Another day is drawing to a close and you’re ready to slip into a deep slumber. But the moment your head sinks into the pillow, suddenly you couldn’t be further from rest. Your mind goes into overdrive, replaying every daft thing you said, speculating about where your life is going, worrying about tomorrow’s meeting and if the children will turn out okay.
It’s a scenario psychologist Gwendoline Smith is all too familiar with. “You’ve been up half the night ruminating and predicting upcoming disasters. You haul yourself out of bed, feeling and looking like a train wreck. You go to the bathroom, look into the mirror and say to yourself: ‘I think positive thoughts about myself and others. I like the person I see in the mirror.’ How’s that going”? she laughs.
If you’ve tried and failed to tame your distracted mind with positive thinking, meditation or affirmations, then rest assured her approach involves none of these strategies. “The goal of cognitive therapy is not to teach positive thinking, which I refer to as sugar on sh*t,” she chuckles. “Trying to put positive thoughts on top of negative ones is like me telling you to stop thinking about camels. It doesn’t work.”
Similarly, while meditation can be a life-changing practice for some, for others it can be a recipe for double the stress and anxiety. “A lot of overthinkers find meditation incredibly difficult because they can’t still their mind and they feel like a failure. These things don’t fit everybody,” she says.
To start with, Smith believes it’s important to recognise that not all overthinking is bad. Everyone overthinks things from time to time. It’s simply an unavoidable part of being human.