How to Stop Overthinking
One of the biggest misunderstandings of mediation is that we need to be alone in a secluded and quiet space.
Overthinking is a natural occurrence. It happens when our mental and emotional limits are pushed beyond capacity and we do not allow ourselves adequate time to rest or process our responses. If left unaddressed, overthinking becomes a habit over time, creating hidden stress that hinders everyday decisions and can have a negative impact on health.
Overthinking and the Physical Body
Asthma, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure are some of the physical ailments that can arise from excessive stress. Every thought sends a signal from our brain to various parts of our bodies. Consequently, producing hormones that either benefit or harm us. When we allow ourselves ample rest and train our minds to think positively, our bodies secrete dopamine (which improves oxygen flow to the brain, aiding in movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses) as well as serotonin (which contributes to happiness and feelings of well-being).
When we overthink, our chemical messengers trigger the secretion of cortisol (the stress hormone) which, in extreme cases, can lead to negative effects on the body such as peptic ulcers, asthma, heart attack, or mental imbalance.
Mental Tension and Overthinking:
In our ever-changing daily lives of constantly finding faster ways to absorb more information, mental tension has become a common occurrence. Many of us send our minds into overdrive by constantly thinking and relentlessly moving from one thought to the next. With no stillness, calm, or rest in between. This can lead to confusion, which added to our mental tension can make us forget easier. This mental state leads us to make choices that may not particularly make sense and potentially harm us in the future.
Thoughts are living forces with great energy, power, and possibility. We can best take control of them by adopting daily practice of yoga, meditation, or journaling into our lives. Such practices allow us to purify our mental state and manifest our thoughts. With the right approach, our positive thoughts i.e. our dreams, ambitions, and goals can be turned into physical realities.
Meditation – Observing the mind
One of the main practices to reduce overthinking is meditation. A great meditative practice for overthinking is to sit in any meditation posture and observe the mind like a witness rather than a doer. This state of observation is referred to, in yoga, as ‘drashta’ which literally translates to ‘eye-witness.’ When we apply this technique to our mental focus, we enter the inner face, or second face of the mind. The first face is external and is what actively engages in the world i.e. speaks to friends, eats food, and looks ahead. The second face emerges most commonly when we are asleep. It looks into the mind, unaware of the external. It observes our identity, strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, needs, and desires.
Perhaps one of the biggest misunderstandings of mediation is that we need to be alone in a secluded and quiet space to do so. But the true practice of meditation is to manifest the ability to find stillness in the chaos of every-day life.
Prana and mental energy
Prana (vital energy) and the mind are intimately connected. Controlling one brings the other one into control. When there is lack of balance between the two, physical and mental complications arise. Overthinking is often a result of an imbalance between the mind and prana. Bringing harmony and creating this balance is the aim of Hatha Yoga.
It is easier to control prana by mastering the practice of pranayama; regulating the breath through certain techniques which, in turn, steer us towards a tranquil state of mind.
Pranayama Practices for overthinking
Nadi Shodhana (Psychic Network Purification)
Nadi Shodhana purifies the mind and body while supplying extra oxygen into our system. This helps clear our minds, sharpen our concentration, and lowers anxiety.
Sit in an upright, seated position. Form the right hand into a fist, but leave the thumb, fourth finger, and pinky finger sticking out. Press the right thumb onto the right nostril. Inhale a deep, full breath. Hold. Then release the thumb and press the fourth finger onto the left nostril. Exhale a deep, full breath. Inhale. Now release the fourth finger from the left nostril and press the right thumb back onto the right nostril. Exhale. Practice 3 to 10 rounds of this up to twice a day.
Ujjayi Pranayama (The Psychic Breath)
Ujjayi Pranayama calms the mind by soothing the nervous system and has been proven to relieve insomnia. The practice is also known as ‘Ocean Breath’.
Sit in an upright, seating position, slightly constricting the glottis. Breathe in fully through the nose, completely filling the lungs. Then exhale fully in the same manner, through the nose. Repeat until the mind is fully calm.
Kapalbhati (Frontal Brain Cleansing Breath)
A more advanced pranayama practice, Kapalbhati cleanses the mind, body, and spirit. It sends energy to the mind, allowing it to prepare for mental work, balances the nervous system, and strengthens digestive organs.
Sit in an upright, seated position. Rest the hands on the knees or the lower abdomen. Inhale deeply through the nostrils. Contract the lower abdomen and release the breath in short bursts (about 65-70) in one minute. After one minute, inhale deeply through the nostrils and exhale fully through the mouth. Repeat and gradually increase the bursts per minute, if and when comfortable. Two to three minutes at a time should do.
Ajapa Japa and overthinking
Ajapa Japa meditation is unique in that it combines meditation, pranayama, and mantra chanting.
Ajapa Japa means “the awareness and experience of a mantra.” One simply repeats a mantra of their choosing which then leads them to the complete realisation and experience of the mantra later on. Over time, the mantra “comes to life” and forms part of the individual’s consciousness. At this stage, we no longer need to repeat the mantra, as it has become a reality and part of our true existence. This can take anywhere from a few months, to several years. The unique meditation practice of Ajapa Japa helps endow self-awareness and purifies the mind with positive energy, driving away all negativity, which in turn, boosts a healthy mentality.
Let Go of Fear, Doubt, and Worries
Practice detachment. Observe all thoughts, even the negative ones. Do not wallow in the past. And do not fear the future. We can all learn from our past and none of us can predict what will or will not happen. We must do what we love on a daily basis and not expect any results.
SWAN journaling for mental relaxation
Another great technique for calming an overactive mind is SWAN journaling. Swan stands for strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, and needs. We can work on these every day in an effort to have our ideal vision of ourselves become a reality.