Overthinking & PTSD
I am a textbook over-thinker. I generally get in my own way every single day.
I’m frequently told by my family and friends to “relax” and “get out of my own head!” I overthink details, conversations, situations and decisions.
You name it, I obsess about the minute details and the possible outcomes. It’s anxiety provoking, stressful and frustrating!
For me, overthinking involves focusing on what I think people expect of me, my own perceptions of self and critically analysing my thoughts, behaviours and actions. Frustratingly, it also demands laboriously weighing every option and every possible (or near impossible) outcome before making a decision, playing out worst case scenarios, focusing on the smallest of details instead of focusing on the real impact or big picture outcome of a decision. Sometimes I will even crumble under pressure when performing a task that I’ve previously accomplished and know I can do with ease.
If I am to be truly honest, I really feel like that the over-thinking and living in my own head stems from a fear of failure, a fear of trying and not succeeding. Oddly enough, I believe that it may also be influenced by a fear of putting myself out there, achieving exactly what I set out to achieve and to be ridiculed for it.
Really at the absolute crux, I have a fear of being vulnerable.
I will frequently question, “who am I to do or say these things?” “What authority do I have to say or do these things?” “What do I know?” and more often than not, “What do I not know?” I internalise this cycle of questioning until something that was seemingly simple and joyful is no longer so, and the thoughts are now stressful and negative. My thoughts affect my mood and the way I interact with people, and similarly, my mood affects my thoughts. The weight of this pattern increases my stress levels to the point where I shut down and disassociate from making decisions or any form of conflict.
For example, I will continue to meet expectations but constantly question my ability to do so. Additionally, I will also internalise all conflict with friends and family and instead of constructively talking through the conflict, I shut down, refuse to meet expectations of others, and retreat into a place of safety, totally avoiding the dispute. If I was to guess why this is my reaction to conflict, I would have to say that it’s because when I was a Queensland Police Officer, conflict was my bread and butter. We would serve the Queensland community during the worst times in their life and conflict was almost always present in every encounter.
The Psychologist that I met with to help me process my PTSD experiences explained that over-thinking is a by-product and indirect symptom of PTSD. The primary symptoms that manifest are generally ones of re-experiencing scenarios; avoidance of certain situations, mood fluctuations and hyper-arousal symptoms including insomnia and irritability. Overthinking can also be another crippling symptom endured by those who have experienced trauma in their lives. Over-thinking causes people to become detached from the present moment and lose perspective of a situation by second-guessing their decisions or actions. Constantly ruminating can also manifest in fear, guilt, blame and the classic ‘paralysis by analysis’ – Which I totally experience!
Getting out of my own way
What I have personally experienced, when you overthink things and have a fear of being vulnerable, is that you make self-sabotaging decisions so as to not expose yourself as an imposter and to have almost no risk of failing. I make safe, critically thought out decisions, which results in minimal return. I avoid challenge, seek instant gratification and live vicariously through the ‘success’ of others. I’m so frustrated by living this reality! Whilst I realise my limiting thoughts, negative self-talk and risk-averse behaviour, up until recently I had no idea about how to make the shift from getting in my own way.
In September 2017, I was fortunate to be invited to a monthly breakfast meeting for hungry, growth-minded, elite coaches in the fitness industry. In this meeting, we are continually introduced to industry leaders and internationally acclaimed educators and public speakers. We challenge limiting thoughts, trust the process of change and we are supported to let go of what is no longer useful and is a barrier to achieving goals. This has been such a confronting, difficult and yet liberating experience! I expected to learn and develop strategies to grow our fitness business with the ultimate goal of better serving and empowering our tribe at ‘The Fit Project‘.
What I did not expect was the massive personal growth that I am now experiencing as a result of these meetings. I’m now empowered to realise, understand and question my own thought process. As part of this, I ask myself 3 questions regularly:
1. What can I not control? eg. the state of the world, weather, traffic, natural disasters, the thoughts, feelings and actions of others
2. What can I influence? eg. politics, people, bank account balance.
3. What can I control? eg. the food I put into my body, the movement of my body, information/media that I consume, my own attitude, behaviours, reactions and mindset.
These questions have allowed me to put my overthinking into perspective – Why would I overthink and obsess about something that I have no control over?
With repeated practice of reframing my overthinking It became glaringly obvious that I should only spend my time, energy and thoughts on things that I am either able to influence or control.
But how do you do this?! How do you leave behind thoughts of what you can’t control? The short answer is I’m still on this journey. But I have found an absolute game changer – writing a short list of daily non-negotiable tasks to empower me to focus on things within my control.
Fulfilling my daily non-negotiable task list has not only assisted in reducing over-thinking and obsessing over things that are not within my control, but it has also enabled me to have additional time within my day for education, introspection, mindful movement of my body through running/resistance workouts/yoga, quality face time with those I love, and continuing to serve our Tribe at the fit project without any distraction or thoughts of things outside of my control.
I am now observing my thoughts as they occur and if they tend to be cyclic overthinking patterns, I am able to break the cycle by reframing these thoughts into categories of can’t control, can influence and can change. If the outcome of the thought is ‘can’t control’, then the thought does not serve, energise or inspire me. It does not need any further attention because I cannot control the outcome.
This approach to mindful thought has also empowered me to better allocate the physical time and mindset required to start blogging and to plan out how to best change the stigma that surrounds mental health and raise the profile of PTSD through ultra-endurance running and powerful conversations of change.
Living in alignment with my highest values
On Friday the 2nd of February 2018, I had the absolute honour of attending another Elite Coaches meeting, with special guest speaker Dr John Demartini (pictured below).
Dr Demartini is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on human behaviour and personal development. He is a Human Behaviour Specialist, Educator, Business Consultant and Internationally Published Author. It was a mind-blowing experience.
Amongst the topics spoken about, my biggest take-home messages were ones of defining and determining highest values, finding purpose – what do you do every day that you spontaneously do without any external pressures that you are inspired by and most importantly ‘giving permission to be yourself’.
With my mind still whirling from this surreal experience, I’ve spent most of this weekend re-reading notes, journaling my thoughts and feelings regarding the conversations had and sitting in contemplation of what my highest values are and how they align with my ‘purpose’.
Our highest values should be intrinsic (values inspired from within without required motivation) instead of Extrinsic (externally motivated values pushed upon us by the beliefs and thoughts of others). Intrinsic values help us to pursue an ‘inspired mission’ rather than the ‘pursuit of success’.
Utilising the Demartini Value Determination Process and a great deal of introspection, I’ve been able to identify my highest values of –
Health: exercise, nutrition, mindset, self-care, positive mental health;
Education: daily learning, personal development, professional development, becoming a field leader, skill mastery;
Service: serving others, empowering others, acceptance of others, showing compassion for others, having integrity in my thoughts, actions and behaviours;
People: time and connection with those I love and respect, meeting and socialising with inspiring people
Occupation: Having a professional vessel to work with those I intend to serve
After reflecting upon the conversations had with Dr Demartini and how they translate into my own life, I’m incredibly energised. I’m inspired to pursue the challenge of health promotion by serving our tribe at the fit project, motivated to grow and expand my mind and driven to positively influence the response to mental health through meaningful dialogues of empowerment, support and change.
In addition to the psychology appointments, talk therapy and exercise, these meetings and coaching conversations have empowered me to shift from victim to empowered observer of my own mental health. No longer will I enable internal monologues of over-thinking and fear of failure. My mission is clear and my mission is inspired. 2018 has already been an incredible year of accelerated professional and personal growth. As part of this growth, I am clearer than ever in understanding that PTSD does not belong in the shadows. In order to remove any stigma attached to mental health, a light must be shined and conversations of shared experiences, support and change must be had.
My inspired mission
I am determined to assist those suffering from PTSD to transition through their experiences and be empowered to receive the much-needed support to recover. I am also passionate about improving the institutionalised response to PTSD and mental health in general. Mental health research suggests that opening up an honest and raw dialogue is the best way to start. So, with this in mind, If you or someone you know and love experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I invite you to get in touch via email or leave a comment below. For those who have already reached out, thank you for displaying enormous strength by taking a leap of trust and sharing deeply personal stories. I wish to continue these conversations as I know first hand they result in connection, understanding and ultimately, healing. If you are reading this and you or someone you love experiences symptoms of PTSD, I encourage you to reach out and keep this valuable conversation going.
I believe in the power of conversation
Finally, If you know someone who is going through a tough time and may not know how to support them – a conversation is really what it takes. I encourage you to have the empathy and the courage to start a meaningful conversation that could truly change or save someone’s life.
How To Show Your Support
- Help me in my goal of raising awareness of PTSD and support options and my journey by subscribing to this blog, sharing it with your friends and social media platforms.
- If you know of someone who is going through a tough time, have the empathy and the courage to start a meaningful conversation that could truly change or save their life.
- If you wish to support my participation in my ultra-marathon event you can do so by making a donation through my ‘mycause’ page www.mycause.com.au/page/162984 until 1 August 2018. Funds raised through this platform will help to offset the significant preparation costs in representing Australia on the world stage as I run to raise the profile of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Pledge a donation to Phoenix Australia: Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health via my ‘mycause’ page www.mycause.com.au/page/162984 as well. Your support means more than you realise, not only myself but to others who endure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Thank you for reading and for being an integral part of changing the face of mental health.
Yours in health,