By Jenny Peterson
(For an audio version of this blog, listen to episode #35 of my podcast)
Do you wish you had a dial that you could turn your brain on and off with, just so you could have some peace and quiet from your chattering mind?
You know, like that kid that asks a million questions, and you just to run away, so you don’t have to answer them anymore.
If this is you, then you're an overthinker. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that.
If you often wonder, why does my brain do this? How come I can’t make it stop, then this blog is for you.
I’m not only answering these questions, but I will also tell you most importantly why this thinking pattern is greatly affecting your healing.
There are common characteristics that I see in people with chronic illness. Some of which include: over achievers, perfectionist, people pleasers, and overthinkers.
While I could talk in depth about each one of these, I will save that for future blogs and just focus on overthinkers today.
Most people that are overthinkers, know they are overthinkers.
But if you need a little more proof to really know for sure, here are some signs that you are an overthinker.
SIGNS YOU'RE AN OVERTHINKER
If you say things like, "I can't relax. It's like my brain won't shut off.”
You can't stop thinking about how your life could have been better if you had done things differently.
You relive embarrassing moments in your head repeatedly.
You have trouble sleeping because it feels like your brain won't shut off.
You ask yourself a lot of "what if..." questions.
You spend a lot of time thinking about the hidden meaning in things people say or events that happen.
You rehash conversations you had with people in your mind and think about all the things you wished you had or hadn't said.
You spend a lot of time worrying about things you have no control over.
You can't get your mind off your worries.
Before making any kind of decision, you think of all the possible ways it could go wrong
Have you recognized yourself in any of these? If so, you are in the right place, if you want to do something about this “bad habit” that you have.
Which leads me to, why is your brain doing this?
HOW OVERTHINKING GETS PROGRAMMED
When students come to the MBR program, they are fully aware that they are overthinkers.
But…. they’re also mad and frustrated that their brains are doing this.
They just want it to stop, which I totally get.
But it is in these moments that we need to go back to the design of our subconscious. Our subconscious is designed for programming.
In fact, 90% of what you do everyday is connected to that programming. And most of that programming is already done by the age of 12.
This is amazing and can also be bad in some ways, depending on what that programming is.
It's amazing in that we have this incredible tool within us that we only need to program for a short period of time and then it automatically works without us having to do anything. It's this design that enables us to eat, sing, and talk on the phone while driving and we still get to our destination.
It's bad because no one is taught or knows very little about the subconscious mind and most of the problems that we have as adults go back to that “bad programming” that we experienced before the age of 12.
Our subconscious gets programmed in one way, with repetition in the form of seeing, saying, or doing.
As kids, we mimic what our parents do. Even down to the way we walk.
When it comes to overthinking, I would say 90% of the people that are doing it, are doing it because they programmed themselves to do it out of survival, which I will get to in just a bit. The other 10% are doing it because of seeing it repetitively in their parents' actions. So in other words, if mom was an overthinker, then most likely you are too, just simply due to environmental programming. Basically, monkey see monkey do.
Then there is overthinking that is from survival programming. Let me give you an example of this.
Let's say as a kid, you had a parent that was unpredictable in their actions. Sometimes when you said something, they didn’t do anything …..and other times you got yelled at, thrown into your room or even hit. You had no idea what to expect from them. So inside your little mind you would analyze if you did this, what the response could be from them or if you said that, what could be the consequences. You did your best to analyze the shit out of something because you were in fear of what “could happen.” You did this because you felt unsafe and the only way to make yourself feel safe, survive, was to do this in your mind.
Now if this happened one time in your life, it wouldn’t have programmed your subconscious mind. But because this was a regular thing, you repeated this thinking process, possibly everyday, it's now something that your subconscious is being wired to do automatically.
Every time you did it, that pattern in your brain got stronger and stronger. Before you know it, that way of thinking became automatic.
This is an example of how overthinking was programmed in efforts to feel safe.
You may or may not have had the same situation, but if you are an overthinker, I can guarantee it started from doing it to create safety within your own mind, survival.
Having parents with high expectations, fearing failing them is also a common way this way of thinking gets programmed. Another is having an alcoholic parent, where it was possibly scary to get in the car with them or not know how they were going to act. Being in fear of what kids in school might think of you is also another common one.
Basically any situation that made you feel unsafe, overthinking was done to help you feel safe.
So the root cause of your overthinking is lack of safety. Because you had that consistent feeling of not feeling safe, its now an automatic program that continues to run even when you don’t want it to.
It started out as a way to protect you but now is spilling into all areas of your life. You started responding to one thing this way, and now you respond to everything this way. Supporting my favorite quote, how you do anything is how you do everything.
Let's talk about the effects of overthinking on your health and healing.
EFFECTS OF OVERTHINKING
I like to say that overthinking is mental diarrhea. You know when you have diarrhea right, it's exhausting. You feel drained, no energy. Don’t feel like doing anything. Even if you didn’t do anything all day, by the end of the day you feel exhausted.
You never give your body a chance to relax when you have all this mental chatter. You're never in the present moment, you are always someplace else in your mind.
Over thinking keeps your body in a conflict state, where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. This causes anxiety.
Anxiety is the body’s way of responding to what it considers a threat to its survival. These thoughts, that most likely include feeling fearful, are sending a message to your body that a tiger is chasing it, a threat to its survival.
Healing only takes place in the parasympathetic nervous system. If your mind and body are in a constant state of conflict from overthinking, healing will simply not happen.
If the mind is not at peace, the body can not heal. It's not because it doesn’t know how, it's simply because survival is much more important.
It's no wonder that overthinkers have chronic health conditions, right? I mean the body follows the mind and it's bound to happen eventually. I have yet to find a person that has chronic conditions that isn’t an overthinker.
So how do you fix overthinking?
HOW DO YOU FIX OVERTHINKING?
First thing, don’t get mad.
You don’t get mad at the design of the motor in your car for it doing its job, so why get mad at your subconscious for what it is designed to do. Instead you must become friends with the design. Learn to use it optimally rather than going against it.
It has been programmed. Now you have to un-program it. Un programming takes much more effort than programming it because change is uncomfortable for something that would rather run on autopilot.
Awareness is the first step. You have to start being more conscious rather than letting the subconscious remain under control. But what is even more important is that you have to bring safety to your nervous system. You have to start building trust in yourself.
Remember I said lack of feeling safe is at the root of overthinking.
You can say things to yourself all day and try to interrupt those thoughts 24/7 but if you never build safety and trust within yourself, the program of overthinking will continue. The subconscious will continue overthinking as a way of staying safe.
This is where surface level work will only take you so far. Deep level work is required to address the root cause and unwire those old patterns for good.
Sometimes, people think that their overthinking somehow prevents bad things from happening. But when you build trust and safety within yourself, you can deal with those “bad things” without having to resort to unhelpful thinking patterns.
If you let overthinking take control over you like a fire that destroys everything in its path, it has won.
Overthinking feels like you’re constantly waiting for something but you don’t actually know what it is you’re waiting for.
Waiting for something to change.
Waiting for something to go wrong.
Waiting for someone to get mad.
Waiting for something to end dramatically and it is your fault.
Overthinking leads you to be overly cautious with everything.
It is the helicopter mom that won’t let her kid be a kid and she sits there in fear never able to relax and enjoy watching her child learn.
Overthinking is like tiptoeing around everything like there are shards of broken glass below your feet and any wrong move will lead to pain.
It’s choosing words so carefully because you never want to intentionally hurt someone.
It's trying to be in control but really having no control at all.
Most of all, overthinking is preventing you from healing. Its never allowing your body to move into the healing phase because its too busy keeping an eye on the tiger.
I can’t stop your overthinking thoughts, no pill can stop them either. Only you can by building trust and safety within yourself.
You must be your own healer.
If you're ready to identify and resolve the unconscious patterns connected to your symptoms so you can finally heal for good, fill out an MBR application to see if you're a good fit for MBR.
You can also Download my free healing guide, “Why Can’t I Heal” where you will learn the 5 reasons that you haven't healed despite everything you've tried. These are the missing pieces to your healing and the key to resolving your symptoms for good.
Jenny Peterson is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Rewire (MBR). She teaches those with chronic symptoms how to stop fearing their body, identify the root cause to their symptoms and how to be their own healer. Learn more about MBR here.