Are We Overwhelmed by Overthinking ?

by Farzana Rahman

Photo by Daniel Jensen

This article talks about overthinking, switching-off and mindfulness.


How Do You Stop Overthinking ?

For me, it can involve sprawling out on a couch, binge-watching a box-set. Telling myself those delusional famous last words, ‘I’ll just watch the beginning of the next episode.’  

The thing is, getting lost in a film, book or TV show helps many of us to switch-off.  Our minds are so stimulated throughout the day that the only way we can stop overthinking is to place our attention elsewhere.

But, is this really switching off ? To stick to the TV analogy, are we actually switching off or just changing the channel ?


Are We All Overthinking ?

Photo by Mathew Schwartz

It seems that most things in society are geared towards us using the mind to think.  From school to entertainment to our working lives, many of us spend our time lost in the echoing chambers of thought.

Have you ever walked down the street and realized that you have been completely distracted, either thinking about a future event or a past memory. Maybe you were daydreaming, imagining fantastic scenarios or fearing the worst. Either way, you have a moment where you realize that you weren’t at all aware of you surroundings.  That you were completely lost in thought.


The Thinking Mind

I wonder whether this is because society has come to emphasize the importance of the mind over everything else.

The mind is, of course, incredibly important - from it comes our imagination, opinions and thoughts.  But as beings, we are more than the product of our thoughts. We are living, breathing creatures occupying space with our bodies.


Does Our Education System Make Us Overthink ?

It raises the question of whether the current system of education facilitates a disjointing of the self.  Young children and toddlers spend most of their time completely immersed in the present moment. Whether that’s eating food off the floor or falling over whilst running.  They are observing their environment and learning to use their bodies. Their brain is developing as well; formulating memories, learning processes and understanding emotions.   Early education embraces this, emphasizing the multi-faceted nature of learning.

That’s not to say that as adults we should copy the activities of toddlers (though it would make for a more interesting workplace), but it does highlight how much we change as we grow into adults.

As children progress through the education system, the focus moves to training the mind to memorize, analyze and take tests.  Training the mind is, of course, a hugely important step. But have we developed a system that does this at the expense of other things?

The mind-body connection is addressed in some way through sport, but the emphasis on this compared to Academic achievement is hugely disparate, unless an individual happens to be athletically gifted.

Yet our bodies are just as important as our brains.  Every person, regardless of their sporting ability, should be trained to have a strong awareness and understanding of their body.  Older traditions addressed these through techniques such as dance, yoga or tai-chi and these were incorporated into education at the outset.


Consciousness and the Mind

It seems that modern education aims to train the mind without any credence to the idea of consciousness. The idea that we are more than the product of our thoughts.  Perhaps its because the idea of consciousness brings up deeper questions about religion and God and this can be a sensitive area for many. But regardless, has the emphasis on training the mind for academic gain gone too far?  Anxiety and depression are characterized by persistent intrusive thoughts.  Is this the natural consequence of training the mind to such a degree that it begins to spin out of control?


Is Mindfulness the Answer ?

The concept of mindfulness has moved towards the mainstream over the last few years.

It refers to maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness does not mean that we stop thinking altogether. Rather, it refers to being aware of our thoughts and observing them, rather than becoming engulfed within them.

Check out our next article, which will talk about a quick 1-minute mindfulness exercise.