Anxiety and overthinking. They’re two sides of the same, horrible coin. If you’re anything like me, you know that this is a tough subject to navigate.
The very nature of anxiety is something that leaves you with a sense of unease, dread, even panic. But the overthinking? That’s another beast entirely.
Overthinking is, for me, one of the most nauseating side-effects of anxiety. It induces such internal isolation, a loneliness that can swallow you whole, even whilst sitting in a room full of people.
The link between anxiety and overthinking is a cruel one; if you struggle with anxiety you’ll feel the constant sense of fear and panic, yet if you try to rationalise it out loud it makes little sense to others. Cue the quiet, lone battle that is overthinking.
An epidemic of silence
Anxiety itself causes symptoms both mental and physical, although not everyone is aware of this. Racing heartbeat, dizziness, sudden eruptions of tears, sweating or hyperventilation; these are only a few of the many physical ways that anxiety manifests.
It also affects people’s behaviour in a huge, yet silent manner. It changes even the most outgoing amongst us into husks of their former selves, finding solace in isolation and fearing the world they once loved.
Anxiety is not depression. It’s an entirely different animal, although it’s easy to see how the two can be confused. The onslaught of overthinking is what really sets anxiety apart, in my opinion. It’s a train many of us struggle to get off, and one that is also incredibly hard to explain.
So we suffer in silence…because it feels like it’s just easier that way. Easier than trying to expel the mental waterfall of thoughts that pound our brains incessantly. Easier than trying to convince our loved ones that its more than just ‘worrying’ Easier than having to articulate the mess of negativity that whirls through our cores every single day.
It’s just easier to struggle quietly and hope that nobody notices.
Where does it stop?
I could have written a post that shouts of a magical fix for overthinking. A Pinterest-worthy piece on how to ‘quit overthinking and start living your best life’. But I’d have been talking bollocks, and that isn’t who I am.
The truth is, I don’t think anyone who has anxiety can ever truly ‘quit’ overthinking. The two go hand in hand. It’s like asking someone who’s always been right handed to suddenly become left handed.
Hard, but not impossible.
That’s the very essence of anxiety and overthinking. It’s hard to deal with…but not impossible. The most useful thing I’ve ever done to deal with my own problems with overthinking is to just acknowledge that fact.
Last year I experienced a truly horrible anxiety attack, seemingly out of nowhere, after a comment I read on Facebook hit me way harder than I was expecting. I was alone, at my computer, and suddenly my heart began to thump. Painfully.
It thumped against the wall of my chest and I began to sweat. My throat felt like it was sealing up and I began to heave to get some air into my lungs. Somewhere along the line, I realised I was crying. Not a silent cry, but full, wet sobs of pure childlike sadness and fear.
I slunk down off my chair and huddled my back up against the wall, in the corner of the small room I was in and clutched my hands to my heart, sobbing. I stayed like that for about three hours, waiting for it to pass.
Eventually, it subsided and I was so exhausted I had to lie down. Then, the overthinking came. Amongst the usual whispers of self-hatred and mocking questions about my sanity, one clear message came through:
You’re not as free of me as you thought.
It was true; thought I was rid of it. I had been taking steps for almost a solid year to try and free myself of my anxiety problem, and I really believed I’d beaten it for good. That’s when it hit me. I will probably never be rid of it fully.
That was a hard thing to admit. Hard, but not impossible.
Ways to deal with anxiety and overthinking
So as far as cures and fixes go, I’m not going to say there are any. What I will say though, is that you can take actions to keep the thoughts at bay. You can control them, instead of feeling that they’re controlling you.
How can you do this?
I know, it’s the last thing you want to do. I hate doing it too. But there’s no reason you have to talk to another person if you don’t want to. You could go for a walk and talk to the wind, for all it matters. The point is that you get it out somewhere. Don’t be afraid of talking.
If you’ve got someone you can talk to about this stuff, that’s a rare and wonderful thing. That person’s ability to listen and discuss your thoughts with you can make everything feel normal again. Use that as much as you can, but don’t forget to be a listening ear for them, too.
There are certain people or situations that will exacerbate your anxiety, and in turn, your overthinking. Specific members of your family, people you feel you may not be able to avoid, situations that freak you out – all these things can be triggers for anxiety and overthinking. Narrow down yours, and then consider how you can lessen or manage them. If it means letting go of situations or removing people from your life, then consider doing just that
This is hard for many people, because anxiety and overthinking can be so consuming, it’s hard to look at yourself objectively. However, if you can learn to recognise your anxious behaviours, or your pattern of overthinking, you can learn when to take steps to stop it in its tracks.
I know that when I’m anxious about a situation, I’ll start to feel physically sick, my hands will go cold and clammy and my heart will begin to pound. I also know that left to my own devices I will stay up really late in order to avoid overthinking when I try to go to bed early. As a result, I make my problems worse by adding exhaustion into the mix.
To combat this I’m forcing myself into a sleep routine so that I can naturally wake up earlier and feel tired earlier. Self-awareness is really useful to help you plan ways to combat the problems you’re having.
Don’t bottle it
By that, I mean your feelings. It’s common to feel like keeping it all to yourself is easier, but in the long run, you’re just avoiding the inevitable explosion of feelings that’ll come as a result. Find a way to express your internal turmoil. It may be that you take up a new hobby, start playing a video game, join a sports team – whatever it is, just try anything that helps.
Find the good people
There are lots of people in your life who love you
Talk to them if you can. Be around them, go places with them and spend time with them. They will prevent your mind running wild with anxious thoughts, even without realising it. Be around people who make you feel OK.
Find the good people. They will really help you to refocus and remember who you are.
The truth is, there’s no easy way to force a breakup between you, anxiety and overthinking. It’s the threesome that no-one wanted, but you can find ways to extract yourself from the menage.
It’s hard, but not impossible.
Have you struggled with anxiety and overthinking? It affects millions of us, and the more we talk about it, the less scared we’ll all feel about our own problems with it.
Let me know what you think, and if you’ve found this post helpful then please do share it with someone else you think might find it useful.
Writer, tweeter and illustrator. Starving artist and thrifting expert. Pen for hire and first-time author at work.