Today I’m going to talk about something that has affected me my whole life, and the more I look into it, and the more people I speak to, the more I realise that it is something that affects a lot of us – and it’s ruining our lives.
I’m talking about those times where you let your brain off its leash and it goes helter-skeltering off down its own little path until it winds up landing you in Crazy Town – with no idea how you got there, why you now think you’re such a terrible person, why you’re in a state of high anxiety and why you’re considering setting fire to your phone and emigrating to the other side of the world. An hour ago, you were fine, but since then something has happened, you reacted negatively towards it and now your thoughts are spiralling out of control and you have created a scenario in your own head that you can’t find a way out of. Sound familiar?
Let me tell you something – our brains are EXCEPTIONALLY powerful, and we have to keep an eye on our train of thought before it flies off the end of a bridge.
Overthinking has held me back from going after my dreams, it has led me to say and do things that are totally out of character, it has hurt and upset others, it has given me sleepless nights, a loss of appetite, it has ended relationships – including the one with the man I loved more than anything, and it has even landed me in hospital – that’s why it’s so important to learn to understand it and keep your thoughts in check.
I once convinced myself I was pregnant (I wasn’t), I was experiencing twinges in my right ovary and I looked up what it could mean on Google – don’t ever do this. Ever. By the end of the day I was utterly exhausted – which I figured was another symptom of my impending motherhood but was actually due to how much I’d worked myself up, and by the following morning I was being sick and I couldn’t do my jeans up. Two days later, I didn’t drink at my Christmas Party and my stomach was so tender that it hurt to touch. I went to see a gynaecologist who said that I wasn’t pregnant, but I had a pelvic inflammatory disease – basically an infection that has spread into my ovary and was making it hurt. Totally normal and totally treatable, and it was causing the mild twinge. Was I satisfied with this? Of course, I wasn’t. So then, I convinced myself that I’d brought it on myself and that something was horribly wrong. Within a week of the first twinge, I was spending a night in hospital hooked up to all sorts of machines with a tramadol suppository shoved up my bum! A day of invasive screening and testing followed and the doctors – 4 of them, were puzzled as to why I was in so much pain. They said the only thing left to check was for endometriosis – which would involve minor surgery, and it would determine whether or not I was able to have kids.
I went from thinking I was pregnant to thinking I was infertile within the space of a week and nothing has EVER brought me down to earth with a harder bump in my entire life. I had created the entire experience because I had let one tiny little thought – “my stomach hurts a bit” lead to another, and another, and another until I was in stirrups being told there was nothing wrong with me but the only thing left on the list might mean I could never be a mum.
I had allowed my thoughts to become so focused, so real and so overwhelming that my brain responded with such intense physical symptoms I was double over in agony. My thoughts did that. There was nothing wrong with me. Does this give you an inkling of what we are capable of creating and manifesting?
I used to overthink if I said something I thought was funny but no-one laughed (crippling), I would overthink if I didn’t get a text back, I would overthink if my statuses and posts didn’t get any likes, you name it I would over-analyse it, and the outcome was never good.
The thing that stopped the cycle for me was overthinking my way to a broken heart. My last relationship was an important one for all kinds of reasons, but namely because when it ended, it caused me so much pain that it changed me. We will continue to have the same self-destructive habits until we are ready to break them, and normally, in order for that to happen, those habits have to break us first.
The overthinking started early on with Ben, 6 weeks in I was at my friend’s house for the night, and I hadn’t spoken to him. He was online on WhatsApp all night, I knew because I checked every two minutes and still – nothing. It ruined my night with my friend, I didn’t sleep and at 5am, when I couldn’t take it any longer, I sent him a message that was a culmination of alcohol, no sleep and insanity. He didn’t speak to me for the best part of a week. I don’t blame him, he’d done absolutely nothing wrong, and I should have learned my lesson. 15 months later, I left. We’d hit a rough patch for a number of reasons, and we dealt with things in different ways, I like to get things off my chest and sorted out as quickly as possible so that it can be resolved and forgotten about, and Ben is the polar opposite – needing time to retreat into his corner and think about it on his own. This drove me NUTS – because I took it as him ignoring me, and when I was being ‘ignored’, and didn’t have the answers right away, what would my brain do? Yep – that’s right, it would begin its jolly jaunt into Psychoville and I would place a whole new meaning on everything we had ever said and done.
It was a Friday night, and I hadn’t heard from him all day, so I sent him a message saying we needed to talk and sort things out, and I honestly believed that we could. In fact, to this day, I think if we’d met up and talked face to face that weekend, what followed never would have happened. Ben needed until Monday night. A logical, reasonable, sound of mind person would have taken a deep breath, given him what he needed and agreed. But I was not being logical or reasonable, or sound of mind, because I was the most upset I’d ever been in my life and I’d once again talked myself into thinking the worst. Again, I didn’t sleep or eat, and I was so distraught I was throwing up. All I wanted was for him to give me a hug and tell me that it was going to be ok and that he loved me and we could get through it, but instead, I had stony silence while he dealt with his own hurt.
I convinced myself he never loved me, I convinced myself I was a rebound for his ex who was obviously the love of his life, I convinced myself he’d cheated on me, I convinced myself that I’d somehow made him feel so sorry for me that he couldn’t figure out how to leave, I convinced myself that his friends and family hated me (his sister did, but that’s another matter), I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough for him, that I wasn’t attractive enough, or laid-back enough, funny enough, sexy enough, clever enough… all this in one night. I send message after message – all ignored or becoming increasingly hostile in response because he was hurting too. I just couldn’t see that at the time, I couldn’t see past the end of my own nose that night. That’s what overthinking does – it causes you to turn in on yourself, and yourself inside out until you are blind to reality.
On the Saturday evening, when I knew he was going to be out, I let myself into the flat where I had practically been living, I packed up every trace of my existence, and I shut the door on our relationship – posting the keys through the door. It was the cowardly way out, I know that – but I couldn’t face him, I couldn’t let him see what I had become and what ultimately – I had done to myself. We didn’t break up because I was overthinking, there were so many elements at play – but my overthinking meant we never had a chance to try and make things right, and that’s a really tough lesson to learn. I have had to look back and take real responsibility for my actions and my part in the end of that relationship and I had to admit to myself that I was self-centred, irrational and I didn’t take into consideration how other people felt. I just let my own pain and negativity consume me.
We broke up 2 years ago now, and I can honestly say, hand on heart that I am an entirely different person, so much so, that Ben and I are friends and probably get on better now than we ever did. A massive part of that is because I have learned to see things from other people’s perspectives, and I have learned that just because people respond to and deal with things in a different way to me, it doesn’t mean they are wrong, or bad people, or intentionally trying to hurt me – they are just finding their own way through. I accept him now for who he is and because of that, there is no longer any hurt between us.
This all came back to me recently when speaking to a friend of mine that is going through something similar. She was so upset and I could literally see her thoughts spiralling in her head even though I was only reading messages from her. She had worked herself up, felt horrible about herself and was about to ruin something that could turn out to be special and why? Because she’d been left on ‘read’ and not gotten a message back for a few hours. I could feel that lump in the pit of her stomach and I could feel the bile rising in her throat because overthinking is such an intense force that it leaves you feeling like you’ve gone ten rounds with Anthony Joshua.
Here is what I told her, and here is what I am telling you guys if you know this situation well.
Just stop and breathe. Stop.
Why on earth are you letting your mind automatically jump to the worst-case scenario?
Why is that person not texting you back because you’re a mess and they have no interest in you? Maybe they fell asleep, or their phone died, or they’re taking care of something.
Why is your boss calling you into the office to fire you? Maybe you’re getting a promotion, or they want to congratulate you on completing a project, or just want to let you know you’ve accumulated a few extra days holiday.
Why have you lost Instagram followers because your page is rubbish and no-one likes you? Maybe accounts have been deleted, or the bots have been reported and removed.
Just stop and breathe. Stop.
The next time you find yourself on that slippery slope, I want you to force yourself to think logically. I know it’s hard, really, I do! If you really must think about it, shift your thoughts so that they are positive. Think of a minimum of 3 outcomes, or reasons behind the problem that are good, and if you’re really struggling to think of good things, then at least move up a notch from borderline fatality.
“They haven’t responded because they are busy doing something else, and we have been getting on really well so there is no reason for them to hate me, they will message me back when they can, in the meantime, I’m going to do something I enjoy.”
“I’ve worked really hard lately, and there is no reason that I can think of why I would be out of a job, maybe this is the news I’ve been waiting for, or they need to tell me something confidential – my job is safe and I am a good person who is an asset to the company.”
“Why is it so important to me that I have lost Instagram followers? I don’t know these people and I’m not going to change who I am or how I represent myself to make a number go up – that’s absurd!” *posts another photo of my cats*
Take yourself out of your own head for a few minutes and try and see things from every way you can. Think about all of the other times you have let overthinking get the better of you, and you’ve sent a message or deleted your social media or wound yourself up. What happened? Did the worst happen? Did you die? Or, did something completely reasonable happen and you ended up feeling stupid because you’d thought the worst?
Think about the relief you feel when everything is ok. Think about seeing that name pop up on your phone with “sorry for the delay, I’ve been…”. Think about that ‘oh!’ moment when you get a piece of good news. Because if you don’t and you expect the worst, even a small infection can lead you in a hospital bed, doped up on extreme painkillers believing you’re never going to be able to get pregnant.
It is ALL about how we think. Everything. Rubbish things happen in life, but it is our responses and reactions to those things that shape our reality. We’re in control of that. That’s up to us. When you are in the grips of overthinking, it often feels like there is no way out, but guess what, if you’re reading this and you know this feeling well, then you’re ok, it wasn’t the end of the world and you got through it like a champ.
Once you understand that you will always be ok, no matter what – because it is up to YOU to make sure that you will be, then nothing can touch you. You will take chances, you won’t need all the answers, you will do that thing you’ve never done before because you know that you will be ok!
Get out of your own way and stop letting negative thinking ruin your life when you have the power to turn it around. You really do.
I still get anxious, my automatic response is still to panic when things go wrong and I still get worked up when I’m in a situation that I can’t immediately see a way out of, but that lasts minutes at the most, because I’ve rewired my brain by consciously changing my thinking in these situations. It has taken me years, and it is not an easy task but just as that trip to the hospital and that break-up started with one small negative thought, I have achieved things I never thought possible from allowing a positive thought and idea blossom into something wonderful. It is all about the seeds we allow to be planted within our minds. If I get a negative or horrible thought, I literally imagine the thought shooting out of my head where it can’t take root, and the idea I got all those months ago that I wanted to help people? Well, I’ve watered it and nurtured it and I’m watching it blossom. I am helping people every day, I have people coming to me to get them through, I have people telling me I need to be a motivational speaker and create audio tapes because I have helped them to think in a different way. People tell me that my positivity and good vibes have changed their mood and that I have motivated them to do the thing they know they needed to do. I’m helping the people around me, and I can because I learned how to control my thoughts. It is because I have lived it and have come through it all myself that I am able to see into the souls of these people and I am able to show them their light and that there is a way out. I am living proof that there is and they see that.
There is ALWAYS a way forward, even if it’s not ideal, or the solution you want, there is always a way. There is always an answer, even if the answer is not the one you want. You will be ok, because you say so, because it is up to you and because you can start today by choosing which seeds you plant, which you weed out and which you take the most care of. Change your thinking, and you can change your life.
(‘Overthinking’ Image Credit: http://www.thegryphon.co.uk/2017/03/10/the-art-of-overthinking/)