If only the mind came with an off switch.
If it did, you could flip it and shut off a racing mind when you needed to sleep.
With a switch, you could stop overthinking right in its tracks, right away.
The switch couldn’t affect your brain, however. That would be a disaster. You need your brain to run all kinds of biological processes when you sleep and can’t switch that off.
The mind, on the other hand, isn’t physical.
How can you reliably affect something non-physical with something physical?
It’s a good question because we can’t even locate precisely where human consciousness (aka “the mind”) lies.
If you could make such a switch, then the tips in this article wouldn’t be needed. How nice that would be!
Maybe someday . . . who knows? For now, however, if you’re going to stop overthinking, you’re going to need a technique. Perhaps even a couple of different methods. Most people find it difficult to stop.
What is overthinking?
Overthinking goes by a lot of names; just two of them are churning thoughts or racing thoughts.
It’s when your mind races from one thought to another.
Whatever you call it, much of the mental rumination is pointless. Thoughts are nothing at all like cream. When cream is churned, it becomes butter. Nothing productive ever comes out of churning thoughts because you’re too tired to do anything the day after a night of pointless overthinking.
1. Start stopping with a piece of paper . . .
Take your favorite journal, notebook, or even a piece of paper and get those thoughts down on paper.
Alternately, you could record your thoughts on your smartphone in a notetaking app or recorder.
This could take the form of a journal entry, to-do list, or just about anything else. It could even be a social media post if it’s something that you feel you need to share with the world.
The point of doing this is it offloads the thought from your mind. Putting it down in another form is a way of sharing the burden.
It’s now on a list, in a journal, and now it’s going to be dealt with later when the time is right.
Give yourself a fixed period of time to get this done. You’re trying to get to sleep, and you get 15 minutes to get this done. No more.
2. Now distract!
It takes a certain self-awareness to realize when your thinking is non-productive. When you keep covering the same ground, when thoughts cycle themselves repeatedly, that’s worthless. There’s no problem-solving going on; you’re simply obsessing. You might even be tearing your self-esteem down.
Once you’ve offloaded your thoughts, and unburdened them on a piece of paper, you can proceed to distract yourself.
It would be best if you did something that doesn’t involve moving around, that isn’t complex, that isn’t likely to lead to other thoughts that lead you away from sleeping.
One time-honored way of doing this is to count imaginary sheep. Imagining the four-legged wooly animals going over a fence one by one is relaxing.
If you have a smartphone and earbuds, try listening to sleeping sounds. Don’t bother listening to them on a service that will interrupt the playback with commercials, however. Those will wake you right up and defeat the purpose of trying to go to sleep.
Another time-honored way to distract yourself is to pray. Talk to God, who loves you. This can be another effective way to disburden your mind because some things that bother you are genuinely outside your control.
Prayer is another technique that can be practiced in various ways with formalized prayers and freestyle, just saying what’s on your mind to the Lord.
Letting your mind wander off the right way into Dreamland is a kind of a dance: offload worries for later, distract, (if they come back) offload for later, distract. Like any kind of dancing, to be good at it takes practice.
For Further Reading:
James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. He aims to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life.
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