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How to Get Out of Your Head and Stop Overthinking Everything

“It’s not a matter of letting go, you would if you could. Instead of ‘Let it go,’ we should probably say ‘Let it be.'” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

I always believed that a busy mind was a bad thing.

And for a large part of my life, it was.

Looking back, I don’t ever recall a time when I wasn’t caught up in my thoughts. There was always a “narrator” in my head. A constant commentary.

I tried meditating but would spend ten agonizing minutes trying desperately to push my thoughts away or make them stop, which we know is impossible. Not thinking wasn’t unlike attempting to separate a limb from my body. Yup, such was my attachment to my thoughts.

Yoga presented yet another futile attempt at mindfulness. I’d notice the other participants perfectly present and focused, while my mind would be hammering away, comparing me to others, debating why I was actually there, or criticizing my performance.

The uninformed might think that only “negative” overthinking is the problem. However, in my experience over analysis or overthinking of any topic or event (even really happy ones) generally leads to a bad feeling place.

For example, if someone paid me a compliment I would more often than not talk myself into believing that I wasn’t deserving of it. That the person in question was simply being kind, or feeling pity for me.

Back then I felt trapped. My thinking mind was something I feared. It could start up at any time and unravel me. I would long to be able to simply switch it off.

I over-analyzed everything. Simple conversations would become unnecessarily intense and uncomfortable. I found hidden meanings in every innuendo.

My thinking knew no limits. It would scrutinize the past, present, and future. And boy, could it create some intense stories—none of which were true, of course.

I felt cursed. Burdened. Why couldn’t I be normal??

And, of course, those near and dear to me reflected that back to me.

“Get out of your head!”

“Don’t overthink everything!”

“Why do you need to analyze everything??”

And my personal favorite…

“It must be exhausting being you.”

It was exhausting. I was at constant war with myself. Was there a way to think less? Could I dummy-down my thoughts?

In desperation, I learned how to smother my thinking. Food, drama, and bad relationships became my vices. They enabled me to co-exist with my manic mind.

I was simply a victim of my thinking. Out of control.

Until I happened upon a new understanding about our thinking.

It’s an understanding that’s completely changed my life, about how our thinking is separate from who we truly are.

We are not our thoughts. Nope, quite the opposite.

We have a constant stream of thoughts meandering through our minds. That’s part of being human. However, we get to choose which of those to engage with.

Author and blogger Pam Grout has a brilliant analogy for thoughts: They’re like a line of ants marching across your picnic blanket. You can choose to observe them as they keep on marching straight off the other side of the blanket and disappear, or you can choose to scoop them up and interact with them. Make them your focus. Fuss over them. And they’ll probably bite you too.

But there’s your power: It’s your choice.

You decide which thoughts you pay attention to.

Because thoughts come and go. All the time. And that’s normal.

If you’re able to observe the fact that you’re overthinking, then you’re already noticing the separation of you and your mind.

It really is that simple.

Like anything new, it’s taken time (and practice) for me to allow this understanding to really resonate and to notice the benefits, of which there are many. To name a few:

  • I’m more accepting of what is. I no longer feel the need to intellectualize and/or judge every facet of my life. And with that comes a real sense of ease.
  • I experience far more contentment. A busy mind often ends in a dark place if left untethered. By not engaging in the endless chatter, feelings of contentment have become a familiar friend.
  • I’m more empowered. Knowing that I can choose which thoughts to engage has removed any sense of victimhood I previously felt.

As with any new habit, persistence is the key.

What I’ve realized is that I don’t have to stop thinking, I simply need to be selective about whether I believe my thinking. Because most of our thoughts are just stories we make up, often regretting the past or worrying about the future.

Most aren’t true. At all.

I used to be a bit of a helicopter parent. I admit it.

So when my daughter reached the age of legal driving and nightclubbing, my over-thinking mind went into overdrive. She would go out with her friends (as young adults do), and I would have an internal meltdown. Quite literally.

My mind would imagine every worst-case scenario possible, in great detail.

Car accidents. Date rape. Abduction. You name it, I imagined it.

And it would replay over and over and over again in my mind, until I was a knot of nerves and worry. Sleep just wasn’t ever an option.

I would start texting her from about midnight, just to check she was alive. (I was that bad…)

When she finally got home in the early hours, I would feel such a flood of relief it was almost overwhelming.

It was exhausting experiencing such intense emotion from one end of the scale to the other.

Yet, it was all a result of my thinking. That’s all.

And after a year of this roller-coaster ride I finally took action. Not with my daughter—with me. Or my thinking, to be more precise.

This flood of thoughts that invaded my mind each time she ventured out would always be there, but it was my choice whether I took them seriously or not.

So I started acknowledging their presence when they showed up, then I let them flow through me. I reasoned with myself that her life was hers to live, and that I had no control over her destiny. And that made it easier. Because that’s the truth.

If I felt that familiar knot of anxiety in my gut, I would remind myself that none of those thoughts were real. I was okay. She was okay.

And in time, it got easier. I worried less and less. I even managed to sleep while she was out!

Nowadays, I only really listen to my thinking when it’s telling nice stories. Stories that makes me feel good. The rest of the time I either consciously change my thinking direction toward better feeling thoughts, or I just let my mind waffle on, without paying attention.

It’s a bit like having the radio on in the background. And when a song starts that I like, I pay attention.

Yup, I choose when to pay attention.

No exceptions.

My thinking doesn’t control me anymore. I control how I engage with it.

My busy mind is my ally. My friend. My inner play-mate.

And one of the things that makes me, me.

About Jacky Exton

Jacky believes that our “thinking” is the key to our wellbeing. Through her coaching programs, she teaches overwhelmed and frustrated overthinkers that they really can find relief from their manic minds. When she’s not running in the mountains, Jacky is also a mom, author, and blogger. Connect for a chat here or learn more about her coaching programs at www.jackyexton.com.

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  • One of the main skills we learn in mindfulness meditation is how to change our relationship with thoughts. Many practitioners fall in to the mistaken view that meditation is about emptying the mind of thoughts. Then meditation becomes a futile struggle and counterproductive. The purpose of our practice is to change our relationship to the river of thoughts so that we do not fall in and, literally, lose consciousness. Mindfulness is about appreciating thoughts, not pushing them away and cultivating inner aversion and ignorance. After all, we can sit by a river and actually enjoy the movement of water as it passes by in its chaotic and powerful way. Through meditation we can learn to appreciate and enjoy the river of thoughts. Then they cease to be a problem for us – because we don’t make them into a problem.
    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • This used to be me. I was diagnosed with Adult ADD and prescribed medication. I know that medication is a dirty word for some, but it’s been incredible for me. It’s allowed me to practice mindfulness and has made a tremendous improvement in my relationship with my thoughts. All paths are different, they are as unique as we are individually, but I urge people not to be afraid or feel ashamed to seek professional help. A licensed professional could provide wonderful insight. You don’t have to do it on your own.

  • Gaurav Nath

    I am very delighted after reading this article because i realized this exact thing a few weeks earlier and its nice to see it so perfectly represented in words. Kudos to the author. It definitely works. You’ll start to feel better pretty much immediately.

  • Susan Reed

    I don’t believe Jackie has bipolar disorder 1. Mindfulness, meditation are self-care tools I use daily, but sometimes brain chemicals overtake me. I believe in neuroplasticity, but if you could follow the mis-firing electrical impulses (TEDtalk), in the brain, you will wonder how we get along in society.

  • Devin Smith

    Happiness is not everyone’s destiny! Some if many suffer day in and day out. Is it just because they aren’t positive enough? No I don’t believe that. I’ve read the power of positive thinking, practiced yoga, Buddhism, thought positive but, the truth hurts and the only way I can see being happy is denying the truth, living in a bubble, getting rid of my TBI, getting brain surgery to rid myself of unipolar/major depression and having my ex wife give me back every cent she stole from me… I know that major depression has taken almost everything away from me! I have no career, no goals, nothing. All I want is to end the suffering. Sorry the only goal I have is to beat the mental illness. I did TMS twice and the first time was way more successful than the 2nd. I never asked for mental illness just like nobody asks to be born with cancer or get any other disease. U are born with shit just like everyone else. Some people get lucky and are motivated have high self esteem and are smart. They make it in this capitalist dream but for those with major mental illness life is not so swell. Most would be better off in Europe where u can get treated without going bankrupt. But that’s just the ugly truth. Belief is the biggest problem in America. Belief in a non existant god, belief in a criminal president, belief that the system isn’t rigged. I still respect Buddhism and the Dalai Lama but, human beings by there very nature are evolved monkeys that can do good but a lot if not most of the time selfishness lieing deception one uping stealing and generally screwing someone over for their own private urges are the norm. I would say the human race is a failure but, I’m just a mentally ill lazy stupid person so what do I know. Better to trust that rich guy who knows how to persuade people into believing BS.

  • I felt like as if someone poured down my thoughts in this post. It’s like a constant story with me. And it’s not just related to bad thoughts, its same with good thoughts you. At time it gets so irritating that it starts to drain my mind. I am still finding a way to get rid of this over-thinking. Now a days i have started doing meditations and other mindfulness techniques but their effect is very short-lived. After sometime, mind gets back to it’s usual routine.
    Harsh yadav

  • Zack

    Not to be negative (you get my saying this) but you are 100% correct and flat out nailed it. Very well written!

  • Zack

    Good information but not helpful in the least regarding the topic. I meditate without problem, which makes me consider the oxymoron of have always been. Paradoxical may be a better word. There are many times I more than annoy myself because my brain will not shut up. Other times I am not annoyed. However the constant back and forth talking exceeds that of anything remotely of the norm. At times it’s me talking to myself and other times it is God or whomever in the spiritual realm. It also isn’t negative, but fit the following categories:
    1) Questioning in an attempt to help – excellent questions
    2) Words and sentences that relate to nothing whatsoever
    3) That within the psychic realm, which I have been unable to learn anything about. I was advised that when meditating it is Clairaudience, but this is not helpful because no further explanation exists and I am aware of no one to ask. I could not be more aware of being Clairsentient (more commonly known as an Empath though differences exist between the two) but the manner in which clairaudience comes to me is nothing I’ve heard of or read about and you can’t help anyone, especially yourself, without knowledge of what this is.

    Please excuse the digression.

  • Heather Marie

    what kind of medication?

  • Black Bart

    Every helicopter parent needs to CHILL OUT. They most definitely succumb to racing thoughts, which is their prerogative. However, when they project their fear everywhere, all they achieve is smothering children, instilling the notion in them that the world is this awful place with baddies and goblins and demons lurking around every corner. Every man is a rapist. Every sale is a scam. Every food is toxic. The ocean has sharks. You’ll get hit by a car crossing the road. The world is a hostile angry place and it will kill you.

    Aside from being being patently false, the claim that the world is horrible only contributes to any and all horror in it. Helicopter parenting is out of control in America. I, as one father refuse to participate in conversation with helicopter parents. They are not bad people. They work, keep homes, pay taxes, like everyone else, but I reserve the right to protect my time and my family’s time by ignoring on all the unfounded fear they project.

    A parent’s job is to protect their children, sure. But not to the point where fear of others (most especially the whole “men as rapists” theme that pervades American society) and paranoia of society in general is the only message being delievered.

    I Further believe that rational, thinking, aware parents need to openly challenge helicopter parenting, not in a hostile manner but by basically turning our backs on the fear mongering.

    You turn off TV programs you don’t like and don’t vote for poltiicians you don’t like. Well I don’t like helicopter parenting and simply won’t take a helicopter parent as a serious person.

    You’ll never change a helicopter parent. They are fearful people by nature. You can only choose peaceful non-participation. The helicopter moms and dads are on their own karmic journey but the rest of us are not obligated to travel the path of fear with them. The ones who lose are the children.

  • Tao2112 .

    Which criminal are you referring to?

  • Tshepo

    This is a very powerful post. I suffer from the same “over-analysing things” terror. I guess I was wrong by trying to “get rid” of the thoughts that constantly came in my mind, which is impossible ofcause. Now I believe that choosing to engage with our thoughts is entirely up to us, and I am definately going to start practicing this simple technique.

    THANK YOU JACKY

  • @unknown#

    thank you so much for sharing us..