cultivate calm podcast

Listen to the podcast episode

[00:00:00] Monica: If you struggle with overthinking, this episode is for you. I’ll share why we overthink, how overthinking tricks us into feeling in control, and what to do when you find yourself stuck in your head. But before we begin, let’s take a long, slow exhale together.

[00:01:21] Now the information I share in this episode is for entertainment purposes only, it’s not medical advice, and it’s always best to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns. We all experience overthinking at times. We can find ourselves in an endless mental loop, going round and round in circles, thinking the same thoughts over and over.

[00:01:46] And overthinking isn’t a new phenomenon, the ancient yogis had the same problem and devised the system of yoga to overcome it. Now we often engage in overthinking when we have a problem or a big decision to make. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking. That’s what makes humans so unique. We have this really powerful brain that can run through all possible scenarios and help us determine the best course of action.

[00:02:12] Thinking becomes problematic when we can’t stop. And we often assume that thinking about our problems is the best way to deal with them. But thinking is only productive if we take positive action to resolve the issue. Otherwise, overthinking can lead to rumination, overwhelm, anxiety, and depression. When I’m stuck in an overthinking really just procrastinating.

[00:02:37] I think I’m doing something useful by

[00:02:41] thinking about my problem, but I’m not really taking any action. It can lead to analysis paralysis. Overthinking gives us a sense of certainty and control, and we all like to be able to predict things and know what the future holds. Our brains love certainty and familiarity, but life by its very nature is uncertain, try as we might, we can’t control the world or other people.

[00:03:12] So instead, Accepting that uncertainty and trusting our ability to handle what happens, we tie ourselves in mental knots trying to figure out all the possible scenarios, especially the worst case scenarios. And why don’t we have a focus on the best case? I guess that’s our negativity bias at play. And overthinking wouldn’t really be a problem if we were thinking about positive things.

[00:03:37] So when we’re stuck in overthinking, it makes us believe we’re doing something about our problem or our situation. It gives us the illusion of being in control. We assume that overthinking will help the situation, but often it just makes it worse. Let me explain.

[00:03:57] When we’re stressed or have a problem, or a big decision to make, our nervous system can go into the fight or flight response. Changes take place in both our body and brain to prepare us to either fight and defend ourselves, or run away from the threat. Physically, our heart rate increases, our muscles tense up, our pupils dilate and adrenaline courses through our bloodstream to give us the energy to fight or flee.

[00:04:25] Mentally, a different part of our brain is activated, and this affects how we think. When our nervous system goes into fight or flight mode, the fear center of our brain, the amygdala, fires up. This is a survival strategy designed to keep us safe, and we can’t consciously control this. When the amygdala’s in charge, our thoughts are more negative and fearful, and the speed of our thought increases.

[00:04:55] Our brainwave frequency. That is the speed at which our brain cells communicate to one another increases into high beta brainwave frequency, and we can easily fall into a fast and negative mental spiral in this state. This is when we start catastrophizing and planning for the worst case scenarios in our head.

[00:05:15] Our amygdala is like our animal brain. It’s instinctual and has a negativity bias. And when our amygdala is in charge, our prefrontal cortex takes a back seat. This means that some of our higher executive functions like critical analysis, detailed planning, and maintaining perspective are all diminished, and we can easily feel overwhelmed by the swirl of negative thoughts.

[00:05:42] This is what happens when we’re stuck in overthinking. It’s like an old record stuck on repeat, we’re just keep thinking the same thoughts over and over, imagining all the possible worst case scenarios. Thinking about our problems and going over all the possible scenarios gives us a sense that we’re doing something productive.

[00:06:03] It also gives us a sense of certainty of how we might handle unexpected events by dreaming up every possible scenario. Thinking about our problems doesn’t solve them. up in overthinking, we rarely take action. We just stay in this negative loop for days or weeks at a time. And overthinking can help us to feel like we’re in control of a situation, especially if we feel unsafe or we’ve experienced past trauma.

[00:06:35] In these situations, we try to escape from our problems by going into our head and getting lost in our thoughts. Now, while this type of thinking can have its place, often it leads to paralysis by analysis, meaning that we get so absorbed in our thinking we don’t actually take any action.

[00:06:53] And when we’re in this situation, where we’re thinking and obsessing about our problems, it just makes us feel worse. We’re not thinking any new thoughts, we’re not coming up with new approaches, we’re not finding new solutions, we’re just recycling the same old stale thoughts. We trick ourselves into believing that thinking about our problem is how we’re going to solve it.

[00:07:16] But in my experience, and maybe this is the case for you too, sometimes the best thing we can do in these situations is to stop thinking about the problem altogether and give our poor minds a break from this overthinking. When our computer or our phone is playing up, we switch it off and back on again.

[00:07:34] Well, we can’t quite switch our brain off, but there are a few things we can do to give ourselves a mental break so that when we come back to thinking about our problem, we have a fresh perspective. The first thing to remember is that is a sign our nervous systems in fight or flight, and that we don’t have our full cognitive abilities available to us when we’re in that mental state.

[00:07:58] It’s important to recognize that this style of thinking isn’t our best. and might actually be unhelpful in solving our problem. Overthinking often leads to cognitive distortions. These are patterns of really unhelpful thinking. This might mean that we start catastrophizing, we fall into black and white or all or nothing thinking, we overgeneralize where we say things like this always happens to me or I’m never going to get better, we personalize situations which is where we blame ourselves for things that are outside of our control.

[00:08:35] We fall into mind reading, where we assume other people are upset with us when we have no proof. We engage in filtering, where we choose to focus on certain things. And discounting, where we only pay attention to the negatives and dismiss the positives as luck or accident. When I’m in overthinking, I try to remind myself that I’m not thinking my best, and the things that I’m thinking might not be true.

[00:09:02] And when we notice we’re doing this, we can ask ourselves, is this even true? And it’s important to realize that our brain is very capable of making up stories and thinking things that aren’t true. And I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you were expecting the worst to happen, and the opposite came true.

[00:09:21] Our brains really can work us up into a state of high distress just through thinking, and this is what we are doing when we’re engaging and overthinking. We’re working ourselves up into this distressed mental state. The other thing that happens when we’re overthinking and stuck in our head is that we can disconnect from our body and become numb to our feelings.

[00:09:44] Under feeling is often the result of overthinking. We’re so stuck in our head. We forget about our heart and body. And in yoga philosophy, there’s no distinction between the mind and our heart, or thoughts and feelings. It’s all chitter, or activity of the heart mind. So when we neglect our heart, or place more emphasis on our thoughts over our feelings, we might be missing important wisdom, or key pieces of the puzzle.

[00:10:11] And many of us have a tendency to downplay our feelings and give more importance to our thoughts. And this can cause inner turmoil, this can cause incongruence, where we have this conflict between our heart and mind. And in my experience, and maybe you can relate to this too, I use overthinking to avoid feeling my emotions.

[00:10:33] Because overthinking means underfeeling. I escape to my mind to avoid the discomfort in my heart, and maybe you do this too.

[00:10:42] When I catch myself overthinking, I ask myself, what would I be feeling if I wasn’t overthinking right now? Usually there’s some fear, anger, hurt, or sadness. So now that we know why we overthink and we understand that it’s probably not the best solution to our problem, let’s talk about what to do instead.

[00:11:05] Recognize that you’ve gone into overthinking. One of the first signs that you’re overthinking is when you’re thinking the same thing over and over and you just can’t stop. Often we don’t even realize we’re doing it. So being able to recognize when we’re doing it is the first step. The next thing to remember is, accept that your brain is just trying to keep you safe by giving you a sense of control and certainty.

[00:11:33] Then recognize that some of the thoughts you’re having may not be true. Challenge those thoughts and ask, is this true? How do I know this is true? We really want to get beneath some of those stories that we tell ourselves. beneath that catastrophizing or that all or nothing thinking so that get to the truth of what the problem really is.

[00:11:56] Another thing to do is to set some boundaries with yourself about thinking time, and find some time to switch off and get into your body. So you might set a timer on your phone to think about this problem for 30 minutes, but after that time frame you have to be really firm with yourself and stop. Get up, go for a walk or have a cold shower, which vagus nerve, to break your state.

[00:12:20] So constantly thinking about our problem is no good, but we can set these small time containers where we actively think about that problem. And when the time limit is up, we consciously stop. The other thing is to calm your nervous system with yoga and breath work. Recognizing that overthinking is a product of fight or flight response of our nervous system.

[00:12:43] We think better. When we can calm our nervous system. And that’s what yoga and breath work do. And that’s what our yoga classes do. So if you’re looking to find a way to stop overthinking, if you want yoga classes that calm your mind, come find our Brisbane Yoga Studio. The final thing to remember is to embrace uncertainty, and have some faith in yourself that you’ll be able to handle the situation should it arise, rather than trying to tie yourself in mental knots imagining all the worst case scenarios. Have some faith in yourself and your ability to handle things.

[00:13:20] So now that we’ve talked about overthinking, why it’s a symptom of our nervous system, and why it’s unhelpful, I’m going to guide you through a somatic practice to get into your body, to connect with your breath, and give yourself a break from thinking, and tune into some deep wisdom. Now please don’t do this when you’re driving, you want to have a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.

[00:13:43] So roll out your yoga mat, and lie down on your back with your knees bent.

[00:13:49] Rest your arms on your body or by your side,

[00:13:56] and take a couple of really long, slow exhales.

[00:14:04] You can even let out a sigh on the exhale. Ahhhh.

[00:14:18] Now keep your eyes open, and without moving your head, look all the way over to the left, and hold your gaze there.

[00:14:33] Now gaze all the way over to the right, hold your gaze there,

[00:14:48] and bring your gaze back to the center. Now look up, like you’re looking into your own eyebrows. Look up as high as you can see without moving your head.

[00:15:11] Now keep your eyes looking up, and close your eyes.

[00:15:21] Allow your eyelids to become heavy.

[00:15:27] Let your eyeballs sink back into their sockets as you completely relax your eyes.

[00:15:38] And notice what you see with your eyes closed,

[00:15:48] what do the backs of your eyelids look like?

[00:15:54] Now bring your attention to everything you can hear.

[00:16:12] Listening to the sound of my voice,

[00:16:25] listening to this relaxing music,

[00:16:27] noticing all the sounds in your environment, and

[00:16:37] allowing all the sounds to be there without being affected by them.

[00:16:52] Now try to locate the midpoint between your ears.

[00:17:14] Feel that midpoint between your ears and behind the nose.

[00:17:24] And once you’ve located that midpoint, feel the sensations there.

[00:17:36] Notice if there’s a buzzing, a humming, or a fine vibration.

[00:17:47] Just rest your attention on that inner auditory experience.

[00:17:55] Now bring your attention to your body.

[00:18:21] Feel your body in contact with the floor,

[00:18:28] feel your clothes on your skin,

[00:18:37] feel which parts of the skin are exposed to the air.

[00:18:51] Now start stomping your feet on the floor, you can be fast or slow, hard or soft, as you stomp your feet on the floor.

[00:19:17] Imagine you’re stomping out all the stress and tension from the week,

[00:19:26] imagine you’re stomping out nervous energy.

[00:19:35] Imagine you can complete all those interrupted stress cycles by stomping your feet. Keep stomping,

[00:19:52] and now stop,

[00:20:02] and notice the tingling sensation in your feet and legs.

[00:20:10] Feel the warmth in your feet and legs.

[00:20:16] Feel a buzzing or vibration in your feet and legs.

[00:20:27] Feel a sense of aliveness in your feet and legs.

[00:20:38] Now start rubbing your palms together quite vigorously. Keep rubbing your palms until you build up a lot of heat

[00:21:01] and then place your palms over your eyes,

[00:21:07] cupping your eyes with your palms and feel the warmth,

[00:21:20] feel any vibration or buzzing,

[00:21:22] feel the aliveness in your hands.

[00:21:29] And do that again, rub your palms together vigorously,

[00:21:38] build up some heat,

[00:21:44] and when your palms are really warm, place them over your eyes,

[00:21:53] feel the warmth over your eyes,

[00:22:01] feel the aliveness.

[00:22:07] Now let your arms rest by your sides,

[00:22:21] let your body rest on the floor.

[00:22:30] And feel your breath.

[00:22:39] Now we’re going to do our Brahmari breath, or our humming bee breath, which is a breathing technique that activates the vagus nerve. It creates a vibration in the vocal cords, and this vibration creates a soothing, buzzing sensation in our skull that helps to calm our overactive mind. We inhale through the nose, and as we exhale, we make the sound of M.

[00:23:14] So just join me now. Um,

[00:23:26] Um,

[00:23:36] Um, Um,

[00:23:43] Just keep going. Making your own M sound,

[00:23:47] noticing the vibration in your throat, in your mouth,

[00:23:56] feeling that reverberate in your skull, in your brain.

[00:24:07] Keep making that sound of M,

[00:24:12] and Brahmari breath works almost instantly. family. It’s a great pattern interrupt for when we’re overthinking, when we’re stuck in our head. So do three more rounds of this breath,

[00:24:49] and then stop, and feel that residual vibration.

[00:25:29] Feel that buzzing that’s still there.

[00:25:38] Notice how pleasant it feels.

[00:25:43] Notice how pleasant it is to feel.

[00:25:53] Now return to a natural, easy breath.

[00:26:04] And bring your awareness to your heart space.

[00:26:11] Breathe into your heart space.

[00:26:20] Use your inhales to create space and openness.

[00:26:30] Use your exhales to soften and release.

[00:26:38] Now imagine you can look down into your heart space.

[00:26:50] And as you look down into your heart space, you see a tiny flicker. A small flame in the center of your heart space,

[00:27:02] and as you direct your breath to that flame, it grows stronger and brighter.

[00:27:12] You can fan that flame with your breath,

[00:27:20] and now it’s a proper campfire in the cave of your heart.

[00:27:31] And imagine sitting by that fire in the cave of your heart space.

[00:27:40] It feels safe, it’s warm, cozy,

[00:27:53] and it feels familiar.

[00:27:58] This is a space that you can connect with your higher self.

[00:28:07] This is a sacred space you can access deep wisdom.

[00:28:15] And this problem that’s been swirling around in your mind, bring it down into the heart space.

[00:28:30] And notice how you feel in the presence of your problem. Notice the emotion it evokes in you.

[00:28:49] Maybe there’s fear,

[00:28:56] maybe there’s hurt or grief. Maybe you don’t even know what the emotion is, but it feels uncomfortable.

[00:29:04] Take those swirls of thought and worry and give them a home in this space. Invite them in.

[00:29:21] Invite your mind to rest in your heart space.

[00:29:25] In the wisdom of your heart, you know the answer.

[00:29:34] And trust that you will know the right thing to do.

[00:29:40] Lay your worries down for a moment or two,

[00:29:51] allow your mind to soften into this space.

[00:30:00] Allow your thoughts to become really heavy as they sink down into the soft ground.

[00:30:15] Let the edges of your thoughts soften so they become smooth. Let the

[00:30:38] texture of your thoughts become gel like, soft and pliable.

[00:30:45] There is great wisdom to be found in these walls.

[00:30:56] And as your body and mind rest in your heart space, you call on your higher self.

[00:31:12] And when your higher self arrives, they might be a person, an animal, a shape, a colour, a feeling or a vibe. You might see them, sense them, feel them or hear them, however they appear to you is perfect.

[00:31:39] And when they arrive, you feel really good in their presence.

[00:31:50] You feel relaxed and at ease.

[00:31:52] And your higher self knows everything about you.

[00:32:03] They know your situation. And they also have access to wisdom that you can’t yet see.

[00:32:16] Your higher self has unconditional love and support for you.

[00:32:25] And they only want the best for you.

[00:32:30] And they’re here to guide you,

[00:32:39] they’re here to reassure you,

[00:32:45] they want you to know that you’re not alone.

[00:32:51] Now ask your higher self, what do I need to know right now? Just trust the very first thing that pops into your head, might be a word, might be a feeling, might be a vibe.

[00:33:20] Ask your higher self, what should I do?

[00:33:34] And ask your higher self, what’s the most important thing for me to focus on right now?

[00:33:53] And trust the message you’re receiving.

[00:34:07] This is deep wisdom from our higher self, goes way beyond our overthinking mind. And

[00:34:42] remember, you can come to this place whenever you need to, whenever you need counsel or advice. Whenever you need to seek refuge, or just take a break from your mind, you can always rest in your heart space.

So many of us struggle with overthinking. Trapped in an endless cycle of ruminating thoughts, it can feel overwhelming and like there’s no way to come out of it. Thankfully there are ways to calm a busy mind and today I’m talking about some of the reasons why we overthink, how it impacts our mental well-being, and sharing some effective strategies to bring your mind into a state of peace and calm.

Overthinking isn’t just a modern problem. Even the ancient yogis struggled with the same problem, which led to the development of yoga as a tool to overcome such mental hurdles. Overthinking often stems from the need for certainty and control, as our brains naturally seek to analyse and solve problems. However, when overthinking becomes a persistent loop without leading to productive action, it can spiral into negative emotions, anxiety and mental paralysis.

When we are stressed or have a problem, our nervous system takes action by triggering the fight or flight response, leading to heightened anxiety and negative thought patterns. The amygdala, the fear centre of our brain takes charge, causing a cascade of negative thoughts and physical responses. This mental state can disconnect us from our bodies, numbing our feelings and preventing us from experiencing true emotional intelligence.

One of the first important steps in stopping the cycle is acknowledging that overthinking is not helping you. By challenging our negative thoughts, setting boundaries for thinking time, and engaging in practices like yoga and breathwork to calm our nervous system, we can start to gain control over our overactive minds. Embracing uncertainty and having faith in our ability to handle challenges can shift our perspective from overthinking to a more balanced and grounded state.

In the first part of this episode, I share some practical information on the often hidden reasons that contribute to overthinking and how our brain responds to stress. Then stay tuned for the second half, where I share a guided somatic practice designed to bring you back into your body, connect with your breath, and tap into your own deep wisdom.

Breaking free from overthinking is a transformative journey that requires patience, self-awareness, and a willingness to embrace uncertainty. By cultivating a deeper connection with our inner selves, we can unlock profound wisdom and navigate life’s challenges with clarity and resilience. Remember, the next time you feel caught in the web of overthinking, take a moment to breathe, connect with your heart space, and trust in the power of your own intuition.