An Original Thought
A cascade of thoughts emerge from your mind with a life of their own. One minute everything is fine, the next you're trapped in a web of destruction.
The thoughts lead you down a trail of nothingness, overwhelming you.
How does this happen and why do you allow yourself to get caught up in the anxiety?
It's easy to become entangled in our thoughts because we experience them thousands of times a day.
Thoughts pass through our mind for no reason, and if we cling to them, they can cause emotional upheaval.
We give the most attention to thoughts related to our happiness and survival. Situations that disrupt our homeostasis are likely to result in overthinking.
However, overanalysing is a vicious cycle that doesn't achieve much other than cause stress.
"Just like the child, we get lost in mental events... The more we fixate on and pay attention to these complex mental events, the more intricate the web of complexity that we generate," states author and meditation master Orgyen Chowang in, Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness.
Contemplate this, when was the last time you had an original thought?
You may find it was weeks or months when you last encountered one. This is because you're accustomed to reacting to outside events, so your thoughts reflect what's taking place in reality.
Overthinking can lead to stress because our thoughts generate destructive emotions which affect our long-term health.
Our thoughts are harmful if we overanalyse them, instead of allowing them to pass through the mind unattached.
We're notorious for recycling thoughts, so much that it blemishes the present moment.
We're not really present but caught up in our minds.
Orgyen Chowang affirms, "The first step is to perceive that your mind is naturally pristine, and that your mental events are just passing through. You must deeply realize this."
Remember back to a time when you were engaged in a leisure activity such as: a sport, a hobby or spending time with friends. Recall how time passed by and you're absorbed in the present moment, not contemplating the future.
It's possible to experience more of these "flow moments" according to Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Being in the flow means to be in the zone. It involves being immersed in your activity, so your thoughts are present instead of stuck in the past or future.
To avoid overanalysing thoughts, you must first recognise that it's a natural process you must work with.
To accept we cannot stop negative thoughts means detaching ourselves from being invested in them. We don't get involved in the mental drama and allow thoughts to flow through the mind, unopposed.
I appreciate Orgyen Chowang's advice to practice meditation with our eyes open. He outlines three effective ways to bring our thoughts back to the present moment using the Pristine Mind meditation:
1. Don't follow the past.
2. Don't anticipate the future.
3. Stay in the present moment.
So, if we are overanalysing thoughts, we simply draw our awareness to the habit. This slows our overactive mind, so we become aware of what is taking place.
"If we want peace of mind and better self-control, we need to accept that it is impossible to control what comes into our minds. All we can do is choose what we believe and what we act on," affirms author Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct.
When driven by our impulses alone, we respond to what's taking place within. We experience runaway thoughts and emotions and wonder how we got there.
What if we identified we're overthinking and leaned away from the thoughts?
By practicing this simple process, your mind becomes attuned to experiencing thoughts without overwhelming you.
Thoughts are like horses tied to a chariot and you are the driver. If they suddenly take off, there's little you can do to slow the chariot. However, if you take the reins, you're well equipped to steer it in the direction of your choosing.
To appreciate the nature of your thoughts it's important we carve out time to relax in silence.
We're inundated with noise in our modern lives, we find it difficult to be alone in silence.
Yet, at some point we must set aside our phones, tablets or TV to carry out other tasks. This means reconnecting with ourselves and the natural flow of the mind.
"If you want to lead a more peaceful life, the primary focus should shift from external events to the inner, as a general practice," avows Jan Frazier in, The Freedom of Being: At Ease with What Is.
Many people say they have little time to meditate because their lives are too busy. It's these very people that meditation must become a priority.
Just because we can't see our thoughts doesn't mean everything is alright. During a crisis, we may fall to pieces and find it difficult to regain peace and happiness. This is because we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in the stress cycle instead of seeing it coming.
A good way to stop overanalysing thoughts is to move your body via exercise, even a brisk walk. This harmonises the body and mind so we become present, rather then dwelling in the past or future.
Do Thoughts Cause Stress?
Movement involves breathing which calms the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
When overanalysing thoughts, we're caught in a sympathetic dominant state. This produces stress hormones that are catabolic. These stress hormones have an adverse effect on our long-term health if we stay in this state for too long.
The parasympathetic branch is the brake on your car whereas the sympathetic is the accelerator. If you accelerate for too long, you're bound to run out of petrol and grind to a halt or worse, crash.
The biggest movement in the Western world nowadays is mindfulness, which is bringing our thoughts to the forefront of our mind.
Psychologist and author Dr. Daniel Siegel has devised a strategy to notice destructive thoughts he calls, name and tame. When toxic thoughts emerge such as fear or anger, we recognise them and name them silently. In doing so, we become mindful instead of unconscious to our thinking.
Otherwise, we are at the mercy of our thoughts dictating our bad moods. This is clear when your mood changes for no reason throughout the day. Upon closer examination, negative thoughts have been brewing in your mind for days and have pulled you into a negative emotional state.
I enjoy Michael Neill's perspective in his book, The Space Within: Finding Your Way Back Home who states, "And the best thing about experiencing the peace of mind is that it's always available, regardless of who's disappointed in you, what they're disappointed about, and what you happen to be thinking about it at the time."
It's possible to find peace of mind with tranquil thoughts. However, it involves changing habits that no longer serve you.
If you're committed to reversing these habits, start by witnessing your thoughts more often.
Gradually, they will occupy less energy and you'll find life pleasant, without the inner chaos that often accompanies it.