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What It's Like When Your Mind Never Shuts Off With Anxiety

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I’ve always been an overthinker. It’s part and parcel of my anxiety, as I’m sure it is for many others. I get caught in cycles of thinking about past events, things I wish I could change and contemplating “what ifs.” My mind rarely shuts off.

When I tell this to anyone, I get the list of things that help to “stop overthinking.” Meditation is always the first suggestion. I can relax my muscles. I can breathe deeply. I can listen to guided meditation. But the thoughts creep in, and as I try to keep them at bay, more sneak in and before I know it, my mind is full again.

Lately though, my overthinking has been different. On a much more massive scale, there’s always chatter in my mind. I call this my “Busy Head.” Now, my mind never shuts off. When I finally told my husband, I used a specific metaphor:

My mind is an office. Light and airy, with a big desk in the middle, and filing cabinets lining the walls. In each of these cabinets are many files, which are my thoughts. At the moment, they’re neat and organized, shut away, ready for me to peruse at my own pace and will. Then, a stranger is in my office, haphazardly throwing all the cabinets open and scattering the files everywhere. They’re everywhere, scattered and mismatched. Not in order at all anymore. I’m trying to make sense of this mess in my office, but I don’t know where to start. I feel so angry. So distraught. And I’m so lost.

As well as this jumbled mess of thoughts, “Busy Head” means I can’t concentrate. I’ve had to largely lower my expectations of what I can do every day simply because I can’t focus on anything, even things I previously loved to do. My favorite TV shows, apps I use every day, even daily chores that are like clockwork to me — nothing can keep my attention.

I don’t lose my interest in these activities. For instance, I started binge-watching “Grey’s Anatomy” before my “Busy Head” became apparent. Before, I could give it all my attention, all day. Now I’ll watch it, but my attention gets drawn to anything and everything. I’ll struggle to watch for even 20 minutes before I have to take a break and try focus on something else, even if I want to keep watching it. I can’t even pay attention to when people speak. I make it a point for me to listen attentively to what people say to me, but now I feel like I’m being so rude when I just can’t hear anyone.

Because of all these changes to my mind, another thing caused by my “Busy Head” is an increase in mood swings. I start by feeling good and well, hopeful I can manage the day. But when the signs of “Busy Head” start surfacing, I become very irritable and snappy. I even get weepy, which makes me feel utterly ridiculous.

So much is changing for me and it’s all in my mind. I used to be able to remember simple things and follow a simple conversation. Now, I’m in a very distressing part of my life where this is difficult for me. I don’t even know if this is down to my anxiety; it all feels very new and different. I have a wonderful support system around me, though, and at the moment, I think that’s the best thing I can have.

Getty image by bruniewska

Originally published: March 27, 2020
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