Are you guilty of overthinking?
Many of the smart, ambitious people I coach (who I call Sensitive Strivers) struggle with racing thoughts. They say it’s hard to “turn off” their brain at night. Because they are so attuned to what’s happening both within and around them, they tend to process information more deeply.
While this can be a tremendous advantage, it can also lead to overthinking situations. Long hours, increased pressure to succeed, and rigorous demands only add to the stress. Pretty soon, these Sensitive Strivers find themselves consumed by second-guessing, indecision, and self-doubt.
In my work as coach, there’s one technique that helps my clients snap out of the destructive cycle of rumination time and time again, and that is, taking a worry break.
What is a Worry Break?
A worry break is a scheduled time that you set aside to focus on the anxieties or problems that are preoccupying you. Instead of letting your worries seep into every waking moment, you intentionally compartmentalize them to a block of time during which you can deal with them productively.
If that sounds like a recipe for more stress, consider this: spending 15 to 20 minutes a day on a worry deep-dive can ultimately reduce your worries and help you cope more effectively with the challenges thrown at you. When you focus intensely on your concerns at a designated time instead of letting them run wild and interfere with your day, you’re more equipped to create constructive solutions.
If you’re ready to try a worry break, here’s how to start.
Schedule a time for your worry break
Pick a time when you are usually alone and are less likely to be interrupted. You don’t need more than 10 or 15 minutes. Many of my clients like to take their worry break in the evening as a way to process the day and leave work behind before they head home.
Ideally, you would take a worry break on a daily basis, making it part of your routine. This also makes you less prone to skipping it on hectic or stressful days (which is when you need it most). Proactively tending to your mental well-being should be a habit, not an afterthought. Set a calendar reminder, block off your availability, and commit to it.
Channel worries into two categories
Trying to fight off negative thoughts and emotions backfires. They will just pop back up like trying to hold a beach ball underwater.
Instead, capture your worries in a document, journal or note. You may find it helpful to jot down stressful thoughts as they occur to you, especially if you feel worried about so many things that you can’t even keep track of them. (It happens — especially to us perfectionists.)
I like to have my clients make two columns:
- Things I can control
- Things I can’t control
This serves a few purposes:
- It keeps you organized, gives you peace of mind you won’t forget anything important. Your worries stay out of sight, out of mind until you’re prepared to tackle them. This may be difficult at first, but it gets easier.
- It helps you put irrational thinking in its place. By doing this, you’re able to gain distance from your thoughts and reappraise them if needed, rather than buying into them as facts.
During your worry break, worry intensely, but worry well
When your scheduled worry break arrives, don’t do anything but worry. Free write about your fears and concerns. Be as detailed and specific as possible. Don’t censor yourself. If any new ideas or next steps occur to you as you worry, jot those down too.
When problems meet the light of day, you’ll probably find that solutions often come more naturally than you ever expected. It makes perfect sense: when you resist negative emotions like worry, they only become stronger. But when you confront them head-on, we diminish their power and often find ways to tackle them productively.
You might find the quiet time for reflection and deep concentration allows you to think more clearly. Or you might try setting a timer to brainstorm possible options to run by your team or a trusted mentor. Asking yourself questions like the ones below can also unlock your creative thinking:
- What story or limiting thoughts am I telling myself about this situation?
- What would I do if I had unlimited time and resource or if X wasn’t a barrier?
- What would I like to happen?
- What will I do first?
Worry Break Over? Time to Move On
When your worry break is over, switch gears. Take action on the items you can control. If you feel fixated on a problem, remember that you’ll have another worry break on the calendar. In the meantime, you’re now free to focus your energy elsewhere, without the powerful cognitive toll that round-the-clock overthinking takes.
So, worry away — when the time is right.