Human beans and the perils of overthinking!

We are funny creatures us human beings (or human beans as the BFG calls us!) Always thinking- always: we don’t even switch off when we’re asleep, dreaming away, trying to make sense of the day. The only problem with this constant thinking is that it often feels overwhelming, particularly when feeling stressed, anxious or low in mood. Our thoughts can race with ideas, worries, negative thoughts lists, a constant stream, which can be mentally exhausting. I sometimes look at my dog, Lola and wish I could be like her. She only seems to live in the ‘here and now’, facing each day with a fresh approach (well as far as I know).

People often come to see me in therapy and ask how they can switch off their thoughts, is there a button you can press? The simple answer is no, but you can learn to recognise when you are overthinking, ruminating, dwelling, brooding, whittling (as we call it in Barnsley).

The first step is to become more aware of your emotions. How are you feeling at any particular point in the day? If you notice your mood changes from feeling fine, to suddenly feeling low or on edge, ask yourself what you are thinking about. What’s going through your mind at this very moment? Once you start to recognise that you’re overthinking you can then start to take control and learn techniques that can help.

The first step can be to learn how to be in the present moment, rather than getting caught up or carried away by our thoughts. It takes practice, but I find the easiest way to do this is when engaging in everyday tasks, such as driving, showering, washing up etc.…. Using your senses, start to pay attention to what you can hear, smell, feel, see, the temperature, how your body feels. What’s happening in this very moment?

I’m sat here in a coffee shop, writing this post. So I’ll talk you through how I’m practicing being present. I firstly scan my body, taking note of any sensations, aches, pains, tension. Not trying to change this, just being aware. I notice an ache in my neck, slight tension in my shoulders and my stomach is growling a little. I can hear a young child chattering away, the coffee machine making hissing noises, crockery clattering and lots of people talking. There’s a slight breeze blowing on my ankles, but the rest of my body is quite warm. I can smell coffee and see tables with people and empty coffee cups. That’s it! There’s no magic formula, just paying attention more to what’s happening now, rather than thinking about what has happened, or what might happen. The more you practice paying attention to what is, rather than what if’s, the easier it becomes. Try practicing today, while you’re cooking or having a bath. There’s no wrong way to do it, just give it a go!

I must give thanks to the kind gentleman who was sat next to me in the coffee shop. I realised I didn’t have a pen on me, so borrowed one from the staff in the coffee shop, but it didn’t work. Sensing my frustration, he kindly offered me a pen and said I could keep it. How sweet, you see, there are lovely people in the world!

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