Overthinking in sobriety is most definitely a thing, it can hold you back from taking that first step and it can get in the way of you doing the things you actually want to do. If you find yourself disappearing into your mind for hours and never actually taking action then this blog will help you to stop thinking and start doing. The key is to recognize you are doing it and then put steps in place to help you overcome the struggle. Let’s look in more detail about overthinking in sobriety and how to overcome it.
I wanted to write about this topic because it has come up quite a lot in our membership sessions lately and I, myself, still spend a lot of time in my head, overthinking.
Perhaps you find yourself getting anxious, worrying and thinking about a whole range of possible scenarios for a particular situation and end up feeling exhausted. Or, if like me you think about doing something in so much detail, weighing up the pros and cons that you never get round to actually doing the thing you’ve been thinking about!
Let’s break it down into two parts: overthinking about stopping drinking, and overthinking about things in general.
Overthinking the decision to stop drinking
I was stuck in my head about this for such a long time. I would make the decision that I would stop drinking, but then talk myself out of it, sometimes that very same day! I would research, read, think, and think some more only to feel more anxious, nervous and scared. It was too hard, I wasn’t ready, it wasn’t the right time, who would I become and what would I do?
The problem with allowing your thoughts to take over is that you let fear into your heart, making taking action seemingly impossible, we often think ourselves out of it before we’ve even given ourselves a chance.
If you’ve been drinking for a long time it can be so hard to imagine a different future, a different you, and naturally we allow the doubts and fears to creep in. You might also sway from thinking, ‘I have to do this, ‘to thinking well, ‘it’s really not that bad, maybe I can just moderate.’
Moderation is another issue all of its own and leads to so much overthinking, rule making, rule breaking, inner bargaining and questioning that even just thinking about it is making me feel uncomfortable.
Now, while thinking things through, coming up with a plan and getting things clear is your mind is a sensible approach, the problem comes when you don’t know when, or how to stop and this is where you can get so overwhelmed that you just give up on the idea. You’ve spent so much time going over everything round and round, over and over, coming up with the worst possible outcome (because that is what we do!) it just seems so hard and scary, so unknown and alien that you stay exactly where you are.
The best advice I can give, which is based on my experience, is that all the thinking in the world does not replace taking action. No matter how small the step, how tiny the action, until you actually do it, you will really never truly know what it is like.
So, even if you don’t feel ready to stop drinking, you have to get out of your head and give it a go, that’s the only way. We learn by doing and unless you do the thing you want to do, you will never grow, flourish and get to where you want to be. And you deserve to flourish and live that life of alcohol-freedom you’ve been dreaming of, but you have to get out of your head in order for that to happen.
“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step.” – Naeem Callaway
Overthinking in general
You’ve stopped drinking but still find yourself overthinking in sobriety, what’s that all about? Surely when you quit, all those thoughts just disappear?
Yes, and no!
The relief and freedom I experienced when I finally let go of thinking about stopping drinking and just did it, was so magical. That clarity and peace of mind was soothing and freeing. But the thoughts of drinking were soon replaced with other thoughts!
I am a person who overthinks everything! From the moment I wake up my brain starts whirring away, I honestly must experience 72,000 different thoughts before I even make it to the bathroom and believe me I think about that journey to the bathroom for ages before I even get out of bed:
“Should I shower now or later? Will it be easier to take the dog out first and then have a cup of tea? Oh, but it’s cold outside, I don’t want to go out. If I meditate with a cuppa first, then go out, I will feel better, oh but the dog will jump on me and distract me. Shall I just go out in my pyjamas and then get ready, or get ready first?
But f I want a shower then that means I’ll have to get ready twice. Maybe I’ll shower this afternoon, but there might not be enough hot water later. If I stay in bed and meditate then I’ll feel ready to go out. But what if I fall asleep again. Oh, I really want 5 more minutes, but there’s such a lot to do, what will I do first? Anyway, why do I have to get up now, it’s so early, it’s not fair, maybe I will have five more minutes…”
Then I start the day already feeling stressed and resentful and annoyed with myself because I didn’t just get up and get on with it! It is never as bad as we think, and staying stuck in our heads only blows things up out of proportion and leads to worry, anxiety and stress.
And it is not just my morning thoughts that take over. I do so much in my head that sometimes I don’t know if I have actually done it in real life. Take this blog for example, I’ve already written it about 5 times in my mind and you won’t believe the number of times I’ve written emails, recorded podcasts, cooked dinner, done yoga or called a friend in my head.
My experience of overthinking in sobriety is not just about tasks that I do but I also spend a lot of time worrying. If my son is 5 minutes late home then I start to imagine the worst. If I have a difficult call to make then I go through the bad things that might happen in the call. I worry about saying or writing the right thing (or the wrong thing) which leads to hiding, procrastination and then more worry because I didn’t get done what I wanted.
However, now that I know I do this, I am starting to put steps in place to help me. It is not always easy but I have a collection of tools tricks which are helping me shift my current mindset and getting me out of the trap of overthinking in sobriety.
Things that are helping me to stop overthinking in sobriety
I am a work in progress but here are some tips that might help you too.
Stay in the moment
My wonderful coach once told me, “wherever you are, be there” and this helps such a lot. It is no good thinking too far ahead and worrying about the whys and whathaveyou’s. Staying present, doing things one step at a time, and allowing your day to unfold moment by moment will ease the overthinking. After all, you won’t be thinking about doing the thing, if you are already doing it.
Have a routine
Having a routine in sobriety has been the biggest source of comfort and eases the all consuming thoughts about what to do and when to do it. If you know what you are doing, when you are supposed to be doing it, it takes the guesswork and the overthinking out of the equation. I have routines for my morning, afternoon and evening and although it is taking a while to settle on something that feels good, I do feel more at peace and at ease.
Acknowledge you are doing it
This is the big one. If you know you are overthinking in sobriety, accept and acknowledge it. Then, you can begin to do something about it. This, like changing any habit, takes practice but acknowledging what you are doing is the first step. Create a sign or a signal for yourself and when you catch yourself in the cycle, recognize what you are doing and do something to get out of it.
Take a few deep breaths
When you recognize you are overthinking things, take a few deep breaths to break the cycle and calm your thoughts. This is the easiest, most effective way to break the overthinking spiral.
Yup, getting out in to nature is my go-to for everything, including overthinking in sobriety. A walk, sticking your head out of the window or sitting in the garden or park will change your environment and change your thought pattern. Clear your head, look at the sky, the trees, the nature and the wildlife and you will come back feeling rested and energized.
Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper or talking your thoughts into your phone, is such a fantastic release. Instead of just going round and round in your head, when you start to get your thoughts out, they become easier to manage and you will feel better afterwards, you may even have a moment of clarity or the solution to your problem might appear.
Allow yourself the space to overthink
If you find yourself worrying about a problem, or something is playing on your mind then give yourself some specific time in the day to sit down and get it all out, or do the research you’ve been trying to do in your head. Set a timer and dedicate this time only for that one specific thing.
One of my wonderful one to one clients found herself getting distracted and constantly worrying about a change of location. We decided that she would dedicate one hour, three times a week to dream, imagine, visualize and do the research she needed to do. It not only freed up her headspace to be more productive at work, but she was also able to focus more on the issue of the move and make more progress than she previously had been.
Meditation, like sobriety does not solve everything but with practice, it does train your brain to slow down. You learn to observe your thoughts without latching on and following them down the windy road to confusion. Meditation also helps you to go within, to connect to your inner self and get clarity on what is troubling you from a place of calm and quiet. If nothing else, meditating in the morning helps you start your day from a place of peace and calm.
If you know that you always worry or spend time overthinking certain things then take action and make a plan. This can be meal planning, planning your day, scheduling in self-care and alone time or whatever it might be. Again taking action and sitting down to get your jumbled thoughts into some sort of order will help you to get clear on what it is you want to do and we always feel better when we accomplish what we want to do.
Take a break
Cut yourself some slack, ease off and take a break. Stare out of the window or gaze at a candle, flick through a magazine, watch 20 minutes of your favourite show, have a shower or make a cup of tea. It can be so easy to get caught up in the details of everything that we become overwhelmed trying to find a solution. Let go, think of something else and you never know, that spark of divine inspiration might just come when you least expect it.
If you are tired of thinking about drinking, worrying about stopping drinking, or your thoughts are taking over everything then ask for help and get support. Phone a friend, join a group, talk to a therapist or have a chat with someone. The Transform Support membership is a wonderful place to share, ask for help and get advice. You can just relax and be yourself, knowing you are part of a community of women going through the same thing as you.
Find other ways to relax and quiet your mind.
I used to drink to dial down my thoughts and quiet my mind. Drinking was my off switch and the only way I knew how to shush myself up. Of course, when the alcohol wears off, these thoughts just pop right back up usually in the middle of the night.
I have since learned other ways to relax and soothe my inner voice, such as some of the things mentioned here, walking, meditation, yoga or doing something mindful that takes you away to another world. Find your thing and keep doing that.
Just do it and take (imperfect) action
But, by far the best and fastest way to get out of your head and stop overthinking is to just do the thing you are thinking about. Honestly it is. Yes, you might be scared or nervous or anxious. Yes, you might not have it all figured out and yes it might take a big push and some extra effort.
Of course you won’t know exactly what you are doing or how it will work out but the only way, and I mean the only way you will know, is if you just do it.
Don’t wait until you have all your ducks in a row, don’t wait for that ‘perfect’ time. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you have no other choice. The time will pass anyway so you might as well pass that time taking action, no matter how imperfect and messy. In fact, expect it to be shaky, messy and uncertain, trust yourself, trust it will work out and please, please just give it a go.
Thank you so much for reading, I’d love to know what your own experiences are about overthinking in sobriety, please share in the comments below or send me an email.