By Ellen Brenner, Certified Aromatherapist
I’m going to let you in on a little secret …well, not so secret if you know me. I have a tendency toward overthinking. Yep, my mind is seriously an overactive overachiever. And, if I don’t manage my mind, it can border on obsessive, repetitive thinking like a hamster running on the perpetual wheel to nowhere.
For as long as I can remember, my mind has been like a stalker on steroids in certain situations. It races ahead with thoughts that I sometimes struggle to process before it races on to the next. I talked fast as a child, and even now sometimes when I get over stimulated. I have been told this is a result of my mouth trying to keep up with my mind.
In some instances a fast-moving mind has served me well. Fast thinking on my feet was a plus in the corporate world, most especially when I worked in crisis communications. And, seriously, I’m the girl you want in an emergency making excellent lightening decisions with a laser focus.
On a day-to-day basis, though, not learning to slow overthinking can lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed and overtired.
But, until several years ago, I didn’t know there was a way to slow the flow.
And, then, I attended a meditation workshop where I learned “the mind is like a monkey that has been stung by a scorpion.” (there are many variations on this theme from ancient Buddhist teachings).
That was an illuminating moment. Not only did this accurately describe the inner workings of my mind, but also for so many others from millennia to modern times. And, ancient medicine had already addressed how to control our thoughts rather than letting our thoughts control us.
In this last blog, we discussed a type of obsessive thinking that occurs when the mind wanders into worry.
And, we detailed some simple practices to calm the mind by counting our breath coupled with aromatic companions that may be helpful for dealing with this type of distress.
Continuing that discussion, I wanted to share three other ways I find where overthinking can overtake my mind.
One of the things I’ve learned about my hardwiring is that I get super excited by cool concepts. I will then tuck this new notion away in amorphous form for future reference. Then, suddenly, something will trigger a lightning round where all the dots start to connect themselves at super speed and I am then able to perceive the idea in a prevailing pattern.
This process of coalescing into concepts I can now see sets in motion what I call creative channeling, Ideas and information begin to swiftly come together seemingly without effort as I furiously write to keep up with the flow lest the information making itself known become lost.
The upside to this is that it powers my passion and inspiration for writing. There are times when I can write like I am on fire and feel like I am simply a channel for the creativity flowing from fingertips to the keyboard.
One downside is I might find myself drafting at 3:00 a.m., or after I started meditation because it is always the quietest of moments that fuel the fire. I end up torn between needing sleep and needing to not lose the moment of creative flow. If I try to sleep, I worry it will be gone and my mind goes on repeat to try to remember.
Here are some ways I work to balance creative inspiration with creating quiet time:
Keep a tablet by the bed (paper or electronic) to jot down the notes.
Create more quiet time and space during the day to allow time to go with the flow
Get to bed at an earlier time knowing the channeling may come so I can get it down and get to bed.
Persistent Problem Solving
Sometimes a problem presents itself that we just want to get solved. So, we go over and over it in our mind seemingly into oblivion without getting it resolved. And, sometimes, we try to stay a step of ahead of what we imagine may come by trying to solve for the many iterations in advance.
Yet, when we go over and over something without a solution, it can lead us to fret on repeat. A good friend once told me repetitively asking the same question over and over again in our mind, when we don’t have the answer, is like continuing to hit the button on a computer keyboard when the operating system is stuck. You get nowhere, the computer doesn’t have a chance to reboot, and you can trigger a bigger issue.
I have learned if you have gone over many aspects of a problem and don’t yet see a solution, you likely don’t yet have enough information. Here it becomes important to be comfortable tabling the problem solving until you do. And, you have to get out of your own head and own way for the information to come.
Here are some ways I work on balancing problem-solving with letting the mind off duty for the moment:
Keep a thought journal with you – just a small, thin booklet that is easy to carry in your purse or have on you at all times. Write down the question or problem you have and then let go trusting it is now written and doesn’t need to be held in your thoughts on a persistent basis.
Engage in introspective practices that calm the mind so you can hear yourself think. If you are repeatedly in asking/doing mode in your mind, you won’t be ready to be in receiving mode when the information makes itself known.
I find that different bits of information begin to come to me like pieces of a puzzle. I write them down even if I don’t know where they fit, just feeling and trusting that they do.
For me, eventually, the dots than just beginning to naturally connect. Usually, when I am open and ready for the answer.
And if you are trying to solve for things that don’t yet exist, as the saying goes, “cross that bridge when you come to it.” Worrying about it now is a waste of energy.
Inquisition Into Infinity
Oh my gosh, do I have a mind that likes to know things. I have an avid curiosity and a life-long love of learning. This passion has been a bonus in my professional and personal life due to a love of research of inquiry. Knowing new things feeds my mind and my spirit.
But, when you take me as a whole, with the tendency toward all the ways my over zealous can mind overthinking as outlined above, this is another area I can wander into the weeds of obsessive thinking.
I’ve noticed this especially with the advent of the smartphone. It can be problematic for a mind like mine to have a mini-computer in the palm of my hand. While I do have everything I need with me to manage my life at all times, I also have the ability to get sucked down a rabbit hole at any given time.
I can be adding something to my calendar and two hours later I am still watching a cooking demo for root vegetables. I’ve learned some really intriguing things, but probably not the best time or with the best use of my time, especially if it just before sleep.
I swear, I was only going to set my alarm and now I see a great video on how to curl my hair. Apparently, this is common as I am seeing more and more articles about our smartphone addiction overall.
This reminds me of the advent of email, especially at the office (yes, I am old enough to remember). At first, we would just get a few here and there. Then, when the concept finally caught on, we started to get barraged. The more we tried to respond instantaneously, the less we got done as all we were doing was reacting to email.
We learned to set aside time to review and respond to an email to protect the most productive parts of our day and get our most pressing work done. We checked in the morning, after lunch, and later in the afternoon. In this way, we were responsive, but not held hostage. Certainly, there were exceptions for things that were urgent, once we discerned that to be true.
This practice could also be suitable for how we keep connected through our smartphone. Not every notification is urgent and not every interesting item you chance across is important at that moment. This isn’t easy, I know. I am still really working on this. Anything my mind wants to know, at any given moment, I can Google with the flick of a finger and a few taps of my thumb.
Here are some other ways I am working to balance wanting to know now with not needing to know right now:
If you get notifications on your phone from various apps, discern if it is urgent or important, or just interesting. If it is urgent, respond. If it is important, decide if it is a priority over what you currently need to be doing. If it is just interesting to save it for later.
Bookmark, to save posts on social media to save for later
Email articles and recipes and such to yourself perhaps to a folder of interesting things for later at leisure
Create certain times of day when you can go back and pursue the things that piqued your interest and set yourself a time limit
Don’t pick up your phone before bed. Have everything preset for the morning (seriously a hard one for me and seriously a detriment to soothing sleep).
Aromatherapy for An Overactive Mind
The same practice of counting our breaths, as detailed When the Mind Runs Amok, can cut the cord of continuous thinking beyond what’s beneficial.
To accompany your practices of overcoming overthinking, once again, aromatherapy makes an awesome ally. Essential oils excel at supporting the mind, and there are certain selections that are exceptional for repetitive and obsessive thinking.
I’ve combined my favorites into the synergies below with some suggestions for how they may best serve. As always, it is important to experiment so you can experience what works best for you.
Now, that you have had an insider’s look to my overactive mind if you recognize anything familiar, I hope you find these suggestions helpful on your own journey to slow the flow!
All of these recipes are written as mini-master blends. You can add as written to your diffuser. To add to a personal aromatherapy inhaler, simply multiply the mini-master blend by 3 for 15 drops total.
For when the mind is working overtime running on that hamster wheel to nowhere. This is a great general synergy to take on the go for any situation from sunrise to slumber.
2 drops Basil Linalool Ocimum basilicum
2 drops Bergamot Citrus bergamia
1 drop Sandalwood Australian Santalum spicatum
I like this synergy for quieting the mind before bed. It is especially good for when the wheels keep turning and you need support shifting down for a peaceful slumber.
2 drops Frankincense Carteri Boswellia carteri
2 drops Orange Sweet Citrus sinensis
1 drop Marjoram Sweet Origanum majorana
I just love this synergy when I need to just let go and drop into the zone for to introspection and meditation. I find it calming, centering, grounding and uplifting. This is one of my go-to’s to help bring me back to balance found in quiet time.