Have you ever had a thought that was probably ridiculous, but to you it seemed real, it seemed like a possibility? Taking that thought, have you spent hours, maybe even days or weeks, just letting that thought run wild in your mind over and over, creating a whirlwind of anxiety, stress, worry, or whatever other negative emotions might present themselves? Your stomach drops, you begin to obsess over that thought, you begin to think it is reality itself. You have to do whatever you can to distract yourself from it, and, while you may succeed in the short-term, the thought eventually returns to the forefront of your mind, and you once again become consumed by it. It is a mentally taxing and exhausting process, yet difficult to keep at bay.
Have you ever had to make a decision, to formulate a message or a response or the like, and questioned every aspect of it, thinking of every possible outcome you can, arraying them in your mind, allowing them to occupy every inch of space there is inside? Subsequently, have you ever spent hours, days, or weeks trying to come to your final decision, to just make a choice and allow the events that will follow to play out, wasting countless hours that could have been spent actually getting on with life, living it to its full potential, even spending it in the splendour of a well-made decision?
This is what it is like to be self-conscious, to overthink things so much that you lose valuable time doing what you love, being with who you want to be with.
I’m going to say this from the outset: this is what I deal with on, at the very least, a semi-regular basis. I am quite self-conscious, more so when it comes to making decisions I consider to be of great importance, even life-changing, or when talking to people that I really want to get along with and connect more with on a deeper level. I never want to come across as being overbearing, as being annoying, and I never want to put someone off. That is why I sometimes spend more time thinking over what I might say to someone, whether or not I’ll send that message, whether or not I’ll take that opportunity. I consider every possible outcome I can think of, and that can be overwhelming. It is particularly so when the one outcome that always seems to come into focus is the worst possible one, stealing the limelight and forcing you to think about it far more than you would like to. It is hard to shake the thought that this outcome could be the one that transforms into reality. Sometimes I just have to take up the mantra of “no risk, no reward” and just do it, in the hope that one of the good outcomes will manifest.
Being someone who has anxiety, it is tough to deal with these sorts of moments. Times like those mentioned above are typically when the anxiety comes on more, escaping from the depths of the abyss and beginning its takeover of my mind and body. There are several ways that I deal with this: praying, writing, listening to music, watching something (usually an episode of a television series), exercising, cooking, or giving my little dog Ellie lots of hugs, pats, and attention. Sometimes, in the case of something that is really important to me that I really don’t want to mess up, I go see my psychologist and talk it out, because talking to someone about it can really help. It lets you take that swirling thought out of your mind and put it in front of you, so that you can better process it.
I think that being so self-conscious stems from a history of being shy. Throughout my life, I have been quite shy, particularly in social situations where I’m meeting new people. To some degree, I think my self-conscious mind activates in these circumstances, whereby I think about how I might come across to the person I am meeting; I consider the first impression I’m making upon them. This might continue for the duration of the time spent with that person, and in subsequent meetings, depending on how I relate to them and the connection I form with them.
It tends to get more intense if I am meeting or talking to someone I really don’t want to mess up a connection with, particularly when that connection is something I personally see as incredibly special. This is often because these kinds of connections don’t come around often, and so you really have to make sure you treat them well; you have to make sure you nurture them, you allow them to develop, to deepen. But, trust me, it can sometimes be mentally draining to navigate that. Again, this is where the overthinking occurs. You might see or hear or read something and possibilities begin to race through your mind like cars in a drag race; They are hard to ignore, because the noise of each thought fills the expanse of your mind, each racing to the finish line, the forefront of your mind. The irritating thing is that oftentimes the thought that wins that race is the one containing the worst-case scenario. That thought is the one that becomes all-consuming. It’s the one you just cannot seem to shake. It takes a hold on your mind and grips you, giving you the very confronting idea that this possibility will transform into reality, and you will have to live it out not just in the worst parts of your imagination, but also in real life. That’s when your stomach drops, and the anxiety starts to come on. It is one of the worst feelings one can have.
When I find myself in such a circumstance, I do what I can to try to steer my mind away from that possessive thought. But this can be a difficult task. It is not easy to distract yourself from something that is so overwhelmingly, well, bad, particularly when it is running rampant in your mind, causing as much chaos as it can. Some distractions work better than others, but it depends entirely on the individual. As I mentioned before, you could listen to some music (even dance it out; it doesn’t have to be good dancing, but just working off the nervous/anxious/negative energy can be relieving), watch a television show (it might be an episode of a series you’re enjoying, maybe a few episodes) or movie (it could even be one that you’ve seen before, but that is comforting for you; the same applies to the television show), read a book (although this may be somewhat less helpful given it may be hard to focus on what you’re reading when those thoughts are swirling around in your mind), listen to an audiobook or podcast, do some exercise (again, a good workout can be a great way to shake off that negative energy), cook/bake something, or, if you’re religious like me, pray (this can be such a soothing and cathartic experience).
For me, faith has played a truly significant role in helping me through difficult situations, especially when I’m in a mental predicament like those mentioned above throughout this piece. Sometimes when I start overthinking things a lot, and I become consumed by the worst-case scenario thought, I spend time with God, praying, asking Him for guidance, asking Him for help. I ask Him to give me hope, to keep that spark, that flame, alive in my heart. I talk to God and tell Him how I’m feeling, I tell Him all I’m thinking. I tell Him all my greatest hopes and my deepest fears. Sometimes it is difficult to put those thoughts and feelings and hopes into words. But when it is, I think God can still see them, can still understand them. He knows what is in our hearts, even when we cannot find the words to express it. That’s one of the many amazing things about God and about faith. You have this divine, omnipresent Being that is with you no matter where you are, no matter what you are going through. You can talk to Him at any time, anywhere. He will always be there to listen. He will always be there to hear your deepest thoughts, your greatest desires, your tearful pleas, your cries for help, your prayers of gratitude. He is with us at our lowest lows and our highest highs. That is what makes faith so special. Because no matter what struggles you are going through, He will always walk beside you, He will always be there for you, to give you comfort, to give you peace.
Being self-conscious is a difficult challenge to overcome. Being in your own head about everything is a constant struggle, one which takes much subconscious self-restraint, patience, and practice to deal with. It is not something you can just shake off overnight. It takes time to figure out how to combat it, how to restrain it. I think we all struggle with such things to some degree, some of us more than others. Sometimes just talking about it helps us to get out of our own heads and gives us a valuable opportunity to process the thoughts that refuse to be quiet.
For those out there like myself, I know how difficult it can be to manage a self-conscious mind, to overthink so many things. But take comfort in knowing you are not alone, and that there are ways of dealing with it. Each of us are different, but with a listening ear, or indeed the power of faith, we can all get through the battles that take place in our own minds.