Are you an overthinker? Overthinking is when you can’t stop thinking about a topic, even though it is making you miserable. Your brain is stuck in a loop and you play out a situation or memory again and again. While another person might think about a topic, process it and switch to a new one, your brain continues to ruminate.
Rarely (if ever) does overthinking bring joy. Instead it makes you feel bad about yourself and puts you in a blue mood. Negative thoughts are like magnets, they draw other bad memories into your mind. After ruminating on all these difficult memories it is hard to feel positive about the future.
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For example, if you ask a girl out on a date and she says no, you might think about the rejection for several hours then remember other rejections in your life, not just with girls but friends in high school, a rejection letter from a job application and even things that weren’t actually rejections but feel like it right now, perhaps the time a meeting changed locations and the email went to your spam folder. Then when you think about the future, it feels very bleak as your mind has set the stage for you to be forever single and jobless, which isn’t true of course, but it definitely feels like it after all that thinking.
The interesting thing is that if the people in your life knew about these thoughts you were having they would be shocked. They see you as the smart, funny and energetic person that you are.
The type of overthinking is a result of the creative, active ADHD brain, rather than Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Although OCD is a condition that often co-exists with ADHD (you can learn more about OCD here) you don’t need to have OCD to be an overthinker.
Overthinking has some unpleasant side effects.
- It makes you feel lonely because you cut yourself off from other people. Your habit to dissect a casual conversation can result in you feeling that people were saying hurtful things, even when that wasn’t their intention.
- You lose confidence in your abilities because you remember all your minor mistakes. For example, if you are late for work once, but replay it 1,000 times in your mind, you can end up believing you were late 1,000 times.
- It takes a toll on your immune system and mental well-being too.
Not all thinking is bad!
Some people living with ADHD do the opposite of over thinking, which is doing no thinking or reflecting. This means they jump from one activity to the next, and they don’t learn from the events of the day. Their life becomes like the movie, Groundhog Day, and the same stressful things happen again and again. If there is no pause for time to think, you don’t get a chance to create a plan, and so the stressful or upsetting event happens again. The plan does not need to be grand. Just something like ‘I will put a hook by the front door to put my keys on, so I know where they are’.
As with everything, balance is key.
Walking away from a hospital after learning she had an advanced form of cancer, author Winifred Gallagher had an epiphany. She realized that cancer wanted her full attention, and she wasn’t going to comply! Instead she made an active decision to focus on her life and all the things that were important to her. This included big things like her family and work, as well as smaller items like walks and a 6.30pm martini. Throughout her year of chemo, surgery and radiation she focused on the present moment and productive, energizing thoughts rather than anything depressing and upsetting. In her book, ‘Rapt: Attention and the focused Life’ she explains this allowed her to stay in good spirits and while it was not the best year of her life, it was not the worst either.
When you are stuck in an overthinking cycle, Winifred’s story is a helpful reminder that moving our attention away from an event is possible – no matter what the circumstances are or how bad your ADHD is.
Here are 5 ADHD friendly ways to break free from overthinking. They all involve shifting your focus from your internal thoughts of what is happening in your external environment.
1) A Fun Distraction
What is fun for you? Perhaps it’s a compelling movie or an interesting conversation with a friend? Pick something that is really fun and totally captures your attention so there is no room to think about anything else.
Exercise is a great antidote to over thinking, because while you are moving, your body releases a flood of feel good chemicals. Pick your exercise carefully as some types of exercise provides more thinking time, for example running on your own. A martial art is a good choice because you have to focus on your physical movements so there is no time to think about anything else. Experiment with a few types of exercise until you find one that helps you stop thinking.
3) Act of Kindness
When you focus on someone else and their problems, it blocks out your own troubles. There are many ways to do that. You could phone a friend who you know is going through a hard time, even if you usually hate the phone. Volunteer at a charity in your area, make a donation or go onto an online forum where you can answer people’s questions in your area of expertise. You could just go for a walk in your neighborhood to look out for ways that you can be helpful. You might hold a door or offer to carry a heavy bag. Even small gestures can make a difference. Plus, the act of looking for ways to be helpful takes you away from your thoughts.
4) Muse Headband
If you like technology and gadgets, this Muse headband might interest you. It is an investment; however, all my clients that have one (and use it) find it has helped them to retrain their brain. When they catch themselves over thinking they can shift their thoughts to a different topic. Something they would have found almost impossible to do prior to using Muse. The headband is a type of neurofeedback, and it allows you to know how your brain is operating. A common criticism of neurofeedback for ADHD is that while it might work during the neurofeedback session, the benefits do not necessarily transfer to real life situations. However, in my (admittedly small ) sample group, this product has helped overthinkers in real life as well.
5) Focus on a Goal
Focusing on something positive and productive helps take you away from rumination. So pick one of your goals, and take action towards achieving it! Plus when you cross something off your to do list you get a shot of dopamine, which helps you feel good.