to someone else for the night and I’ll pick it up again in the morning. Or you could even try writing things down to get it out of your head before you go to sleep as well. Whatever you do you need to ‘give it up’ if only for 7 or 8 hours so you can sleep peacefully.
5. Talk to someone
It does help to talk to someone to get a bit of perspective and even some new ideas and solutions. Find someone you trust and don’t just ask them to listen to talk out the problem but ask for their advice and suggestions about what they would do.
But be careful who you choose, you don’t want to talk to another problem-focused overthinker. You’ll definitely end up catastrophising!
Being solution-focused doesn’t mean we need to be completely problem phobic. Acceptance of the negatives is extremely valuable, but it should be done within the context of rationalising and even learning from mistakes.
Acceptance ultimately lowers anxiety levels. It’s about looking at what you can control, dealing with it objectively, and learning to let go of what you cannot. By focusing on the solution, your vision of what it would be like without that problem will keep you moving forward.