Umm, so where abouts is the off button?
December 16, 2007 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I can't stop thinking, and it's destroying my life! I over think and over analyse every damn situation, it's causing me major depression and stealing my sleep, so how do I stop?

Pretty much I over think everything, to the point that it's starting to ruin my academic career, my job, my relationships and everything else!

I find sleeping difficult, because my thoughts tend to peak later at night, as do my creative ideas, so I stay up late frequently, often I'll decide to go to bed, but eventually get restless and go back on the net or read a book. I'll be about to fall asleep then I recall something I read earlier in the day, or something that someone said, so I find myself compelled to go look it up, or 'resolve it' to myself.

It plays havoc with relationships or even potential relationships, seemingly small issues snowball because I sit around pondering how I could have done XYZ differently, or how I should do so and so tomorrow and spend a lot of time pre-judging how I should handle certain situations. I'm sure if you check out my ask.mefi history you'll see a pattern of that kind of stuff (there's some self analysis going on!)

My last few relationship messed up because I dwelled on details too often and never allowed myself to just enjoy where I was...

I suppose it doesn't help that I don't have many friends to distract me, I wouldn't say I'm introverted though.

Sometimes this over active brain I have is very useful, and I don't want to just lose it, but there are times when I wish I could just find the off switch and go into idle mode and just enjoy existance, instead of worrying about details.

Ideally I just need to get laid and chill the ____ out, but I was hoping or a more internal solution that was immediately accessable. Therapy, medication and assorted other things are workable solutions?

I don't actually recall a point in my life where things weren't like this, but I'm pretty sure I was happy at one point...

Relevant biographics: I'm a 22 year old male, media graduate (or close to it) in NZ.
posted by chrisbucks to Human Relations (26 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I understand how you feel, I have a tendency to do the same thing. The way I get around it is to ask myself three questions:
1) is it a problem?
2) is it my problem?
3) is there something I can do about it right now?

If the answer to any of those three questions is "no", quit thinking about it. Your brain is just burning unnecessary energy turning the issue over and over. Make your brain think about something else. Listening to music helps me refocus, YMMV.
posted by LN at 6:58 AM on December 16, 2007

Sorry, for clarification, the three questions are to be asked regarding whatever problem you're turning over in your mind.
posted by LN at 7:00 AM on December 16, 2007

I won't be the only person in this thread recommending mindfulness meditation. You can start doing this now, for 15 or 20 minutes day.

One useful thing to remember, I think, is that it is counter-productive to TRY to get rid of thinking, to suppress it or silence it. What you can do is to learn to relate to your thoughts differently: to observe them, nonjudgmentally, to stop completely identifying with them and thinking that they 'are' you, and thereby getting stressed out by them. When you do this, you find that the torrent of thoughts does indeed subside, but almost as a by-product of relating to them differently, not by setting out to make them subside.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:05 AM on December 16, 2007 [7 favorites]

This was me about a year and a half ago. I sought out cognitive behavioral therapy for about 5 weeks and it helped so much.

The constant analyzing is your brain's way of trying to control the uncontrollable--that's the first big river of realization you'll have to cross. Secondly? Your brain is the enemy--it is restless, it gets bored and it tries to make trouble. It's a slow, slow process, but you have to learn to shut it down--deliberately choose not to think about it. It's hard. But eventually, it does get easier and one day, you find that you are not overthinking every single thing.

I'd say the key is to not try to stop overthinking completely--an analytical mind can be a huge asset, particularly since a lot of people don't have it. But you need to figure out where and when to use it--making decisions in a job, for example. In the intereprsonal realm, overthinking is completely useless. People do not get any simpler to deal with if you think about them analytically--they are puzzles that logic cannot solve.

So: seek out some CBT if you can. Failing that, turn to your local bookstore--there are lots of workbooks and such that you can walk through using the process. Breathe, go slowly, do your best--and good luck.
posted by gsh at 7:16 AM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might possibly have an anxiety disorder going on. It often co-manifests with depression.

Do you exercise? I've found regular workouts help with my racing mind. Also, meditation is very helpful, as mentioned above.

Since you're in school, do you have access to free/cheap mental health care? When you go in, you probably won't be the first person that day, even, to come in with the same complaint. Some people respond very well to cognitive behavioral therapy, especially with anxiety.

I was pretty close to the same age as you when I had a really, really bad semester. We're talking, no sleep for 48-72 hours, panic all the time, adrenaline stuck on 11 kind of semester. I went and got help. A combination of medication and therapy got me on the right track.

It can and will get better than this. Good luck!
posted by sugarfish at 7:21 AM on December 16, 2007

I think you've analyzed the situation pretty well. Therapy is exactly what you need to make sure you stay on the right course towards improving your life. Definitely go for it.

As gsh says, you need to learn to turn your brain off and realize that all of your over-thinking isn't actually doing you much good. Connecting with other people is not an intellectual exercise... it's an emotional one, which requires different skills.
posted by mpls2 at 7:25 AM on December 16, 2007

Your sleep issues might be a bit separate from the overanalyses, although sure, if you go to bed with your head going a mile a minute, it won't help you sleep. I recommend looking at some of the sleep hygiene suggestions, and perhaps implementing some of them.

Overanalysis is something we all wrestle with from time to time. Especially when it comes to relationships, it's occasionally useful to simply realize that you're going around in circles, and to stop and wait for more input & information. In my experience, overanalyzing has rarely led to new insights. Deciding that there's simply not enough data to justify any of the possible conclusions, and living with the uncertainty for now, can be a useful approach.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 7:26 AM on December 16, 2007

I used to have the exact same problem as you - obsessively worrying about things, especially in the wee hours of the night. I thought it was just part of my personality - that as the child of worriers I was destined to be one myself for the rest of my days. Not so!

What worked for me was a combination of an SSRI, getting a better job, getting a therapist, and doing my own work on mindfulness meditation (as described by game warden to the events rhino above). The mindfulness has been VERY helpful - I used the book The Mindful Way through Depression, which includes a CD of guided meditations. It was key for me to realize that 1) my feelings are ok and don't need to be "fixed" and 2) no amount of overthinking and overanalyzing them was going to make them go away. I have managed to really turn things around in my life within a really short amount of time. I really enjoy life now, and I am still productive and successful. I am much more fun to be around.

Please don't worry that you will be less intelligent if you treat your anxiety/depression. That is a common concern, but it is absolutely not true. You will be just as intelligent, plus more productive, if you can treat this problem.

My other suggestions would be to avoid substances (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, caffeine), exercise daily, and practice sleep hygiene as described by NucleophilicAttack above.
posted by tuff at 7:35 AM on December 16, 2007

therapy, exercise, meditation. you might benefit from a short course of medication while you work on your issues with a therapist (it doesn't mean you have to take it forever--think of it as a brace for an injured supports you while you heal).
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:38 AM on December 16, 2007

Mindfulness is good stuff. You could also try a mantra, or its Western equivalent: say the Rosary. It's the spiritual equivalent of plugging your ears and saying, "Lalalalalala..."
posted by RussHy at 7:38 AM on December 16, 2007

You sound like me a year ago, save for the age! I definitely recommend exercise, therapy, a work change, and rethinking those relationships which give you the most stress. When you're anxious and depressed, you can wind up either mistreating those you should be treating well or maintaining a connection with someone or something which does not quite deserve your attention. This sort of stuff helps fuel more anxiety and depression, and so on. It's a cycle.

Meditate and try to get a therapist in your life. You're so young (not that I'm much older) and there are so many ways to reboot your life.

Medication might also help, but I'm not a doctor.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:48 AM on December 16, 2007

In the past 5 years or so.. I've dealt with a variety of similar issues. I very much identify with the brain racing out of control and the desire to find an "OFF" switch :) So I'll try to share what I'm doing and what has worked.

FIRST : You need to seperate out the issues. (If you look at it as one big problem, you will get overwhelmed to the point where you dont think there is any possibility you can overcome it.) What I mean is : "Brain racing out of control" is a different problem than "over analyzing past decisions" which are different problems than "not being able to sleep",etc

Personally, I'm not a big fan of therapy. Although I've seen therapy work for some people, I've (personally) seen more "bad therapists" than good ones. It can work, if you are willing to cooperate and follow what the therapist tells you, but I'm of the opinion that the only person who knows my life the best is ME.. therefor I am the best person equipped to fix it. (egotistic maybe,.but hey, its working for me)

1.) BREATHE. No really. Most people dont even think about HOW to breathe, they just do it. I guarantee you, if you stop 2 or 3 times during the day and focus on your breathing (breathe fully in - hold it.. breathe fully out...repeat cycle).. .you will feel better, and more relaxed.

2.) As others have said, try meditation for 15 to 20 minutes a day. The whole point of meditation is to relax and clear your mind of the usual daily "overload" and practice controlling your thoughts. Its like exercise for your brain. It takes practice, but it definitely works.

3.) Dont worry about things you cant change. (or have no control over). You are wasting your energy. That should be the first question you ask yourself when you are mulling over things in your brain. "How much energy am I willing to waste on this idea/thought? and is it worth that much energy ?"

4.) Better planning (decision making) in the first place. Its an understatement to say that the quality of your life is vastly influenced by the quality of decisions you make. SLOW DOWN and make well-informed quality decisions in the first place, and you wont have regrets down the road.

and lastly.. dont beat yourself up to much about overthinking things. Although that behavior CAN be destructive if it gets out of control, can also be the sign of a highly functioning person (under the right circumstances). Look at it as a "tool" (or skill) that can be used to your advantage. You are most creative at night?.. then try to adjust your schedule to work with that. Your brain feels tired in the early afternoon?.. try to work a nap in.

Your mind and body are unique.. and it benefits you to recognize the patterns (your strengths and weaknesses) and get the most advantage out of them. (I'm not saying I'm an expert in this---I'm still learning myself. .but I'm getting better. )
posted by jmnugent at 7:55 AM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed. When one of those middle-of-the-night worries/ideas/thoughts pops up, write it down and get it out of your head. Turn over and go back to sleep, knowing that you've captured it for now, and you don't need to think about it anymore until morning.

This has worked for me when my mind races at night.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:03 AM on December 16, 2007

I'd recommend researching "Pure O" (Pure Obsession). It's a class of OCD where you just obsess about thoughts, and then start obsessing about obsessing.

For me, one solution was to make a meta-cog triage. Where I'd write down the topic of a thread that I felt "I just had to think about" and then wait to address it later. 90% of the time, just putting a little distance reduced the imperativeness of that thread.

Save you some time... these are the four techniques I sussed out from researching "Pure O"

- "The Antidote" - If you have a worrying concern, respond back bravely. For example, if you have the following Pure-O thought-cycle: "what if I'm never happy" + "what if worrying about how happy I am is why I'll never be happy" ... You could respond, in gest, "oh well, if I'm never going to be happy, I guess I can be emo like that."

- "Let It Be" - Don't actively respond to your thoughts, just let them run out on their own accord. This is ultimately what happens, but you can relax your thinking muscles by just letting the thoughts bounce around on their own until they lose steam.

- "The Capsule Technique" - This is my "meta-cog triage." You could, for example, set a fixed 1-hour period every day to sit down and deal with your most troubling concerns. Patients find that by the time that period rolls around, they're generally no longer anxious about the thoughts.

- "Spiking" - Flood your mind with a million other thoughts.
posted by philosophistry at 8:16 AM on December 16, 2007

Here's a prior thread that asked a similar question.
posted by philosophistry at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2007

posted by lubujackson at 8:23 AM on December 16, 2007

Cognitive-behavioral therapy does exactly what you need. The book Feeling Good is based on it, and I highly recommend it. Mindfulness meditation might be useful as well.

One other tip: if it's late at night and your mind won't shut up about something, make an appointment with yourself to really think about it. "I'm tired and if this is important, I might as well sit down for real when I'm awake, maybe with a pad and pen, and really work this thing out." Then you can rest, knowing that you're going to think about it tomorrow.
posted by callmejay at 8:35 AM on December 16, 2007

What's helped me considerably (note: I've been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder):

1. Meditation. Even if you can't devote time each day, it trains you to slow down/stop your thoughts on demand.
2. Prescription drugs. Specifically, klonopin, which settles down the central nervous system. When my body is calm, my brain follows suit.
3. Reducing/stopping caffeine intake.
4. Increasing exercise by doing engaging things I enjoy - not just boring old gym routines, but biking, hiking, skiing, etc.
5. Really listening to other people instead of incessantly talking to them about my problems.

You sound a lot like my fiance, who has ADD, so you might want to talk to a doctor about that as well. Reducing stimulation works for me - it does not seem to work for him, so what will work for you depends on what's really going on behind the scenes. It's worth talking to a professional about it.
posted by desjardins at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2007

Everyone has given good advice. See a doctor and get assessed for anxiety disorder. Medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, or both will probably be a huge help for you.

One trick I've found for the 'racing thoughts at bedtime' issue is puzzles. After getting into bed, I play a game or two of solitaire on my pda. Before I had the pda, it was a sudoku book. Giving my brain a solvable sorting problem seems to settle it down, and make it easy to sleep.
posted by happyturtle at 10:05 AM on December 16, 2007

Write / type it down! Getting things down in hard copy is a way of getting them out of your brain, or at least a way to make you remember you've already thought over certain things. Your racing thoughts are like a fly buzzing around in your head and writing it down releases it. The writing doesn't have to be public, and it definitely doesn't need to be thought out.. when your mind is racing, just open a text editor or grab a pen and write, write, write. After a certain period of time you'll be exhausted of it, but you'll have relieved your mind a lot.

Note that this is not a cure for the issue. For something approaching cure-like benefits, CBT is definitely a good way to go. The writing / outpouring idea is merely a way to resolve the issue when it's already in flow.
posted by wackybrit at 10:50 AM on December 16, 2007

Whenever I come across a thread like this, I encourage the poster to search MeFi for questions related to anxiety, SSRI medication and depression. You'll find that you're in very good company.

Those who suggest exercise, meditation, etc. definitely mean well. Those lifestyle changes may help you quite a bit. But it sounds to me like you're beyond the point where they will make much of a difference (which doesn't mean that you shouldn't try them).

If you're unable to do things that you want to do, therapy and/or medication is probably the way to go. In my case, medication made all the difference - I simply felt normal again.

Seeking treatment can be difficult - it feels like you're somehow giving up or shifting your problem onto someone else. Fortunately, this is bunk: seeking help amounts to taking control and moving on with your life. By asking this question, you've already started the process. Good luck!
posted by aladfar at 11:35 AM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

A word of warning - CBT does not necessarily have all the answers, so be wary of it as a cure-all. I used to suffer from exactly the same problem, but part of the manifestation for me was a lack of motivation and ability to get anything done. CBT set me the homework of writing things down, which only gave me another thing to feel guilty about not having done.

Agree with others though - solution for me was a mix of:
(i) SSRI
(ii) Therapy (try a few styles, see which works for you - ultimately group was what worked for me, much to my surprise!)
(iii) Self-awareness - partly through meditation. But I also made deals with myself. If I start to obssess over something I can often catch myself and ask "am I really tired right now?" (ususally yes) and decide it is not helpful to think about such an important issue in that state, and I will wait until I am awake/properly rested, but then somehow it's not so important!

Wackybrit, I always wanted to try writing things down and capture the stream of consciousness like flow, but no technique I could think of could keep up. The days I longed for some sort of "brain capture" device where thoughts went straight to paper...

Good luck - it feels like there is no escape, but there is a way out!
posted by csg77 at 11:35 AM on December 16, 2007

csg77: I don't think it'd be as useful as there's no physical result, but perhaps a voice recorder / dictaphone would do the trick for you. That way you can rant it all out loud and know that all your thoughts are recorded in some way, so then you're more likely to let go of them?

I type really fast though, so I've tended to use that approach in the past, although when I used to write long-hand I actually found it felt better, although I absolutely hated reading them back.. although that certainly helped too. It's a good cheap "shock therapy" type alternative to CBT for sure.
posted by wackybrit at 3:10 PM on December 16, 2007

If you do end up trying medication, you might experience a great side effect, which is realizing that a lot of the problem *is* chemical. I had similar obsessive thoughts, was prescribed Xanax, and had a revelation when I saw how Xanax flipped a switch and turned off the obsession machine. It also made me too groggy, so I got off it, but it hugely helped me get better because it made clear the problem was at least partly chemical. Now I can distance myself from obsessive thoughts and think, "That's just my brain misfiring again." It also showed me what it felt like to NOT obsess.

I agree therapy can be useful. Everyone has different experiences, but for me, "talk" therapy encouraged more rumination and obsession. Cognitive work helped more.

For what it's worth, exercise alone was helpful for me, but when I got serious about lifting weights and upped my protein intake, I saw a bigger improvement. Too much protein makes me jittery, but just the right amount makes me solid. We're talking at most the RDA for protein, not extreme amounts. I was veg for >20 years and still am mostly veg.
posted by PatoPata at 4:39 PM on December 16, 2007

Some ways i used to switch off the thoughts...

- Faith/spirituality is helping me. Faith heals. When ever i get this continuous thoughts i pray
to God a simple prayer easy to remember.

I tried earlier several mechnisms like writing down multiple thoughts, but it made things
worser, because i got in to cycle.

Just try repeating a simple prayer with faith.

I also read true stories of people who got healed through faith and also religious texts everyday for atleast 30 minutes to increase my faith.

(When i started this method, i did not have faith , so even if you have no faith, if you start to
have faith in a higher power it will work)

Pl. send me a private message if you want to know more details about faith related
information which has helped me to a reasonable extent.

Apart from faith other practices which helped to break the cycle are

-doing some work with concentration
-going for a long walk.
-Getting into conversation with others
-Focus on some goal like studies.
posted by tom123 at 7:03 PM on December 24, 2007

I most definitely empathize with the overthinking you're describing. Some of us are more predisposed to overthinking situations, especially those we think are the most crucial. Like you, I took pride in my ability to analyze situations. As many of you have mentioned, it can be an asset at work, especially if you're a computer programmer or something of a similar nature. But, in many of life's other situations, my overthinking was debilitating. In situations when I didn't know what my ultimate objective was, I would overthink and have serious trouble making decisions. What I have come to learn over a long time is the following:

1. Analyzing a personal situation over and over again is often quite useless, because we can imagine and predict only so much. The best way to make good decision is to take initiative and take the next step even if this step has some possible risks. As is often said, if you are more than 40% sure, it's already too late.

2. I used to be a victim of my own thoughts that popped seemingly out of nowhere inside my brain. I couldn't find the discipline to prepare well for exams in college, despite the fact that I was pretty motivated. I yelled and screamed more than once in relationship situations when I wish I hadn't. I dropped out of university before going back, but still regret the first impulsive drop out. I never thought that my thoughts and feelings in the above situations were wrong at all, but I wish I hadn't made the wrong decisions because of them. What I know now is that I CAN DECIDE WHAT THOUGHTS ARE INSIDE MY MIND, despite the presence of emotions that could cause me to go the wrong way. I picked up a book a while ago called "As Man Thinketh" by James Allen in the local library. It's also a free e-book if you search around on using Google. Reading it helped me out quite a bit.

As far back as I can remember, I have been more of nervous type of person. However, reading this book has calmed me down and helpED me refocus on achieving my goals. I can see what it takes for me to achieve what I plan to achieve. In the past, I put a lot of effort into many things, but I would end up feeling as though my efforts weren't well focused--it's as if there was a lot of wasted effort.

I'm not sure if my comments will help you out at all, but I hope they will give you a bit of insight. Good luck!
posted by dengxp at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2008

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