Dealing with worry and fearful overthinking (from Watkins Magazine)

IMG_7883When you go into worrisome or fearful thinking, things can get very bleak and the world seems to change: visuals may come into you mind of all the bad things that might happen. Your breath might become shallower and your body feel tense. Your mind races and the storm of thoughts begins.

This is simply what the mind (and then body-mind) does when you’re overthinking – everyone’s mind, not just yours. Before you know it, you are absolutely convincing yourself of nightmare scenarios. It can be shocking how detailed and negatively creative the mind’s projections can be. It’s all fiction, of course, but it seems so real.  And like being trapped in a spider’s web, the more you try to fight it, the more trapped in overthinking and fear you seem to become.

Dispelling fears

The feeling of worry or fear is a sure sign that you are not tuned in to You. You don’t feel like yourself during these times – and that’s because, in many ways, you’re not. You have temporarily disconnected from your clarity and are connecting with the static in the radio – not the radio broadcast itself. And that static plays all kinds of miserable, untruthful drama and judgement and projected worries. It really is like you are under a spell. And this article is all about how to break the spell; break the circuit in your overthinking.

Tuning into you

When you are fully “tuned in” – meaning when you are relaxed and centred –  you cannot worry. You haven’t got access to those relentlessly negative thoughts when you are tuned in. In an ideal world when the thoughts do start coming you want to ignore the content; that stream of worry thoughts that chatters on forever and will move from subject to subject.

But let’s get real: It’s not always that easy

All the above sounds good in theory. But theory and real life are very different. People read self help books and feel great but when a problem comes up it’s as if they hadn’t read them. That’s because theory on it’s own is useless – you need the muscles honed from practice to work with these ideas. When you are in the middle of an intense situation, all the best advice in the world can go out the window. It doesn’t matter how many positive thinking books you have read or how much you have worked on yourself or how many times you decide to “be mindful and observe your thoughts”, sometimes, despite all the “9 steps to stop worrying” books on your shelf –  you might get taken over by worry or fear. And that’s ok. 

I’ve worked with a lot of people who have the tendency to worry or go into fear and overthinking. This is partly what my book Lighthouse is all about. My effective solutions came from my years of research working with hundreds if not thousands of people – and from a very personal problem: because in my own life, I found it a challenge to deal with worry or fear and nothing had helped me. No books, teachers or therapists could reach me. I frequently went into panic or fear and couldn’t work my way out of these ferocious moods, which were totally ruining my life.

A personal experience 

I remember one of many fearful situations: I went into worry about a close friend of mine, in a situation I couldn’t do anything about. I was waiting for news. I hadn’t heard from him for days. Rather than going into a excitement of how he must be having a great time and be too busy to call me, you guessed it, I did the opposite.

I used to think there was something terribly wrong with my mind – but then I realised it’s the same for pretty much everyone: for some reason the overthinking mind tends to go into the negative and race with thoughts when we “disconnect” from our empowerment.

My stomach went tight and my mind raced with worst case scenarios. I convinced myself that all kinds of terrible things were going on and desperately tried to think my way out of this and try to find solutions. I felt so physically and mentally exhausted with it all I had to leave my place of work and go home and sit down, which hardly improved things, as I continued overthinking.

Worrying about worrying

I’d read a lot of “positive thinking” books which had got me scared about how I shouldn’t be worrying as it would block solutions or even negatively affect the situation, which frightened me and made me worry even more. But trying not to worry was useless – in fact it made it worse. Then I was worried about the negative affects of my worry, so I tried hard not to worry and to think of positive outcomes  – in order to positively influence the situation. Things just got worse, the negative voices and images in my mind got more ferocious. The pain that comes from worrying means you have stepped aside from truth and clarity – but knowing this doesn’t always make the experience any easier. Worry clouds your vision; it’s like being in “static in the radio” where you can’t see sense or hear your intuition. And it’s like being swept up in a cyclone of confusion and high emotion.

So you’re worrying. And it might not be your chosen state of being, but that’s where you are right now. You are where you are.

Fighting against thoughts doesn’t work

You want to look for something to appreciate but let’s be honest, if you are swept up in a drama (like I was) that can feel almost impossible. Trying to focus on other things just gets you to “try not to think of” what you’re currently obsessing about. And it will, more times than not, keep you stuck in your worry. Of course you would love to feel great right now- but that’s not an option. Trying to feel good, trying to change your mood, trying to do anything is resistance. And what you resist, persists.

Make peace with where you are

And so in a situation like this, the first thing to do is face where you are. And that means looking for the good in where you are; looking for the good in worrying.

You may be arguing with this point. But, I ask you, what is your suggestion? When you are caught up in a storm of overthinking like worry, you have two options. And one of them is not to stop worrying or to ‘be positive’. Your two options are: to worry and to fight against the worrying. Or, to worry and make peace with the worry.

“I should be worrying because I am. It’s normal to worry in this situation. It shows I care. Maybe my worry is necessary right now, in a way I can’t see right now…”

When you embrace worry, and see it as a normal feeling, it begins to leave you and you become clearminded. Things then start to happen.

This isn’t about “not doing anything”, but when you are caught up in worry you can’t think clearly and decide the right things to do, if anything does need to be done. This is about centring yourself so that solutions, both within and without, reveal themselves to you. And this is easier said than done and required practice.

Once you’ve made peace, now Life can help you

Once you’ve made peace, ideas for distractions and solutions will naturally appear.  Life will begin to help you out and find other things to get your attention. The path to where you want to be will open seemingly from out of nowhere. When you try to do it “your way” by continuing overthinking there are no gaps between thoughts; It’s like there’s a hardened shield of thoughts around you and Life cannot get in.

A relaxing outcome

I accepted that there was nothing I could do, which initially added to the worry, but then helped me make me peace with my situation. Experience had shown that when I find away to be ok, even just for a minute. Even if I’m in a really dramatic moment. If I can just slightly make friends with where I am, a space is formed where answers can come in.

I did the practice I shared earlier, “good things about where I am”. And then life began to help me out. A phone call came in from a friend, I saw an interesting  article on the internet, which was enough to fully get my attention (and take it from the fearful subject). I began to relax, and feel a little more naturally optimistic. (I hadn’t tried to be optimistic –  I just, as best as I could, settled into where I was.) From this state of peace, more optimistic ideas came in. Sometimes I went back into the fear again, but then I quickly came out of it. And I was certainly feeling a bit better; and a lot more relaxed. I felt like “me” again.

Within about 30 minutes, an email came in, and I got news of the friend I was worried about – the first time in five days. And all was well.

When the storm is over

Practicing meditation and other techniques day to day, when you are not in the grip of worry or fear, will recondition your mind to go there less – and stop these habits of worry before they get started. However, if you do go there again (and if you have been going there you probably will again), you now know what to do.

For further practical, effective solutions for dealing with low feelings – and moving into feeling good again – see the book Lighthouse – Navigate the emotional storms of life and discover the power within you. Out now in paperback.