I am a chronic overthinker and while it can be a superpower, it can also be a super bummer. Overthinking is a running tap filling up my threat bucket. Any kind of stress, real or imagined, is responded to by the body as if it’s real. So whether you’re doomscrolling or being chased by a wild animal, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t know the difference. Our stress threats come from everywhere, so we need to learn to turn off the tap and open the threat bucket spigot.
As NPR reported:
This dialogue between the body and the brain can help us understand what’s going on in our bodies, but it can also get overwhelming, says Khalsa. Our technology can distract us from noticing those important signals from the brain — and it can also be the source of our distress. We can scroll for hours, not paying attention to how tired we are, or how unhappy scrolling makes us feel.
This is interoception, our internal sensory system where our physical and emotional states are consciously or unconsciously noticed, recognized, and responded to. Our interoception can be either over or under-sensitive, or just plain inundated by the world around us (digital overload, war, air quality, relationships) as well as the world inside of us (hungry, tired, sick, sore muscles). They all fill the threat bucket. For someone with sensory processing disorders or other neurodivergence, this can be even more overwhelming, causing their bucket to spill over more quickly and unexpectedly.
So what do we do? How do we open the threat bucket spigot?
In our physical body, if you notice a restriction (ankle strain sore hip flexors, etc), give it movement or skin stimulation (pressure, vibration, heat, ice). Rolling out, massaging, or stretching a sore muscle or joint helps to reduce noxious irritants to nociceptors. Nociceptors are receptors in the body that indicate to our brain pain caused by damage to body tissue. Reduce the irritants, reduce the pain being reported to our threat bucket.
But how does one stop overthinking?
There are lots of ways to do that, from meditating (this is a great blog on embodied awareness) to walking and staying hydrated. Another technique I learned from Soundtracks author, Jon Acuff, is what he calls turndown techniques.
Acuff says that many of us overthink and second-guess our decisions and ourselves. These are what he calls “negative soundtracks.” These soundtracks are too ingrained to simply turn off, like turning off a light switch. Instead, think of having a volume dial on our soundtracks and work to turn them down when they get too loud.
Turndown techniques should meet five criteria:
- Physical – Do something that is tangible and/or gets your blood flowing.
- Easy – Don’t overcomplicate things, take it easy on yourself.
- Fun – Do something you enjoy!
- Flexible – Reduce the number of rules you make for yourself, be flexible with your techniques.
- Free (of Judgement) – Don’t judge yourself for whatever technique works for you. If you like playing with Legos, go for it!
Some of my favorite ideas are (click here to see all 50 of his suggestions!):
- Go for a short drive down one of your favorite roads with the windows down and the music up. Sing along!
- Put something back where it belongs.
- Watch ten minutes of your favorite comedian.
- Create a playlist of your favorite chill-out or GET-UP songs.
- Get a bird feeder. In a matter of days, you’ll be amazed at the flying art that’s visiting your backyard.
As we enter the holidays and this busy time of year, I hope you are able to take care of yourself in some of these ways.
Peace, blessings, and safe travels to you all!