Overthinking and How It Can Affect Physical & Mental Health

A high-achiever who processes the world more deeply than others is also known as a sensitive strive and susceptible to overthinking. Studies show that sensitive people have more active brain circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to mental processing. This means their minds not only take in more information but also process that information in a more complex way. Sensitive strivers are often applauded for the way they explore angles and nuance. But at the same time, they are also more susceptible to stress and overwhelm.

Deliberation is an admirable and essential leadership quality that undoubtedly produces better outcomes. But for Terence and others like him, there comes a point in decision making where helpful contemplation turns into overthinking. If you can relate, here are five ways to stop the cycle of thinking too much and drive towards better, faster decisions.

1. Leave Perfectionism Behind

Perfectionism is one of the biggest blockers to swift, effective decision-making because it operates on faulty all-or-nothing thinking. For example, perfectionism can lead you to believe that if you don’t make the “correct” choice (as if there is only one right option), then you are a failure. Or that you must know everything, anticipate every eventuality, and have a thorough plan in place before making a move. Trying to weigh every possible outcome and consideration is paralysing.

In order to curb this tendency, use the following questions:

  • Which decision will have the biggest positive impact on my top priorities?
  • Of all the possible people I could please or displease, which one or two people do I least want to disappoint?
  • What is one thing I could do today that would bring me closer to my goal?
  • Based on what I know and the information I have at this moment, what’s the best next step?

After all, it’s much easier to wrap your head around and take action towards a single next step rather than trying to project months or years into the future.

2. Use Your Intuition

Intuition works like a mental pattern matching game. The brain considers a situation, quickly assesses all your experiences, and then makes the best decision given the context. This automatic process is faster than rational thought, which means intuition is a necessary decision-making tool when time is short and traditional data is not available. In fact, research shows that pairing intuition with analytical thinking helps you make better, faster, and more accurate decisions and gives you more confidence in your choices than relying on intellect alone. In one study, car buyers who used only careful analysis were ultimately happy with their purchases about a quarter of the time. Meanwhile, those who made intuitive purchases were happy 60 percent of the time. That’s because relying on rapid cognition, or thin-slicing, allows the brain to make wise decisions without overthinking.

3. Limit the exposure to decision fatigue

You make hundreds of decisions a day — from what to eat for breakfast to how to respond to an email — and each depletes your mental and emotional resources. You’re more likely to overthink when you’re drained, so the more you can eliminate minor decisions, the more energy you’ll have for ones that really matter.

Create routines and rituals to conserve your brainpower, like a weekly meal plan or capsule wardrobe. Similarly, look for opportunities to eliminate certain decisions altogether, such as by instituting best practices and standardised protocols, delegating, or removing yourself from meetings.

4. Getting the right tools

Knowing how to stop overthinking isn’t an innate gift. It isn’t genetic, or set-in stone during your childhood. Many people who are able to control their emotions and avoid getting stuck in a spiral of overthinking and anxiety have developed these skills over time. It takes determination – but it also takes the right set of tools. Discover your personal blueprint and how to align your choices with your ultimate purpose in life. Learn how to navigate pain and anxiety, rather than avoiding or suppressing it. Transform your thought process to crush negative behaviours – and any obstacles in your path.

5. Distract your senses

Overthinking and worrying are mental activities, so if they start to take hold, do something physical.

You can essentially “shock” your senses by taking the power away from one area of your body and giving it to another. Sounds confusing? It’s not.

For example, if you start to feel fearful about the uncertainty of an upcoming event, splash some cold water on your face, or smell some calming lavender oils. Your brain will start to react to the sudden change, and you’ll have less of an ability to focus on the worrisome thoughts.

Find whatever works for you to shock your senses, and keep it handy whenever possible.

Busying yourself with an activity is the best way to change the channel. Exercise, engage in conversation on a completely different subject, or get working on a project that will distract your mind from the barrage of negative thoughts. Remember that your mental depth gives you a major competitive advantage. Once you learn to keep overthinking in check, you’ll be able to harness your sensitivity for the superpower that it can be.

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Organisations Have to Prioritise Young Workers’ Mental Health

Young workers aged between 18 and 30 are more likely to have mental health issues than their senior colleagues, with a whopping 48% reporting suicidal thoughts or feelings. This information has been made available from a survey of around 3,884 people conducted over two years by Accenture revealing this worrisome fact. In comparison, only 35% of older workers experience such dark emotions.

Even though they are more susceptible to experiencing such feelings, 45% of young workers admitted to ‘holding back’ from talking about their mental health in the workplace, compared with only 22% of older employees.

Younger people have also reported that they are experiencing more pressure in their lives than their older counterparts, with 4 out of 10 people between the ages of 18 and 30 revealing that the pressures from work are affecting them on a daily basis, 1 in 3 are worried about the mental health of someone close to them.

Barbara Harvey, managing director and mental health lead for Accenture UK, has said “It’s clear that many young people face challenges with their mental health before they enter the workforce and while working, and that they are affected more often than their senior peers. Therefore, mental health must be a priority issue for employers.”

The aforementioned study has also brought up to the attention of the general public about the advantages of working in a supportive and open culture, with 41% of those working in such environments experiencing mental health challenges, compared with 65% in less supportive environments.

Mental ill health has been estimated to cost the UK economy around £94 billion per year, according to figures released in 2018 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with 1 in 6 people across Europe struggling with their mental health.

The financial aspect alone offers a compelling and insightful reason for organisations to take action in addressing this problem. For example, in 2017, an independent review commissioned by the British prime minister put the annual cost to UK employers of poor mental health in workers between £33 billion and £42 billion.

Additional action needs to be taken. Here are 3 simple actions leading organisations have started taking to get things moving faster in the right direction.

1.   Onboarding is Essential

Young people often enter the workforce with little sense of what is about to hit them. It’s important to help them make the transition to a kind of pressure many have never faced before.

Boots, a UK health, beauty and pharmacy company, regularly reaches out to secondary schools, colleges, and local universities. It runs workshops and gives talks that help potential recruits better understand the workplace, and taps its own younger employees as leaders of these events to ensure that the messages resonate. Boots also helps young hires to build skills and confidence and better adjust to their new responsibilities through group discussions and workshops. Early-career tutors are trained to help these workers and are, in turn, helped by others; they know how to escalate any concerns to a colleague who has had specific training on mental health issues.

2.   Train Them How You Want Them

Once people have been onboarded, they need help understanding how to manage the stresses and strains of the job and how to deal with those particular situations. The key here is to design solutions.

The international law firm Allen & Overy has many trainees, most of whom join on a two-year contract. Working with and led by the younger cohort, senior managers created a programme that focuses on the human element of life as a lawyer. Trainers equip new lawyers with ‘practical resilience skills and advice’ to help them achieve a healthy work-life balance in a high-pressure environment. Among those lessons are included how to set and maintain boundaries between personal and work time. A message that is best delivered by people who have experienced that.

One recent pilot initiative coming out of this process involves ‘protected evenings.’  It allows trainees to flag nights that are important to them, giving them more control over their schedules. Trainees also publish a newsletter every two weeks that helps address key concerns on their agenda.

3.   The Role of Senior Leaders

They should be open about the challenges they have faced and they should show vulnerability. When they speak up, not only would they help their struggling younger workers realise that they’re not alone, they would also be giving them some language to use to describe their own experiences.

Paul Feeney – CEO of Quilter a wealth management company in London – has stated that making it personal is the best solution: “In our industry, we have a saying, ‘Don’t take it personal.’ We should make it personal. People need to know it is OK to not be OK. The best thing to do is open up and talk about it.”

The more we can do to reduce the stigma of this topic and bring it further out of shadows into the mainstream, the less will people need to be brave to talk about their experiences. And they will be happier, more confident, and more productive at work and beyond.

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