I am a Jedi-master of overthinking. I am fantastic at it, fanatical about it. Overthinking is my jam. It is what I was put on this earth to do. It’s. My. Thing.
It is also the single biggest character flaw I poses (apart from my incessant need to tap my nails on whatever is in front of me when I am thinking/nervous/breathing of course), it is utterly infuriating, it is the thing that exhausts me and those around me above all else.
It is a symptom of my anxiety, or is my anxiety a symptom of it? Chicken or the egg anyone? (Have a little read of my mental health story here if ya fancy it).
Despite being a fairly ~spontaneous~ ~fun-loving~ kinda gal, I usually find myself using any downtime I have to pick apart every conversation I have ever had, to wonder as to whether or not my family actually like me or, when I am feeling particularly chilled out, I like to ponder fun things, like the overall safety of cars… I mean, really, what is there to stop the tyres from just, y’know, popping off???
Yes, I know, I ought to find help.
Overthinking is the bane of my life and has been for a long time; a part of my genetic buildup, a crucial component in keeping me, me.
I had come to accept it as a recurring theme in the story of my life, an endearing, if not slightly aggravating character trait that would shine through in every anecdote; another chapter, another leap from “what shall we have for supper?” to “I must have been put on this Earth for a reason, it can’t just be a fortunate coincidence, there has to be more to it than pasta four times a week… what is the meaning of it all SOMEONE HELP ME!”
It’s so totally ingrained in me, I basically just assumed that overthinking would be with me for life.
That was until a couple of weeks ago when the damnedest thing happened.
I was minding my own business, doing my yoga (because, why yes, I do do yoga now – read about it here) when I felt the familiar sense of dread creeping into my stomach that comes when I begin the overthinking process.
I was just starting to panic over the length of my to-do list (mere inches away from reaching the conclusion that I would never get everything done because I’m a joke of a human and a colossal waste of air) when, before I knew what was happening, I heard another part of my brain (one that frustratingly keeps it’s mouth closed most of the time) telling the overthinking part, basically, to fuck off.
It spoke in a rational voice (as rational as any voice INSIDE YOUR OWN HEAD can ever sound), negotiating with the side of my brain already shoulder-deep in self doubt; “don’t panic, stop jumping to conclusions, it’s going to be fine, one step at a time, try and enjoy it, you’re great.”
Please imagine my surprise when I realised that this was working. My ‘but will I ever really be able to have a successful career if I still snooze my alarm fourteen times every morning and play games like Flappy Dunk on my phone like a fucking child?‘ thoughts were disappearing, leaving in their place a burning sense of not just pride (because fuck yes I’ve just overcome what I thought was a case of terminal overthinking), but excitement; excitement because I really did believe the second voice when it told me that I was fine and great.
Now if I were a total tosser I would probably tell you that I was only able to manipulate my mind like that because I was doing yoga at the time and yoga really has helped me with my mental health recently.
I would also tell you that having something to focus on and something that I can see myself getting better at every day is a really powerful tool that allows me to love myself and get to know myself in a whole new way… but I’m not a total tosser so I won’t say all of that.
No no, instead I will point out that this was the first time I thought to really try and talk myself out of overthinking.
I’ve previously been very happy to just ride the wave of crippling insecurity right up onto the shore, simply deeming it to be one of those things.
Although even I can identify that my tendency to overthink gets worse when my anxiety is bad or when I’m under a particular amount of stress, I really just thought it was just something I was going to have forever, like the mole above my left eyebrow or the weird lump on top of my right foot that mum says I should hit with a Bible – rather than something I could, or should, do anything about.
I’m pleased to report that I was very, very wrong.
See, we are all guilty of overthinking.
I cannot tell you how often Alex goes from ‘having a cold’ to ‘having the plague’, how often a ‘pulled muscle’ turns into ‘an almost certain need for amputation’.
My friends are just as bad. A text saying ‘hey, what’s up?’ can become a ‘what have I done wrong, are you annoyed with me?‘ in the space of a few short hours if left unattended (as often happens because I am the worst texter in London).
And that is before we even bring social media into it. My timeline is constantly full of people overthinking. Whether that’s because they have been unfollowed by someone they thought was their friend, or because their most recent Instagram photo didn’t get a lot of likes, or because a blog post they spent ages on is getting no interaction – there are relentless cries of: WHAT DID I DO WRONG?! echoing around the vast halls that encompass the internet.
Social media is literally the worst place for people prone to overthinking and yet it is the place where all the overthinkers unite.
But what are we meant to do??? Overthinking is rooted in uncertainty and HELLO, is there anything more uncertain than being a twenty-something in a post-2016 world???
Overthinking is not, as I had assumed, always and necessarily there because of a mental health illness; you don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to find yourself leaping to conclusions as dutifully as an olympic long-jumper, (Headspace published a really interesting article on the science of overthinking that I really recommend), you can just do it because you are… y’know… human.
Which makes me feel both better and worse. Better in that I can now accept that overthinking is not a failure on my part and that I am not just indulging my insecurities and my anxieties by falling into a pit of self doubt.
Worse, in that if everyone in the world suffers with these tendencies, why am I allowing them to control my day to day in the way that they do??? I don’t know about you but the minute I start indulging my overthinking tendencies, the more likely I am to talk myself out of doing something. And that only needs to happen a handful of times before I look up and realise that I’ve talked myself out of doing everything and by this point, I’m much too afraid to do anything.
In the same way that you can’t just switch off your ability to care about something, it’s basically impossible to switch off the part of your brain that makes you overthink.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be curbed, adjusted, manipulated.
I am dedicating a lot of my time at the moment to thinking (oh great, just what I need… MORE THOUGHTS), about what good each moment of overthinking is doing me as and when it arises. Although I can’t flat-out slam the door on it’s annoying little unwelcome face, I am within my rights to at least ask to see it’s invitation.
This is, after all, my party. As cluttered, jumbled and mundane as it seems.
And so whilst I may never stop panicking that I will die penniless and hated every time someone asks me what I want to do at the weekend, I am getting to the point of being able to do my teeth without worrying that they’re all going to fall out because there was a spot of blood in my spot, of noticing an un-answered email and not jumping to the conclusion that I’m a terrible writer and un-hireable and of being able to walk into a room full of people and be 99% sure that they weren’t all talking about me ten seconds before I arrived.
Trust the facts and don’t stress too much about the rest of it.