When Nothing Else Works, Try This.
I don’t want to stress you out, dear reader, with the details of the pit of overthinking that I fell into today.
Barely able to speak, and definitely not capable of full sentences, I could not focus on one. single. thing.
My mind was a wild beast, ferociously trying to go off in at least five different directions at the same time. I could not keep up, and I couldn’t keep track of all of the thoughts.
If overthinking burned calories, I’d be dead.
You see, I’ve set myself a goal of writing every day this month. Today I chose the mother of all topics to write on. Or rather — and this is the issue — it chose me.
This wasn’t a bash-it-out-in-half-an-hour kind of post.
It felt more like a book.
It required research, and arguments, and copious amounts of Post It Notes. It definitely needed more than 24 hours.
Why on a Sunday, inspiration? Why did you choose today?
My daily writing challenge is basic. It’s not about writing eloquent, earth-shattering, life-changing pieces. It’s just about the process. It’s about getting shit done.
These meaty, chunky, motherforkers of ideas — this challenge is not for them.
I don’t have the focus for it. And I definitely don’t have the time for it. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that triggers overthinking and dials up my anxiety levels.
So having placed an arbitrary and unrealistic deadline on myself to get a piece written, and for some crazy reason having accepted the challenge presented by this particular idea — over the course of the day, I began to seriously stress myself out.
It was not coming together.
Rome was not completed in a day — and nor was this particular idea meant to be.
My anxiety had reached somewhere in the stratosphere, and I — no shit — began to panic.
Earlier in the day I saw this coming though.
I’ve had a proper Sunday feeling all day. I thought to myself, ‘I’d love a day off. Nay, I deserve a day off.’
But that would mean quitting on myself — and in the immortal words of Beyonce, winners don’t quit on themselves.
For this month, I do want to write and publish every day. It’s a challenge for a reason — it’s bloody hard.
So there I was. Stuck between a promise to myself, and an impossible target.
Perfect conditions for a shitstorm of overthinking.
What to do.
First, I went for a 6k run, in the rain, in the moors.
Usually, a run can jolt me back into action. It shakes things up, gets the blood and the oxygen and the creative juices flowing smoothly again.
I get clear. I get energised. I get fired up, inspired, and ready to take action.
Not today though.
So I had a nap.
And, unsurprisingly, I woke up wanting a) a longer nap, and b) biscuits and Netflix.
So then I had a cup of tea.
Guys, I’m not joking. I’m British, and I’m pulling out the big guns here. It’s 4pm on a Sunday, and I want to get shit done, but I just-can’t-get-there.
And everyone knows tea helps.
Did the tea help?
Of course it did. It gave me a time out, and a chance to think about what I really needed.
Then it came to me.
I fetched my trusty journal and commenced immediately.
I began with one of my favourite prompts for journaling —the “Would I Rather Reframe” — but initially, it only elevated to my anxiety.
- What should I be doing? Writing today’s post.
- What would I rather be doing? Literally anything else. ANYTHING.
My soul writhed in agony.
My mind went up another gear — I didn’t even know I had a higher gear of overdrive.
I took a deep breath and I let all the panic spill out on to the page.
I let the words come forth from whence they come from, wherever that is.
I began to free write.
Freewriting is a writing technique where you take pen to paper for a set amount of time and you simply write and write and write.
You don’t think — you just write without stopping.
“Don’t think; just write!”
— Ray Bradbury
It was exactly what I needed.
I needed to stop thinking. I needed to take ten minutes to specifically underthink things.
I needed some space between me and conscious thinking.
I needed a break.
The issue up to this point had been overthinking.
(That, and setting myself outrageous targets — but for the purposes of this post, let’s gloss over that for now. I’ll cover that when I write this goddam book I’m talking about…)
When I’m thinking, my thoughts can go — and come from — many different directions all at once. I can be halfway down one thought path and another thought pings in and upsets the apple cart.
When I’m writing and working on my laptop, I open all the tabs, I start multi-tasking, and I end up down multiple rabbit holes simultaneously.
It fries my brain.
The joy of journaling is that it is one stand-alone task. There is no multi-tasking here. Journaling should be done exclusively by itself — unless, in my opinion, you’re doing it while drinking coffee (or tea). That’s the exception that proves the rule.
While journaling, I can focus.
I can only write one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one line at a time.
I can only go at the speed of my own handwriting. The thoughts become channelled as they spill out on to the page, orderly, or disorderly. It doesn’t matter.
Today my handwriting was not neat. It’s barely intelligible even to me.
I got cramp I was writing so fast.
And then I stopped. *Gasp.
I paused to watch a couple of birds on the feeders outside the window.
The spell was broken.
I lost my chain of thought, I lost my momentum. I slowed down.
The freewriting session had ended.
But my anxiety had melted away. Clarity and calm were restored.
Before journaling, before that magical cup of tea, a proper storm had been brewing. A maelstrom of stress, anxiety, panic — all from overthinking.
And all I needed to do in that moment was pick up my pen and start writing. Disengage brain, disengage from thoughts, and step back. Let the words come forward.
This is why journaling is so therapeutic.
Freewriting specifically is like a detox from thinking — and especially from overthinking.
We can become so entangled in our thoughts that we become disconnected from the source, from inspiration, and from creativity — and then we feel blocked.
Freewriting is a vehicle to get back to that — back to where you need to be.
It allows you to be uncensored — a rare treat in normal, day to day life.
It allows you to clear your mind, clear your emotions, and reset.
This is why it’s my go-tool for pretty much anything I can think of.
It’s the most powerful tool I know for getting from overthinking to thinking straight again in minutes.
So next time you notice yourself getting caught up in a jumble of thoughts, take a moment and step back. Maybe you know you’re overthinking, maybe you don’t.
Maybe grab a cup of tea.
Grab your journal. And don’t even think about it — just start writing.
Let the process of freewriting tap you back into your flow, and go with it. Just see where it takes you.