I am 25 years old and suffer from anxiety and overthinking. My biggest issue right now is death. I am scared of death and every second I think of losing my parents or siblings and it destroys me mentally. I have never lost anyone close to me but for some reason I can’t get the thought of losing my family out of my mind. It eats away at my brain and causes me to have more anxiety and more overthinking. How can I deal with this? How can I learn to accept it and how can I stop thinking about it?
We define overthinking as: Ruminating over things that don’t protect you and aren’t productive. It makes sense to spend time thinking about tasks you need to accomplish, cautions you could take to keep you or others safe, or processing emotions or experiences to work through them. If you spend your time planning out what you can do to prevent problems, it’s productive thinking about things over which you have some control.
But if you are spending valuable time worrying about things that might not happen or things over which you have no control, you are wasting your time and energy and overthinking.
Here is a procedure to follow when you catch yourself overthinking about unproductive things:
1. Practice mindfulness
Take a minute and notice what’s going on in your head and the effect those thoughts are having on your body. Become the observer of your own thinking and what it's creating inside you. Use your senses to bring you back into the moment. This means pay attention to what sensations are happening in your body from head to toe.
Notice what can you smell, hear or see right now. There is a reason people use the phrase "come to your senses" when they talk about becoming calm — you can literally use your senses to calm anxiety.
2. Relax your nervous system
Studies have shown that when your body is in fight-or-flight mode, your frontal lobe, which you need to logically think your way back to peace, shuts down and stops working.
To get access to your frontal lobe again, try diaphragmatic breathing. An article on relaxation and stress from Harvard Health explains how to do this exercise:
"Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural)."
Take a few minutes to try this.
3. Identify which fears are causing the overthinking
Is this a fear of failure problem where you are worried about failing, looking bad, being insulted, judged or criticized? Or is this a fear of loss problem where you are afraid of things going wrong, being mistreated or losing things or people you care about?
In this instance, your fear of losing family members is a fear of loss issue.
4. If you are overthinking because of a fear of failure: choose to see that all human beings have the same intrinsic value that can’t change.
When you choose to see all human beings as having the exact same value all the time, you take failure off the table. You cannot be less than anyone else. No matter what happens you will still have the same value as every other person on the planet.
If you see life as a classroom and every experience as a lesson instead of a test where you must earn your value, it becomes a lot less scary. You can’t fail if there is no test. No matter what anyone thinks of you, you still have the same value.
5. If you are overthinking because of fear of loss: choose to see the universe as a wise and loving teacher who brings experiences to help you learn and grow.
We believe there are two mindset options about the nature of life: You can see life and the universe as a dangerous place, or you can see it as a classroom journey, where perfect learning experiences show up.
We cannot prove this idea is true, however, because there is no ultimate truth about the nature of life and the universe. This means, either way, you will choose a perspective or belief in your imagination. You might as well choose one that makes you feel safer in the world and improves your quality of life.
This means letting go of the illusion that you have control over anything and choosing to have a positive outlook, even if difficult circumstances occur. If you ever lose a person you love, you can choose to believe it was their time to go and the universe (or your higher power) will see you through the experience and make you better for it.
Overthinking about death and losing your loved ones is not keeping them safe and it is not creating solutions or preventing bad things from happening. What happens to them is completely out of your control. It is unproductive thinking that does only one thing — it takes away your peace and joy.
You are stealing suffering from the future and using it to ruin today.
We suggest you leave future suffering where it is and choose as much joy and peace as you possibly can today. This moment, right now, is the only one you have any control over. This moment, right now, is the only place you have any power to choose anything. Use that power to choose gratitude, trust, love and peace.
6. Choose gratitude, in this moment, for all the things right in your life.
Count your blessings and make a choice to focus on something fun, joyful and rich going on around you right now. Take time to send a note to a loved one and let them know how you feel about them. Focus on something you have control over that is based on love, not fear.
You can do this!
Kimberly Giles and Nicole Cunningham are the human behavior experts behind www.12.shapes.com. They host a weekly Relationship Radio show
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.