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When you think too much

If you find yourself constantly overanalysing life, you aren't just hurting your mental health, but your physical health as well. Here are some easy ways to cope with over-thinking.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 16, 2010 19:58 IST
Seema Hingorrany

Thinking"A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth" - James Allen

It is fair to say that humans have a tendency to have repetitive thoughts and that this is especially true about events or situations that provoke anxiety. These thoughts can become so repetitive that they interfere with our ability to complete certain tasks. This in turn causes us more anxiety, which further interferes with our ability to perform at optimal levels. It becomes a vicious cycle. If you find yourself constantly overanalysing life, you aren't just hurting your mental health, but your physical health as well.

Studies at the University of California, San Diego, found that people who think too much could be in danger of weaker immune systems, depression, and higher blood pressure and heart rates. According to psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD and Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, who have done extensive research in this area, over-thinking is "thinking too much, needlessly and passively. And, endlessly pondering the meanings, causes and consequences of your character, your feelings and, especially, your problems."

Coping With Over-Thinking
Thought stopping: The basis of this technique is that you consciously issue the command, "Stop!" when you experience repeated negative, or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive. If you're using thought stopping, you become aware of unhealthy thought chains and divert your attention from them.

Shrink the chatter-box! Over-thinking is nothing but thoughts. These thoughts are nothing but a loud chatter-box that never shuts up and the more it irritates you, the stronger and louder it gets. Realise you can shrink the chatter box simply by accepting that it's there and downsizing the importance of what it's saying. The better you get at doing this, the more you will realise that your repetitive thoughts fade into the background and become less threatening and important to you.

Distract yourself: Never underestimate the power of distraction when you find yourself ruminating over a negative experience or comparing yourself to others. What are the activities that make you feel happy, curious, peaceful, amused or proud? List some activities you can do in place of negative over-thinking.

Images of perfection: This is the tendency to think about one's life, job, partner, self, etc. in terms of what 'should' be as opposed to the reality. This feeling is highly influenced and fostered by advertising and societal expectations. People who think in rigid, evaluative "absolutist" terms - like perfectionists, control freaks - are more susceptible to emotional and physical problems than those who are open-minded and flexible.

Organise your emotions: When your emotions are all over the place, your thoughts are usually all over the place as well. For instance, if you have been upset for the last couple of days, figure out what you've been upset about and make it a priority that day to deal with that one feeling before accomplishing anything else.

Seema Hingorrany is a clinical psychologist.