NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, May 16, 2024

How to Use Pattern Interruptors to Stop Overthinking

This article is the second part on the topic of overthinking (see my article: Tips on How to Stop Overthinking).

What is Overthinking?
Overthinking or worrying can include overanalyzing and rumination about negative thoughts.

Overthinking, Worry and Rumination

Overthinking can also result in chain reaction thinking where someone worries about the future in terms of "What if...." thinking (see my article: Are You Catastrophizing?).

In other words, they worry about all the things that could go wrong--even when there's no objective reason to worry about these things:
  • "What if I get sick? Then I can't work. Then I can't pay my bills. Then I'll lose my apartment and I'll be homeless."
  • "What if my partner leaves me? Then I'll be all alone. Then I'll never meet anyone else. Then I'll be alone forever and I'll feel like a loser."
If someone gets stuck in overthinking and chain reaction thinking this often results in procrastination because the person gets stuck in a cycle of rumination and worry. 

In addition, someone can become mentally and emotionally paralyzed because chain reaction thinking leads to a pessimistic outlook on the future, which can leave them feeling helpless and hopeless as they anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong.

People who overthink often try to eliminate any possibility of failure and external judgment or criticism. This can keep them in an ongoing cycle of worry and overthinking without making a decision (see my article: Fear of Making Decisions: Indecision Becomes a Decision With Time).

What is at the Root of Overthinking?
For many people the root of overthinking and excessive worrying is fear of separation or loss.

Using Pattern Interruptors to Stop Overthinking

People who have a history of trauma often don't know how to manage their fears, especially when they're triggered in ways that bring them back emotions related to unresolved trauma (see my article: How Unresolved Trauma Can Affect You).

How Can You Manage Your Fears to Stop Overthinking and Worrying?
Managing a fear that can develop into overthinking and worry can be challenging, especially if this is an ingrained pattern for you.

Here are some suggestions that might work for you:

Managing Your Emotions: An important part of managing fear so you don't get stuck in overthinking and rumination is learning to learn emotional self regulation (see my article: How to Manage Your Emotions).

De-identifying With Your Fear: De-identifying with your fear involves being able to separate who you are at your core from your fear. This allows you to cope with your fear by maintaining equanimity.  De-identification from your fear can include:
  • Doing Mindfulness Meditation: Rather than getting stuck in chain reaction thinking, you observe your fears in a calm and centered way (see my article: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation).
  • Tuning Into Your Senses: When you bring your awareness to your body,  you can tune into your senses in terms of what you're seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and tasting (if taste is applicable). This can help you to calm yourself and separate yourself from your rumination (see my article: What is Somatic Awareness?).

Regaining Perspective
  • Asking Yourself: How would I feel about this 5 years from now?
  • Asking Yourself: How would a friend I admire (someone who doesn't get stuck in worry and rumination) handle this?
  • Looking at Google Earth: Looking at your neighborhood and zooming out to a larger view where you can see the Earth floating in space helps you to put your problem in perspective.
  • Looking at the Ocean: Standing on the shore and looking at the vastness of the ocean could put your problem in perspective.
  • Remembering Experiences With Past Worries: Can you think of times from the past when you got stuck worrying about problems that either never materialized or were minor compared to what you feared? Is it possible that the current problem might be similar?
  • Becoming Aware of What You Can and Can't Control: The Serenity Prayer can remind you of the things you can and can't control. If the problem is something you can't control, this can take some of the pressure off you. If it's something you can control or there are aspects of the problem you can control, you can take action.

How Can Ego States Therapy/Parts Work Help?
As I've mentioned in prior articles about Ego States Therapy, a form of Parts Work, we are all made up of a multiplicity of selves (see my article: How Parts Work Therapy Helps to Empower You).

Getting Help in Therapy

Most people are familiar with this concept based on John Bradshaw's writing about the Inner Child. However, the Inner Child is only one part of the many parts that make up who we are.

When I work with clients who have a tendency to overthinking things, I help them to identify the worrying part as one aspect of themselves. The worrying part is not all of who they are. It's just one part.

There are also other parts of the self that can be related to the worrying part as well as other parts that can empower clients.

If a client has a tendency to overthink, worry and get stuck in rumination, that part often has a long history going back to unresolved trauma. So, there is probably a particular part that gets activated in certain situations.

Clinical Example of Using Ego States Therapy/Parts Work to Overcome Overthinking
The following fictional vignette is based on composites of real situations with all identifying information removed to protect confidentiality:

Jane got highly anxious whenever tax season rolled around. Whenever she gathered her tax information, she felt highly anxious and fearful. She would ruminate about filing taxes, procrastinate to avoid doing them, and then rush to get the taxes filed at the last minute, which created even more stress and anxiety. 

When she spoke to her therapist about this, Jane discovered that doing taxes activated a young part of her who watched her parents get into huge arguments about taxes and finances in general. 

Her therapist used Ego States Therapy to give that younger part a voice. Then, she helped Jane to use the adult part of her, the part who knew objectively that she had nothing to worry about, to talk to her younger part to reassure her.  

This type of reassurance is something Jane never experienced when she was a child and as she and her therapist continued to work in this way, Jane felt her younger self relaxing, especially when Jane's adult self reassured her younger self by saying, "It's okay. You don't have to worry about this. The problems your parents had are in the past. I'm taking care of this now so you don't have to worry about it."

Over time, Jane discovered other parts of herself through her work in Ego States Therapy, and she felt empowered. 

Gradually, she overcame her fear of filing taxes and other similar fears.

Overthinking, rumination and worry are common problems for many people.

You can learn to interrupt your pattern of overthinking and worrying by using the tools discussed in this article.

If you find that the self help tools in this article aren't enough to help you overcome your problem, you can seek help from an Experiential Therapist who does Parts Work or other types of experiential therapy that involve the mind-body connection (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
Experiential therapy includes mind-body oriented therapies including:
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
A skilled Experiential therapist can help you to overcome the thought patterns that are disrupting your life.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an Experiential therapist so you can free yourself from your traumatic history and live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.