Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald: How to stop overthinking things

Saying "you think too much" is never a helpful thing to tell someone who is depressed, it's largely true. Image / NZ Herald
Saying "you think too much" is never a helpful thing to tell someone who is depressed, it's largely true. Image / NZ Herald

How can you handle the amount of internal dialogue that is normally part of the anxiety and depression thinking cycle? Overthinker.

I remember an old saying, that "talking to yourself is the first sign of madness." Personally I find it's the only way to guarantee intelligent conversation. Either way, we may not all do it out loud, but in our own heads we all talk to ourselves.

Therapists have a great way of making up labels that state the obvious: In this case, we call it "self talk". It's that burble of chatter that's going on inside our head whether we're aware of it or not. When I was trained we would talk about the "tape" in your head, but these days we should probably describe it as the "playlist".

So it's human and normal. But what is it that you say to yourself, and how do you say it?

The way we talk to ourselves, kindly or not, defines the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves. At the risk of getting too philosophical, it is us. But for people who suffer from depression and anxiety this dialogue can feel like a runaway train of fear and self hate.

We call this "rumination".

So while saying "you think too much" is never a helpful thing to tell someone who is depressed, it's largely true.

In depressed people the parts of the brain responsible for emotions, "cognition" (or thinking) and rumination specifically, have more connections to each other than normal: emotions trigger repetitive, runaway thinking.

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Once again, pointing out the obvious, at least to anyone who has experienced depressive rumination.

But here's the really interesting bit. As little as eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, twenty minutes a day, decreases the density of the brains connections between thinking and emotions.

It literally quiets the mind.

When we engage in mindfulness it doesn't magically change what we think about, and it certainly doesn't make everything positive all of a sudden.

It unplugs our thinking from our feelings. Over time, as we get distance between our thoughts and feelings, we can better think about what we feel, describe what our emotions are, and increasingly choose which thoughts and feelings we pay attention.

We get back in control of the train. And we can even change the conversation we have with ourselves, to one that guarantees not so much intelligent conversation, but a kind and supportive one.

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Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Living sober
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Follow Kyle on Facebook and check out his website here.

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Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald is in private practice at the Robert Street Clinic in Auckland. For more: psychotherapy.org.nz or his Social Anxiety resource site: overcomingsocialanxiety.com.

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