Are you a champion over-thinker? Many of my patients complain that they run circles around themselves with worry over the future, ruminations over the past, and attempts to plan and think their way out of current stressful situations.

In the past I’ve recommended insight-oriented or cognitive-behavioral therapy to people who come to therapy for anxiety that may have been diagnosed (or self-diagnosed) as “obsessional,” or who may feel they have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But I’ve come to realize that you can’t fight fire with fire when it comes to over-thinking. Our culture encourages us to see our “thoughts” as real and concrete, when in reality they are only one small dimension or expression of our overall nervous system.

My approach to worry and rumination uses a more somatic approach. Research shows that most people who are chronic worriers are using thoughts to try to avoid the physiological arousal experience that is connected to anxiety. I jokingly tell my patients that this is the tendency of educated people to, pardon the language, “think the shit out of” a problem — often a problem over which we actually have limited control.

A body-based approach can help you develop non-cognitive-resources for handling arousal. Arousal is actually happening in your whole body, anyway, not your brain! And arousal is just survival energy — arousal is useful and okay when kept at manageable levels and allowed to come and go naturally, as part of your body’s basic processes that have an ebb and flow. Instead of allowing our arousal to ebb and flow, we often continuously stir ourselves up again and again with cognitive stories about ourselves which my bear little relationship to the situation at hand. Therapy can help you get back to the natural ebb and flow so that you use your energies in the way you want, rather than staying on an endless hamster wheel of chronic worrisome thoughts.

licensed clinical psychologist