4 Key Strategies of Addressing Anxious Thoughts or Overactive Thinking
How many times have you felt frustrated, lost, anxious, or upset, by your thoughts? Many people have come to me for help with their anxious or overactive thoughts. I have heard things like, “My brain is so active at night I can't relax. When I am trying to calm down before bed, I start thinking about work, an argument, chores around the house, or worrying about something, and it makes it hard for me to sleep or stay asleep. What can I do about this problem?”
These are variations issues across a wide range of mental health related concerns or just overstimulated minds. In either case, it has a detrimental impact on our nervous system, physical health, and emotional functioning. I've seen challenges with quieting the mind connected to people struggling with diverse issues including: anxiety, depression, trauma, motivation, life purpose, miscommunications, relationship concerns, and work issues to name a few. So why is it such a common challenge despite a client’s context or issue?
In this particular context of thoughts being more active or difficult at night, I often begin by investigating the substance of the thoughts, the origin of the thought patterns, but ultimately we arrive at discovering what the client knows about behavioural practices or techniques involved with quieting the mind. There are numerous mindful, calming, grounding, and regulating strategies that exist. So it isn't so much about there being only one correct technique.
But even if they are aware of some strategies, or have tried something to calm their mind, some overarching themes are that they fear failing, lack confidence, are ideologically resistant, or dismissive of the value in quieting their mind and controlling their thoughts.
If you have been struggling with quieting your mind and calming yourself, here are 4 key components to consider when addressing this concern.
1 Practice utilizing your techniques throughout the day. If possible, it works best in a semi-regular consistency throughout your day and the week, and not just at night. Skill building is an integral component of this practice. The less obvious impact is that practicing your calming and grounding techniques also provides consistent emotional and cognitive resiliency building outside of the times you want to actively use them.
2 Discover what mind quieting techniques and behaviours match your core values. Taking a page from ACT theory, without clarity on what we value and how we categorize a need, quieting the mind will not be included in a behaviour or choice that we connect to a benefit. This is likely one of the greatest barriers to implementation and fulfillment surrounding quieting our minds.
3 Set a clear intention. My goal is... and these are the behaviours and metrics I can use to tell if I am achieving it. Practicing quieting my mind by doing (insert preferred technique) will allow me to challenge negative thought pattern (insert personal thought pattern). What happens if you do not understand the need to quiet your mind, you do not understand what you are doing by becoming more aware and connected to your thoughts, and you do not reflect on how this impacts your overall functioning? Well, you are less mindful of the behaviours and choices that are supportive to your issue, you continue to be confused or disbelieve in the efficacy, and you are likely to lose motivation, efficacy, and direction in this practice. Note: This is related to fundamental principles of CBT and other cognitive theories for anyone out there looking for CBT techniques.
4 Finding confidence and believing you can be successful. Sounds obvious? Absolutely. Do I see many clients that know what they need to do to navigate issues or barriers and still avoid it? 100%. Finding what external and internal supportive techniques you need to maintain consistency, regulation, motivation, belief, and confidence, can be challenging for the highest performers and perfectionists. Be honest with yourself. Validate your needs as best you can, and reinforce expressing these needs or goals compassionately (meaning without judgment).
These key strategies do not provide a quick fix for excessive anxiety, anxious thoughts, or overthinking behaviours. But they are foundational tools for challenging patterns that do not serve us.
If you are interested in doing work with anxious thoughts or overthinking, or know someone who might benefit from some conscious work in these areas, please connect with me as I am happy to discuss and support you in your self-development journeys!