Overthinking man sat in front of laptop

Not long ago, my manager was out on holiday, leaving me and my colleague to run all company marketing activities for a week. 

As a 21-year-old who thrives on a challenge, I was EXCITED.

As a 21-year-old with limited management experience, I was TERRIFIED.

All of a sudden, I was responsible for organising event tickets, attending speaker briefings and doing final checks on social media posts.

And for the first few days, everything was going fine. The most urgent tasks were done, and we were ahead of our publishing schedule.

But then everything changed.

A video that needed to go out that week was delayed. Rumours spread about people quitting over a change in management, and fear and uncertainty seemed to be lurking behind every corner.

Outside of work, I was trying to organise apartment viewings – and I felt overwhelmed trying to keep up with the company and private email trails. (This was me).

In the evenings, I couldn’t fall asleep. My brain was too busy processing everything that had happened during the day. I would replay conversations in my head and obsess over every little word I’d said.

I’d become caught up in these conversations that even the tiniest detail seemed like a massive mistake. I felt embarrassed for using the wrong words, stuttering or revealing anything personal about myself.

Yes, I made a few mistakes that week. But none of them were as dramatic as I thought.

It took me a while to get out of this toxic mindset and realise that I’d been obsessing over things no one even cared about.

While I don’t have a perfect system to deal with overwhelm and calm your racing mind, here are some tips that have helped me stop overthinking in the past:

Picture the worst case

When we’re stressed, it’s all too easy to blow things out of proportion.

Little annoyances at work turn into major conflicts in our minds, and we start creating those fantasy stories about what will go wrong and how bad things are going to get.

We start catastrophising:

  • I shouldn’t have said to my co-worker. That was so embarrassing. Now I look like a complete fool.
  • It was a mistake to leave my manager a message during her holiday. What if she gets mad at me?
  • I have so many things I need to do. How on Earth am I ever going to get back on track with my to-do list? There is absolutely no way I can finish this before the deadline.

In our mind, these stories always end at the most dramatic point: the cliffhanger. Just like that book chapter ending that pushes you to the next page, our anxious mind urges us to create more fantasy stories.

This can be a big problem – as we become overwhelmed by the scary, disappointing narratives.

Now, most people will simply tell you to stop overthinking. They’ll say that you shouldn’t feed those stories, and instead focus on something else.

But if you’re already worried – how should you stop thinking about what’s stressing you? Just like it’s really hard to stop reading past that cliff-hanger, it can feel close to impossible to put your fears and anxieties aside. (Unless you’re a meditation mastermind).

So, what can you do instead?

Next time you run into a problem and start panicking, ask yourself two questions:

  • What is the worst that can happen?
  • How can I deal with this now to make the situation better?

The second question is super powerful because it shifts your focus from the problem towards potential solutions.

The other day, for example, I didn’t get a joke from one of my co-workers, and he started teasing me. I felt embarrassed and replayed each word I’d said in my mind until I reminded myself that at worst, my colleagues might just think I’m not a funny person (which is probably quite close to the truth).

Of course, what other people think of me is their responsibility, not mine. I can only make things better for myself if I embrace that I don’t always get other people joke’s and overcome the need to hide this for fear of looking stupid.

Now, I want to hand things over to you.

Think about a situation that either scares you or makes you feel embarrassed. Then, ask yourself two questions:

  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • And how can I respond in the worst-case scenario to make things better?

Don’t worry about what other people think

We often obsess over situations where others might see us in a bad light.

Maybe it’s the early morning call with our manager when we’re stuck on a project, or that fancy dinner party where we’re too scared to tell a guy we like him.

But even if your manager gets annoyed or the guy laughs at you, other people don’t care nearly as much as you do.

Everyone has insecurities, and most people are more worried about covering them up than looking for your flaws.

That’s why we usually know small, embarrassing things about ourselves that others haven’t even realised. Or even if they did, those are often things, they simply wouldn’t care about.

So, whenever I catch myself overthinking, I like to remind myself that the situation probably isn’t as important as it seems. A simple tool to give me that reality check is the question: Will this matter a day, a week, a month or a year from now?

If the answer is NO to any of these, I know I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill.

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