Do you sometimes struggle with overthinking and worrying? If you do, you are certainly not alone. These are challenges that Clients frequently come to counselling for assistance with. I have encountered these difficulties in my own life as well, so I appreciate how detrimental they can be to a person’s well-being. The following techniques have been extremely helpful in my life and numerous Clients have let me know how effective they have been in their lives too.
How we define ourselves is incredibly important! If we say things (in our heads, out loud or both) like “I am a massive overthinker” or “I am such a worrier” etc., then this is bound to have an impact on how much time we spend overthinking or worrying. We need to stop defining ourselves in ways that are so unhelpful to us! What can we do instead? If we say things such as “Sometimes I struggle with overthinking” or “Worry can be a problem for me”, we are not defining ourselves by our behaviour or reinforcing the idea that it is an unalterable part of our personalities. Separating the behaviour from who we truly are can be surprisingly liberating and empowering. Try it!
Mindfulness theory is especially helpful for tackling overthinking and worrying. According to this approach, there are two main ‘modes of being’: 1) The Doing Mode and 2) The Being Mode.
The Doing Mode is what we use for all kinds of different situations, such as problem-solving, analysing, thinking, planning etc. It’s great! However, sometimes we spend too much time in The Doing Mode and not enough time in The Being Mode (particularly in the Western world).
The Being Mode is about sensing the world, rather than thinking about it. If we go for a walk in the countryside and we see the beautiful blue sky, hear the sound of the birds singing in the trees, smell the fresh air and feel the gentle breeze on our skin, we are tuning into our senses and enjoying time cultivating The Being Mode.
How can the above theory help us on a practical level with overthinking and worrying?
When we are overthinking and worrying, we are using The Doing Mode for a task that it can’t help with – it’s like using a spade to get us out of a hole we’re stuck in. We trick ourselves into believing that we will eventually feel better if we just think about the problem some more or worry about it just the right amount. Sound familiar?
Any type of thinking that generally makes us feel rubbish (such as overthinking and worrying) could be described as ‘rumination’. When we are ruminating, we need to become aware of it and gently remind ourselves that it is unhelpful to us. If we indulge the rumination, all we are doing is digging a deeper hole, deluding ourselves into thinking it will help us get out of it. Harsh but true!
Once we are aware that we are ruminating, the next step is to engage The Being Mode. How do we do this? Wherever we are, we can ‘tune into our senses’. This could be by noticing a few things we can see around us, or by paying particular attention to what we can hear, or by noticing how we feel when we become aware of our breathing etc. ‘Grounding ourselves’ in the present moment is a potent antidote to rumination. This is because The Being Mode and The Doing Mode are mutually exclusive – if we are giving quality attention to the beautiful view in front of us, it is impossible to simultaneously be worrying about whether we locked the car!
In summary, The Being Mode is an extremely effective tool we can use to handle the problem of overthinking and worrying.