When I work with my clients who are seeking coaching because they are desiring to gain better stress management skills, the tendency to overthink is a common theme and symptom of stress for most.
Overthinking leaves you in a cycle of indecision, paralyzed by all of the possible situations, outcomes, and what that may mean for your future. You may feel like this is just how you are wired, it is in your DNA- maybe your parents or grandparents were overthinkers.
You are constantly worried about making the wrong decisions, you experience chronic fatigue because of the energy spent on overthinking, and feel as though you aren’t making progress in life because you aren’t moving forward when you are stuck in analysis paralysis. And all of this can culminate into a season of burnout.
Does this sound familiar to you? You might think this is how you are and how you will always be. But how does that make you feel when you say that?
When we express a thought that leads us to take an action (or inaction) and it becomes a repeated thought habit, the repetitive practice will “strengthen unhealthy nerve circuits through repetitive practice. Every time we repeat a fearful or defeatist thought, we strengthen the connections that make it easier to have that thought again”, according to Dr. Henry Emmons in his book “The Chemistry of Calm”.
The more we overthink or the more we choose to not manage the stress behind the overthinking, the easier it becomes a habit to overthink. The good news is that you can see positive change when you decide to take steps to lessen your overthinking tendencies.
Breaking any cycle or habit requires a pattern interruption. For change to have a lasting effect, it is helpful to begin with small steps rather than do a complete life overall and expect that you will be forever changed. Changing something that you feel has been with you for a long time will take practice, patience, and one small step at a time.
I recently realized that my morning routine had become non-existent and I wasn’t entirely sure when it started or ended. But what I did know was that I wanted to be a person who started her day intentionally. I wanted to have quiet time in prayer and reflection, I wanted to exercise, I wanted to spend time outdoors, I wanted to spend time learning something or reading for pleasure. I wanted to be a person with energy, focus, and clarity as I worked through my day.
The reality was that I couldn’t do everything every single day. I couldn’t choose what to do, so instead, I would wake up, pick up my phone, scroll through social media, read my emails, feel agitated by what was happening online, and see requests that were being made of me by email or text. I would become irritated and begin my day very reactively and that feeling would continue throughout the days, weeks, and months. I was feeling resentful because I felt like I had no control of my time. My values (what is important to me & who I want to be) were not consistent with my actions. I chose to pick up my phone instead of doing one thing that I wanted to do to start my day well.
I knew that I had to interrupt my pattern. This led me to think about what was important to me while also aligned with my values and then I realistically created the time for each of those things. They all didn’t have to happen on the same day, despite what I thought I “should” do.
I took a small step by saying that I wanted to start each day by drinking 32 oz of water before I picked up my phone. This meant that I was taking my vitamins first thing and getting hydrated, which made me feel like my value of making my health a priority was true.
Pay attention to your thoughts:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare
What we focus on in our thoughts is directly related to our feelings and actions, which impact our results (or lack thereof). We don’t realize our emotions tied to indecision, impact us on so many levels: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. We are unable to separate our thoughts from our feelings. If you want to feel better, it starts with your thoughts because your thoughts create your feelings. Anne Bogel states it so perfectly in her book, “Don’t Overthink It”, “The nature of our thoughts directly affects not only the content of our experience but also our quality of life”.
Therefore if you want to feel better, it begins with how you are thinking about your circumstances. As I coach clients, there is an emphasis on thought work or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. How and what you think makes all the difference in how you feel in your day and in your overall life.
Create a goal with a plan:
If you have a focused goal and strategy to accomplish the goal, overthinking becomes less invasive. Having clear direction and understanding your next steps removes the confusion, indecision, and worry about whether or not you are making the best decision.
I love goal planning with my clients as we work towards stress management because we can identify the major life focus area to develop. I have had many clients make significant progress feeling less stressed or burnt out simply because they knew where to focus their attention, thoughts, and action. With clarity comes action and it removes overthinking!
Lessen the options:
Have you ever been to a restaurant that has a huge menu and you feel completely overwhelmed by all the options (looking at you, Cheesecake Factory)? The multitude of options take something as simple as what you would like to eat for your next meal and turns it into what would seem to be a critical life choice!
While having a myriad of options is great, it also stimulates your brain into overdrive as you vasicilate between all the possibilities. We overthink when presented with too many choices. More options can create decision fatigue. It takes so much physical energy to make conscious decisions. When my clients are struggling with chronic fatigue and stress, I can usually uncover that they are making far too many decisions each day that leave them empty of a joy-filled life.
Narrowing your options offers freedom from overthinking and worry about whether or not you are making the right decision. Steve Jobs was known for his “uniform” of black turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers. He literally wore the same thing everyday for years because he understood the negative impact of having to spend mental energy just choosing what to wear and he felt like his brain power could be used in other more critical situations. By lessening his options, he freed himself for other important work.
Overthinking is a strenuous mental exercise that creates extra stress which leads to burnout. When riddled with indecision, consider how you could begin spending less time making decisions in order to experience a less-stressed life. Learning to make faster decisions will lead to life with more joy and relaxation. If you have been wondering how you can be less stressed or stop a burnout cycle, focusing on how you might lessen your overthinking is an excellent place to begin. Starting with small change, paying attention to your thoughts, creating clear goals with focused strategy, and lessening your options will lead you toward a path of less overthinking.
Ericka is wife, mom, Certified Life & Health Coach, stress management expert, entrepreneur, and career-woman with 20+ years of business experience. After suffering from hormone imbalance, weight gain, overwhelm, and burnout, Ericka has found that stress management is key.
Through a grace-based coaching practice that promotes sustainable wellness and recovery from stress, Ericka helps her clients increase business success and longevity by managing their stress. Learn more here.