Finding the balance between reflection and overthink

Photo by José M. Reyes on Unsplash

The last few weeks I’ve kept my days clearer and my evenings quieter. X Some call this ‘slowing down’, though I find that term a bit confusing – because whilst I am doing less activities, my mental space doesn’t feel particularly less active. If anything, it feels like I think more, rather than less.

It’s been an interesting experience for sure. Having freer evenings has allowed me to lounge around and enjoy spending time alone. When I tried ‘doing less’ in the summer, I ended up getting fidgety and felt quite miserable because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I think I’m having a better crack at it now though.

More sedentary time was also needed – I’ve injured my abdomen and need some time to rest it. I’ve already re-opened the injury by going back to exercise too soon, so it’s better I don’t repeat the same mistake. I can also feel an accumulated fatigue within my body. It has been to the point where I’ve felt tired doing simple things like walking up the stairs. This is despite being in better physical shape than I have been in a long time.

What’s been surprising is how much more tired my body has felt when I’ve given it time to rest. My expectations would have been that giving myself a few days would give a natural recovery, and I would just feel better pretty quickly.  

Instead, I’m finding that I’d probably been running on reserves for some time. Now that I’m finally giving my body space to rest it needs to properly go into recovery mode for a few weeks. So more aches and pains are resurfacing. Part of this is probably just being more sedentary, but I think it’s a necessary price to let the rest of my body heal.

Spending more time alone has given more space for thought. And this has felt like a blessing and a curse. It’s been nice to relieve myself of the high standards that I need to be constantly doing more, or always be available to other people. I can allow myself some creature comforts and not always push myself so hard. I think this is also helping my relationships improve, because as I value my time more, others value it more as well.

It’s also allowed myself more space to process my day sub-consciously, gleaning more intuitive knowledge from an event rather than just moving straight to the next thing.

At times, it’s also been very confronting. Some intuitive thoughts can be rather unpleasant. I’ve recently seen my neediness around social relationships and people. It’s not a fun thing to realise how a lot of my behaviour has been subconsciously driven by the buzz of meeting people, to the point that I have gotten addicted to it. Like any drug, spending time with people has overtaken other parts of my life. This has not been particularly helpful for my overall wellbeing.

It can be tricky to see the difference between genuine intuition or overthink. For example, am I having a genuine realisation about myself or am I just being self-critical?

It’s taken some real learning to discern the two. To me, intuition is something that comes to me without spending too much time thinking about it. My belief is that this is coming from the wider sub-conscious processing, which can take a day or two to come through.

Meanwhile, overthink is sitting with the analytical process of trying to explain ‘why’. Whilst our brains are fabulous for many things, they are not designed to handle subjective feelings and emotions. Such things are not a maths solution with a single answer, so using the brain in these spaces can be fraught with overanalysis and actually pretty unhelpful stories.  

Let me give an example. When I sat with myself sometime last week, some pretty intense emotions came up. I felt a hard pressing sensation on my upper chest. The temptation on this was to ask ‘what’s wrong?’. Going down this path would start searching for a reason. In the past, I would come to some rather wild conclusions – at one point I just believed I wasn’t destined to be happy. Another time I came to the conclusion that it’s because I have it harder than other people.

Now, I let the emotion sit. In the short term, it’s more intense because I’m not distracting myself by trying to think ‘why’. But when I can bear the emotional intensity, it tends to pass faster and more healthily. I usually gain clarity a day or two later.

With perspective and time to properly feel what I was feeling, I could see that these were feelings that I wasn’t giving time to surface by being so busy. I could also gain a deeper wisdom of what I can do better, rather than ending up blaming the world in one way or another.  

Because these moments aren’t pleasant, the temptation is to see them as negatives. During the summer, this meant that I ended up avoiding them, because I saw the feelings as bad rather than part of a process.

I haven’t quite found perfection – I still can jump to conclusions or want to push negative emotions away. This is one of the reasons I’ve really struggled to speak about the Israel-Palestine war these last weeks. It’s so emotionally intense and upsetting that I’ve found it really hard to say something on it. I realise this is my tendency to avoid such heavy emotions. I also realise that this is not particularly helpful, and my silence also plays a part.

So for what it’s worth, I find the situation incredibly distressing. I know that there are innocent people on both sides caught up on it. There are also people who prefer violence to peace on both sides too. I do not agree with this approach – I believe love and peace is the ultimate solution to our woes.

But I think it’s also important not to be naive, as I also see the seismic imbalance of a government-led destruction from one side of the other. Historic ties have meant that such atrocities are being ignored internationally.

States of war are as good as reason as any for us to realise the importance of self-reflection. Our tactics to avoid uncomfortable emotions don’t serve us in the long run.

The more comfortable we can get with discomfort, the less we have to fear. And a less fearful world will be a far more peaceful one.  

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